I just watched ESPN 30 for 30 “Benji”. It is the story of Simeon High School basketball star Benji Wilson, who was anointed the number one high school player in the country entering his senior year, and killed the day of the first game of his senior season. On that sentence alone, it is a profoundly tragic story.
Stories of this sort beg for an understanding, a lesson. This process calls for a hero, Benji Wilson, and a villain, Billie Moore, the teenager who gunned him down a half a block from school in broad daylight. It’s comforting to define life on these terms. It allows us to process the tragedy, define it and memorialize it. As I watched the story, I found something else…a culmination of circumstances and decisions that brought about the death of a young man.
Benji Wilson grew up in Chicago during a time of gang activity and violence. It was around him, but until the day of his death had not touched him. He was to some degree protected by those who loved him, valued his talent, or simply wanted something for having known him. He was in some degree privileged, and while this sense of privilege may manifest as arrogance, it more often conceals an insecurity of one’s worth beyond their obvious accolades. He was as only a high school senior, a father with a strained relationship to his son’s mother. He was as he left the school moments before his death arguing with his girlfriend.
Billie Moore grew up in the same neighborhood, and only fourteen months before the fateful day lost his best friend, his father to cancer. He was torn by the pain of his loss and the insecurity of hurried manhood compensating with a fire arm in his waste as he lingered outside Simeon High School.
Their paths crossed with a bump and hostile words. At once, both their developing manhoods were at challenged, and neither had the foresight to back down or move away. Moore fired. Wilson fell.
Next cometh the incompetence and inefficiency of inner city life. By city rule Wilson was taken to a hospital that was unprepared and incapable of treating his wounds. As the hours passed, a prospective story of recovery and redemption became one of death.
At so many moments, a circumstance or decision could have brought about a different outcome, but they did not, all the moments flowed into one irrevocable truth. The meaning and lesson is not in defining hero and villain, but in recognizing the decision within our own control that can save us on the worst of days, and lead us to greatness on the best of days.
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