Tywanza Sanders

We Hear You, Wanza: Portait of Tywanza Sanders

“We would talk about the Bible all the time, and sometimes I did wonder if my child was gonna die early, because our conversations were so deep about the Bible”

Felicia Sanders, mother and Survivor

Full of Life and Ambition

Tywanza Sanders
Tywanza Sanders by the Charleston Chronicle

Tywanza grew up the son of a local cosmetologist who owned her own salon. While in middle school, he began his own track in barbering as a barbering assistant. After graduating from James Island Charter High School in 2006, he enrolled in Denmark Technical College where he obtained a Diploma in Applied Science of Barbering. Afterward, enrolled in the historically black Allen University where he received his BA in Business Administration, and returned to Charleston as a licensed barber.

Sanders was “known for his broad, ready smile and positive outlook on life.” While in high school he was a member of the football team and Future Business Leaders of America, and filmed his schools basketball games for the journalism team. While in college, he juggled his classes, part-time jobs, and extracurricular activities such as the National Black MBA Association and the National Association of Black Accountants. The University in a statement said,

“He was a quiet, well known student who was committed to his education…He presented a warm and helpful spirit as he interacted with his colleagues.”

Allen University

“Tywanza Sanders was a handsome man with a dazzling smile; a poet, musician, entrepreneur; a barber who cut hair while telling everyone in the shop that one day the whole world would know his name; a rapper, philosopher; lover of a good argument and a good deed; seeker of God. “


After college, while holding two jobs in Charleston, Sanders prepared to attend grad school. By all accounts, Tywanza Sanders wanted to live life to the fullest, throwing his whole self into everything he did. After college, that meant exploring as many gifts as possible. In addition to fishing with his father, and regularly attending the Wednesday Bible study at church with his mother and great aunt , he enjoyed writing lyrics, poetry, and participating in poetry slams. He left behind a book of poetry he was publishing entitled “Tragedy.” It was exploring issues of poverty, violence, and inequality. Time.com writes:

Tywanza Sanders
Tywanza Sanders via Instagram

“He was trying stand-up comedy. Thinking about modeling. He might pursue an M.B.A. He was considering law school. He had a sideline in tattoo artistry. He was headed to grad school in music production. Life, Sanders understood, is a multiple-choice quiz, and his answer was all of the above.”


Just before his death, Tywanza was accepted at Full Sail University in Florida to pursue a degree in Media and Communication, beginning the upcoming fall of 2015.

The Youngest

Tywanza “Wanza” Sanders was the youngest to perish in the tragedy, dying while trying to save his great-aunt, Susie Jackson, the oldest of those whom were taken. He asked the shooter to point the gun at himself instead. They died together, inches from his mother, and in his final moments, he reached to touch his Aunt Susie’s hair. Polly Sheppard recounts,

“… Tywanza said, ‘we mean you no harm.’ He said it two or three times before he shot him.”

Polly Sheppard


Von Drehle, David, Jay Newton-Small, and Maya Rhodan. 2015. “What It Takes to Forgive a Killer.” TIME.Com, November 12, 2015. https://time.com/time-magazine-charleston-shooting-cover-story/.
Tywanza Sanders Legacy Foundation. n.d. “Volunteer | The Tywanza Sanders Legacy Foundation | |Emanuel 9 | Charleston.” Tywanza Sanders Legacy Foundation. Accessed July 19, 2019. https://www.tywanzasanderslegacyfoundation.com/tysstory.
Truesdell, Jeff. 2019. “New Documentary on Charleston Church Shooting Looks at Faith, Forgiveness 4 Years Later.” PEOPLE.Com. June 17, 2019. https://people.com/crime/charleston-church-shooting-documentary-faith-forgiveness/.
Truesdell, Jeff. 2015. “Charleston Church Shooting Victims Ranged from Pastors to Politician to Girls’ Track Team Coach.” PEOPLE.Com. June 18, 2015. https://people.com/crime/charleston-victims-ranged-from-pastors-to-politician-to-girls-track-team-coach/.
The South Carolina Department of Education. n.d. “Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders – South Carolina African American History Calendar.” Accessed July 21, 2019. https://scafricanamerican.com/honorees/tywanza-sanders/.
Stump, Scott. 2018. “Survivor Stories: Felicia Sanders on Surviving the Charleston Church Shooting.” TODAY.Com. September 19, 2018. https://www.today.com/news/survivor-stories-felicia-sanders-surviving-charleston-church-shooting-t137291.
Simeone, Jessica, Tasneem Nashrulla, Ema O’Connor, and Tamerra Griffin. 2015. “These Are The Victims Of The Charleston Church Shooting.” BuzzFeed News. June 19, 2015. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/jessicasimeone/these-are-the-victims-of-the-charleston-church-shooting.
BBC News. 2015. “The Victims of Charleston Shooting,” June 18, 2015, sec. US & Canada. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-33193090.