Rajaan Bennett’s life was snuffed out just as he was about soar by a sick man in a jealous rage. It’s hard to imagine any good coming from that.
Yet some has.
McEachern High School athletics director Jimmy Dorsey is dealing with the irony of that every day.
“The outpouring of response from people has been unbelievable,” Dorsey said Wednesday morning as he tended to the final details of tonight’s 7 p.m. memorial service at the McEachern Gymnasium. “Whether it’s what happened in Haiti, which was just devastating, or something like this, there’s just a lot instances where people really do step up to the plate. We’re getting a real dose of that here and it’s just been uplifting. It’s been phenomenal, more than we could have expected.”
Bennett, 18, was shot and killed while being held hostage with other family members by his mother’s ex-boyfriend in their Powder Springs home in the wee hours of the morning last Thursday (Feb. 18). An uncle was injured in the shooting while his mother, 14-year-old sister and 17-year-old brother escaped unharmed.
Bennett was a star running back at McEachern High School, best buddy to his special-needs younger brother and an aspiring architect. He had signed a letter-of-intent to attend Vanderbilt University on a football scholarship just two weeks earlier.
Almost a week later, Dorsey is still an emotional wreck. A thought or mention of Bennett can leave him weeping at his desk. But he has had to keep it together as chief emissary to the Bennett family and point person for the landslide of support that is pouring in for them.
“We’ve probably received I guess close to 200-plus donations in some form from people all over our community and Metro Atlanta and Georgia and outside of Georgia,” Dorsey said. “We’ve had everything from an anonymous person who wanted to pay an entire year’s rent for Ms. Bennett to a business that is going to set up a $4,000-a-year scholarship that they want to establish at our school in Rajaan’s memory. So it’s just been a gamut of people doing things.”
“She says, ‘Here’s some money for Rajaan’s fund. It’s all I’ve got,’” Dorsey said, choking back emotion. “You just knew she scraped to get it. She said, ‘I wish I had more.’ It just tore my heart out. I had tears coming down my face. I said, ‘Honey, you’ll never know how much it means. The fact that you’d walk in here and do that is just amazing.” I hated taking it from her but I wouldn’t disrespect her for anything. She walked out of here and I just sat here at my desk and cried.”
Tonight’s memorial service will be as much about thanking all those people as it will be to remember short, impressive life of Rajaan Bennett. Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson will speak. So will Tennessee Titans player Gerald McRath, a McEachern grad. And Rajaan’s mother, Narjaketha Bennett, sequestered since that horrible night, will make her first public remarks.
Viewing and visitation is Friday evening at the First Baptist Church of Powder Springs. Funeral services are Saturday morning at 11 a.m. at Trinity Chapel in Powder Springs. Mayes Ward-Dobbins Funeral Home in Marietta is handling the arrangements.
The Vanderbilt coach and his wife Catherine plan to attend it all, Dorsey said.
“He said, ‘I’m going to be there for all of it,” Dorsey said. “This guy has been unreal. You know, he never really knew Rajaan outside of recruiting. But the Vanderbilt community has been unreal. Phone calls, donations, you know, it’s been something else.”
The money is sorely needed. Bennett’s funeral expenses had to be taken care of. Understandably, the family does not want to remain in the home. So they must relocate and move. There are medical expenses for Rajaan’s uncle, Taiwan Hunter, who was wounded in the shooting but will survive. And Dorsey is hopeful there will be enough left over to care for Des Bennett, an autistic child who will need a lifetime of help.
Dorsey has not yet counted up all the donations. For now they’re stuffed in lockbox awaiting an official accounting.
But for him the outpouring has not been about financial restoration.
“As tragic as this was it just kind of reaffirms your faith in people,” he said. “There are still a lot more good people than bad people in this world. That part of this thing has really given us all the strength to get through this. The initial shock of that was hard. You almost lose your faith in mankind that something like that could happen. And then this happens and you get your faith back and then some.
“I told his mom yesterday, I said, ‘Ms. Bennett, none of us can understand what happened to your son and why the Good Lord chose him; we can’t rationalize that. But there is so much good that’s going to come out of this. I really think Rajaan is going to touch more lives this way than maybe he would have any other way.’ That’s the only sense I can make of it.”