Saundra Adams: Choosing Forgiveness

Solo grandmother Saundra Adams knows something about beating the odds. She also knows about forgiveness. Adams’s daughter, Cherica, was 24 years old and pregnant when she was struck by four bullets. She died in the hospital, but her baby, Chancellor Lee Adams, was delivered 10 weeks early and survived.

Chancellor’s dad is former Carolina Panthers first-round draft pick Rae Carruth, who is still in prison for hiring the hit man who killed Cherica and almost ended Chancellor’s life before he was even born. The crime took place November 16, 1999.

Carruth and Cherica had been dating on and off after meeting at a pool party. Carruth wasn’t happy about Cherica’s pregnancy; he’d wanted her to seek an abortion so that he didn’t have to pay child support. But that November evening they went on a date, driving in separate cars to a film called The Bone Collector. After the movie, Cherica was following Carruth’s car when he suddenly stopped short; another car pulled up alongside Cherica and its occupant, Van Brett Watkins, fired into her BMW. Cherica, who managed to call 911 and implicate Carruth, was still conscious when doctors delivered Chancellor via emergency cesarean section; she knew he was alive. It’s unclear whether she knew her baby didn’t survive unscathed: though none of the bullets hit Chancellor, Cherica’s blood was his blood, and when his mother’s injuries resulted in blood loss, Chancellor was deprived of oxygen and began to suffocate. He sustained permanent brain damage and was born with cerebral palsy.

Carruth posted a $3 million bail on the condition that if either mother or child died, he would turn himself in. But he fled after Cherica’s death on December 14, 1999, and was captured a day later in west Tennessee, hiding in the trunk of a woman’s car outside a motel. Sentenced to at least 18 years and 11 months in prison (Watkins was sentenced to at least 40 years in prison), Carruth is scheduled for release in October 2018.

Chancellor is a teen now and lives with his Solo grandma, who brought him home from the hospital less than three weeks after her daughter died and has cared for him ever since. “Chancellor is not just surviving,” she told the Charlotte Observer in 2015. “He is thriving.” The boy who wasn’t even supposed to be able to talk—when he was born, he looked blue—can communicate, and he does especially well with people who know him. He wasn’t supposed to be able to walk, but he can, with a walker. “He’s able to feed himself some,” Adams said. “He’s able to dress himself with minimal assistance. And the biggest thing is he’s able to walk.” And Chancellor celebrates milestones like children everywhere: one birthday, his 16th, was celebrated with a magician and yellow cake topped with whipped-cream icing.

Adams wishes for another milestone in her resilient grandson’s life, and here is where the forgiveness comes in: she hopes that after his release, Carruth will want to be a part of Chancellor’s life. (Over the years, neither Carruth nor his family has maintained contact with her or her grandson.) “The main reason I want Rae and Chancellor to one day have a relationship is because [Chancellor] is his son,” Adams said. “And that’s why I chose early on that I would forgive Rae. Because I don’t feel like I can offer unconditional love to Chancellor if I don’t forgive Rae. That’s his father. It’s a part of him. Chancellor wouldn’t be who he is without Rae. I want them to bond, or at least to meet again.”

Adams’s depth of character has not gone unnoticed. “I just can’t say how great she is,” Dr. Docia Hickey told the Charlotte Observer. Hickey is a neonatologist who cared for Chancellor at the hospital when he was born and has remained close with the family. “That woman has devoted her life to her grandson, and she’s done a wonderful job. She is happy. So many people could be bitter. But she isn’t. She’s a remarkable woman. Saundra Adams is one of my heroes.”

Adams’s grandson, who loves baked chicken, green beans, and animated movies, is also happy. “Chancellor has done remarkably well,” Hickey said. “He’s a happy young man. And he loves his grandmother as much as his grandmother loves him.”

“[Y]ou can focus on what you’ve lost or what you have left,” Adams told Sports Illustrated in 2012. “So I didn’t lose. I have my grandson. I have my daughter with me in my heart, always. . . . So I’ve got a lot left, and a lot of hope left, and a lot to live for, and to be able to help my grandson to become the wonderful man he’s meant to be. I haven’t lost anything.

“Really, I’ve gained,” she said. “I’ve been pushed into my role and destiny.”

In this powerful 2012 interview with Bryant Gumbel, Adams talks about her hopes for Chancellor.

Thumbnail credit: HBO Sports

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