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Important lessons from Benjamin Wilson’s story

April 20, 2012
April 20, 2012
Photo by Michael Loccisano

“Who was ultimately responsible for the shooting in the scene we just watched? Whose fault was it?” our young male scholars were asked about the documentary we had just watched at the mentoring program Higher Achievement.

The film was about Benjamin Wilson, the legendary high school basketball player whose life was tragically cut short in a chance altercation in the fall of 1984. At our “community meeting” phase of the evening, the scholars were given a discussion/workshop about life skills and navigating conflicts with peers which was led by me.

My most recent series of articles here on examiner, took an in depth look at some of the lessons learned during my brief stint playing basketball in high school and the life skills those experiences (not all positive) instilled in me. While it’s important to learn from our own life experiences, a lot that can be learned from the lives of others.

In 2013, ESPN produced a documentary titled Benji, as part of their 30 for 30 series. The documentary chronicled Benjamin Wilson’s meteoric rise to become the number one rated high school basketball player America in 1984. Wilson was on his way to playing big time division one college basketball, and most likely professional basketball afterwards.

In a chance encounter following an accidental collision on the sidewalk, Ben Wilson found himself in a war of words with another youth named Billy Moore, a member of the Gangster Disciples who happened to be carrying a gun. After the situation escalated, Wilson was shot twice, and suffered internal hemorrhaging. He could have potentially survived his gunshot wounds, but he was taken to a hospital without a trauma center and thus waited hours before receiving surgery. By the time he did get surgery, it was too late.

While Ben Wilson's death was tragic, the story of what actually happened as depicted by directors Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah provides very important lessons for young people.

After two of our scholars at Higher Achievement got into an altercation which ended with a punch being thrown (probably inevitable for some middle school students), the idea came to me to use Ben Wilson’s documentary as a teaching tool to talk to the scholars about navigating conflicts, and just how easy situations can spin out of control with unintended and permanent consequences.

What is clear after watching the story, and what was pointed out to the scholars was that both youths (Benji and Billy) had the chance to turn away from the conflict before any shots were fired, though each unfortunately continued to escalate it.

Regarding the question at the beginning of this article, many of the scholars replied, “It was Ben’s fault,” after which another mentor and myself pointed out to the group that Billy was at fault of having the gun on him, and that he also had the choice to not shoot Wilson who while taller, was unarmed.

Prior to showing the documentary, several key words and concepts were shared and discussed with the scholars including:

• Being life smart and street smart
• Reconciliation
• Understanding that life decision have ramifications and consequences
• Knowing what it means to instigate and provoke others
• Having foresight in life
• Making wise life decisions no matter what career path is pursued

“I’m not telling you not to defend yourselves if you have to,” were my final words for the scholars. “I just want you to be aware that you have choices in some of these situations and to be successful, you will have to have the foresight to navigate through situations like those in the video. Lastly, in most self-defense classes, most instructors tell you that violence should be the last option and they say that for a reason.”

Unfortunately there wasn’t time enough for the scholars to hear the powerful words of Ben Wilson's older brother Curtis Glenn who somberly said, “I just wish that he could have looked the other way but I told him he had to be a man. He knew that I was a man and wanted to be a lot like me, and I wish he hadn’t tried to be like me that day.”

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