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For Jaheim Benton, there’s a thin line between all the winning and the hard knock truisms of his reality, all the fun and games and the cold, harsh candor that speak to the conditions and struggles life has become for far too many families such as his own.
Mere days after starring on the Jackie Robinson West Little League team that earned the U.S. division title and came within one more extended, late game rally of perhaps adding the international banner to their spoils, 12-year-old Benton was back in his native Chicago and back to sleeping with his father Frank Jackson “in the homes of friends and family, one step away from the shelters and the streets.”
There’s a bitter irony in a grade school boy being feted in a citywide parade as a local hero, all while dealing with the unimaginable, unspoken that his parents can’t so much as find consistent enough work in that same city to simply afford them the benefit of being able to house his family under the same roof.
The Benton family has come to know and painfully been forced to ponder that paradox all too well. While mom, Devona Benton, cares for another 16-year-old brother and three grandchildren as a home-care provider, her hours have been so dramatically cut by her Catholic Charities employer in recent times the family could no longer make end meets or keep up with rent payments, not even with Jackson still working part-time as a radiator technician.
Even with all that drama a part of his every minute existence, Jaheim Benton managed to score five runs during JRW’s Little League title run in Williamsport, Pa., largely driven by heeding the message and mantra of his Coach Darold Butler.
“He said keep our heads up,” said the otherwise shy and introspective seventh grader, adding the mentor constantly reminded all of his teammates “you did good.”
As Jaheim Benton and his teammates did far more than “good” in becoming the first all-African American team to win the LLWS, his proud parents looked on, their trip made possible courtesy of the generous donations of major leaguers such as LaTroy Hawkins and Carl Crawford. As for the sanctity of the entire family, a local funeral home has stepped forward to offer to pay the family’s rent for the next year.
“They have united the city,” said Spencer Leak Jr., of Leak and Sons Funeral Home. “They have united the country. And now, they are known all over the world. I would hope that this rent turns into a mortgage that turns into home ownership for them. We want our little superstar to have a roof over his head because that’s what he is. He’s a superstar.”
In god-speed like timing, Devona Benton is praying and hoping to be able to change the game for her family by adding more clients to her work days, enough that her family will soon be able to get back on their feet and back in the same household.
Here’s wishing her and the whole Benton family the kind of magical, majestical spark her son and his Jackie Robinson West teammates so thrilled and riveted us with this summer in their season among seasons.
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