POWDER SPRINGS, Ga. - Thousands of friends and well-wishers celebrated the life of McEachern High School senior and Vanderbilt football signee Rajaan Bennett during a moving and emotional memorial service held Wednesday night at the school.
More than 3,500 McEachern students, parents and residents crowded into the gymnasium to hear numerous tributes to the fallen Bennett, who served as an example for his devotion to family and academics as much as he did for his accomplishments on the football field. The 18-year-old died tragically Feb. 18, the victim of a murder-suicide in his home.
While eight speakers addressed the crowd, including Rajaan's mother, current Tennessee Titan linebacker Gerald McRath, McEachern teammates and coaches, and Vanderbilt Head Coach Bobby Johnson, it was Bennett's own words that stirred the attendance.
McEachern literature teacher Allison Paulk fought tears as she struggled to read Bennett's essay titled "Strength." Written just a week prior to the tragedy, Bennett addressed the need to quickly mature after his father's death when he was 10 years of age.
"There will never be a time that I will give up," Paulk read from Bennett's essay. "I work hard at whatever I do for that man upstairs to smile down on me with the rays of the sun.
"My drive cannot be stopped or even slowed down, because every obstacle has a way around it," the essay continued.
Johnson echoed Bennett's words, saying the 2009 Georgia AAAA Offensive Player of the Year "was a college football coach's dream."
"Rajaan Bennett was a dynamic football player and a great leader," Johnson added. "But at the same time, he was humble, loving, caring and dedicated to his family. Fortunately for all of us who knew him, Rajaan showed us the way. He left us the blueprint for living a life that matters."
McRath, who graduated from McEachern six years ago, praised Bennett's example to others at the school. "That's jackpot right there, jackpot," he said, pointing to a framed No. 5 Vanderbilt game jersey provided by the Commodore staff.
"Rajaan showed the entire McEachern family how it should be done on the field and in the books," McRath said to nearly 80 of Bennett's teammates. "Now, you have the responsibility to build on what he accomplished."
Narjaketha Bennett, struggling to find words said her son had to mature at a young age. "I never ever had to scold Rajaan. He was just a wonderful child," she said.
Johnson, joined at the memorial by five Vanderbilt offensive coaches, concluded his remarks by referencing the Commodore Creed, a collection of beliefs upon which Johnson's program is based.
"The last line says, `Live Like a Champion.' It could easily say, `Live Like Rajaan Bennett.' "
As the ceremony concluded, many in the crowd were left to ponder the closing words of Bennett's recent essay.
"Every day I become stronger from the weights physically, the books mentally and life emotionally. There is no limit to my strength and at the end of the day, I want to be known as the strongest," it read.
Note: The funeral for Rajaan Bennett is scheduled this Saturday at the Trinity Chapel Church of God in Powder Springs. It will start at 10 a.m., CT. Donations to assist the Bennett family can be sent to the McEachern Endowment Fund, 2400 New Macland Road, Powder Springs, Ga., 30127 (please write `Bennett' on the lower left hand side of the envelope.)
by Rajaan Bennett
This Essay was written in Multi-Cultural Literature class on February 10, 2010
Somebody once told me that, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). Life hasn't been a walk in the park for me, but I'm thankful for the obstacles, hardships, and accomplishments that GOD has provided for me. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be the Rajaan Bennett that you know today. I wouldn't have things any other way.
Strength is the ability to do or bear things in the state of being strong.
In the year of 2000, I moved from the streets of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to the suburbs of Powder Springs, Georgia. A year later, my dad died in a horrible car wreck, and as a ten year-old, I knew he wasn't coming back. This tragedy rattled me to the core. I felt as if there was no need for me to live. I wanted to be as happy as the kids with dads and moms.
Some days I would wonder - why me? But eventually, I realized that it was my turn to become a man. As I became older, I came to notice that in life you use strength as a blanket to protect you from this cold world.
I am the oldest of 3 and I have a brother with special needs who I have to take care of. I have to balance school, sports, friends, and family - and it gets so hard, but I push myself. I push myself like a sprinter who is neck and neck with an opponent with 10 meters left. With the strength that I posses, I feel like I'm Hercules.
I matured faster than all of my friends - and there will never be a time that I will give up. I may complain, I may refuse, and I may even cry about it, but I know I have to do what I have to do.
I work hard at whatever I do - just for that man upstairs to smile down on me with the rays of the sun ...and they feel so warm. My drive cannot be stopped or even slowed down, because every obstacle has a way around it. Every day I become stronger from the weights physically, the books mentally, and life emotionally.
There is no limit to my strength and at the end of the day, I want to be known as the strongest.