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Hoops and heart drive Rev. Sumner

Jimmy Myers
Hoops and heart drive Rev. Sumner
Chris Sumner playing for Boston English High School. PHOTO: Chris Sumner

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Whenever I think of Father’s Day, many names of great men who have worn the title of ‘Father’ come to mind. I hope they will feel a sense of pride and dignity.  This story is about such a man. His name is Byron Christopher Sumner.

Known as Chris Sumner to his friends and associates, this God-spirited man has traveled on a life journey that can only be described as magnificent.  As a very young man, I met Sumner at the John Shelburne Community Center. I was immediately impressed by how he carried himself — with a poise that belied his youth. As our relationship grew over these many years, I wanted to know as much about his life as he would tell me. A father/son love developed between us, sustaining its intensity for over 50 years.

He truly honored me the day he called me his Godfather. “You have been a father to me during some very difficult years of my life.”  He went on to say: “I don’t know who my biological father is, but you have served the role unselfishly for so many years.”

I didn’t tell him, but I went home and cried for him that day.  I was blessed with a father until he died at age 76.  I can’t imagine how my life would have turned out without him and my mother.  When I told them about this young man who adopted me as his Godfather, both my parents told me: “You make sure that you stay in that young man’s life — all his life.”  I will keep that promise to him every day, for the rest of my life, for the pride I feel every time I see him.

Beginnings

Sumner’s life journey, which brought him to where he is today, would qualify as a miracle.  Raised by his mother, Annie Blanche Sumner, and nurtured by influential people within his community while becoming a star basketball player, Sumner would attend Boston English High School where he started three of the four years he played.  “It was a star-studded team at English that won back-to-back Boston City Championships in 1980 and ’81.  Players like Ernie Floyd, who would attend Holy Cross, Tony Seymour, Dale Robinson and Timmy Hammond were big-time players. I averaged 15 points a game but was known for my cerebral approach to the game.  I didn’t focus on just scoring but all the other aspects of the game.  And I would do all the things that other players didn’t want to do, like playing tough defense and rebounding.  But while I excelled on the court, I knew that I was being passed through English High because of my athletic ability. My learning disabilities — being Dyslexic and suffering from attention deficit disorder —were being overlooked because I could play basketball,” he said.

Despite failing to get his high school diploma from Boston English, Sumner attended college at the University of Prince Edward in the New Brunswick region next to Nova Scotia on a basketball scholarship.  When his coach, Dave Nutbrown, who coached the Canadian National team, moved on to Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, Sumner transferred and attended Acadia for three years. He averaged 25 points a game at Prince Edward and 25+ at Acadia, statistics that earned him First Team All-Canada honors in 1984 and ’85.  He was one of the top 10 scorers in all of Canada, and then he fell in love with Katani, whom he met while playing basketball in Boston. 

Chris and his wife Katani over the years. PHOTO: Chris Sumner

“Here I was playing basketball up in Canada and I had not received my G.E.D (a condition that was allowed due to Proposition 48). Along comes this beautiful, educated woman who took to me and changed my life forever.  She said that she would see me only after I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X. We became the original ‘Love and Basketball’ couple.  After reading Malcolm’s autobiography, I decided that I would no longer be prostituted by the game of basketball. I left Canada, returned to Boston, married Katani Eaton (educated at Brown and Harvard universities) in 1985, and started a family,” he said. 

He would get his G.E.D. in a program hosted by Roxbury Community College and finish his undergraduate work at Springfield College, earning a Bachelor of Science Degree in human services in 1999 before receiving a master’s  from Wheelock College in social work in 2014.

Sumner took on many jobs while attending college and raising a family. His resume is one to be envied for the diversity and the challenges it presented.

He was selected for numerous executive positions due to his leadership capabilities — abilities honed on the basketball court.  “Basketball opened doors for me, but my God opened thousands more,” said Sumner today.

A love for community

From 1985 to present day, Sumner has put together a resume that reads like a “Who’s Who” in the executive world.  At present, he is interviewing with Roxbury Presbyterian Church Social Impact Center and UTEC — a re-entry program in Lowell, Massachusetts, for citizens returning to society. But none of those achievements stand taller in the life of Sumner than his ministerial work — he was ordained as a pastor in 2004 — and his love of family and devotion to uplifting his community.  “I always wanted to be involved in the community that made me who I am. It is a love for substantial leadership in the Black community.  My wife Katani and I try to set a positive example for our three adult daughters who have gained nine higher education degrees,” he said.

But what about Chris Sumner The Man?

“Father’s Day is always tough for me. The little boy in me wishes to meet his biological father someday. I want him to say he is proud of me and what I have accomplished in my life.  A few years ago, a man showed up and said he was my real father. Turns out that he was not. I will keep trying to find my real father while continuing to be a father to the thousands of young people who cross my path in my daily life. Spiritually, every day, my heavenly father encourages me by how proud he is of me! I’ll just keep doing the work he sets before me,” he said.

Happy Father’s Day, Chris Sumner, true father!

basketball, Chris Sumner, Father's Day, Sports