12/24/17 — Reconciling pain with joy

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Reconciling pain with joy

By Ethan Smith
Published in News on December 24, 2017 3:05 AM

Rodney Robinson talks about his relationship with his brother, Carlis Benton, who was murdered in mid November, only seven days after a vigil Robinson organized for his friend, Desconte Bryant, a high school classmate who was also murdered in 2017. Robinson said that his brother had even helped buy candles and balloons for the vigil to support the positivity and change that Robinson was trying to influence in the community.

Rodney Robinson woke up in tears Wednesday morning.

It was his high school graduation -- a day of celebration.

But his brother, Carlis Benton, wasn't by his side.

Nor was his friend and classmate, Desconte Bryant.

Both were shot and killed in separate incidents earlier this year.

Also absent from the ceremony -- and recently departed -- were Robinson's father and grandmother.

He lost all of them during his high school career, and on Wednesday his brother in particular remained fresh in his mind.

Carlis Benton, 38, was shot and killed in a double homicide Nov. 18 at 605 Second St.

"My brother was very, very proud of me for sticking in school and graduating even though I faced a lot of deaths going to school," Robinson said. "At the beginning I lost my dad, and at the middle I lost my grandma, and at the end I lost my brother -- it hurts very much."

Carlos Darden, 42, was also shot and killed during the incident. He'd been released from jail on Sept. 11 after charges against him of first-degree murder, possession of a firearm by a felon and being a habitual felon were dropped in Wayne County Superior Court for a crime he was accused of committing in 2015.

A man who was shot but not killed during the same incident -- Josh Davis, 30 -- was later arrested for his alleged part in the crime. He is charged with two open counts of murder.

It all brings cold comfort to Robinson, whose brother had come down from Baltimore, Maryland, to visit his family for a few days.

He was meant to return north later that same day.

Robinson saw Benton only several hours before he died.

"He came to my house that Friday night and talked to me and my mom, and he gave me money and said he would see us tomorrow," Robinson said. "That was the last time I saw him and spoke to him, is that Friday before he got killed."

Robinson said his brother was an ex-offender and had been to jail.

But, when Benton was released about five years ago, he swore to turn his life around to take care of his five brothers -- and he did.

"The last time he came out of jail we got together and he told me he wanted to change for us -- his little brothers -- so he was always coming around more, buying us clothes, and making sure everything we needed was taken care of," Robinson said.

Robinson said his brother was an entrepreneur with a landscaping business in Baltimore, Maryland, and was very active in helping in his community.

"I can explain my brother in a very positive way, a go-getter," Robinson said. "He took the time to always work. Everything that he wanted, he worked for it. Whatever he put his mind to do, he did it. He was big on perseverance, he never gave up. He didn't mind helping anybody. He would give you the shirt off his back. Anything you needed he would help you with it."

Benton was killed only one week after Robinson held a justice rally for Bryant, a friend of his he went to Goldsboro High School with. Bryant was shot and killed over Memorial Day weekend this year.

Robinson said Benton provided the balloons and candles that lined the same steps where Bryant was killed on Memorial Day weekend.

He had no way of knowing that just a week later his brother, too, would be gunned down in Goldsboro.

Robinson has since become very close with Bryant's family, bonding over the violent loss of a loved one.

"It hurts," Robinson said. "It really hurts so bad to know that my role model, the one that I looked up to and inspired me to finish high school -- he's gone."

The loss for Robinson has been tremendous. He has coped with the tragedy by praying and being active in the community.

"My main motive of coping with this is praying and seeking God for peace that surpasses all understanding," Robinson said. "I may not know why or how, but when I search God for that peace, he soothes me with that peace. That's one thing I cope with. I'm a very spiritual person, so I try to look to the hills and stay in God's presence to help me cope. And I stay active. I try to stay active in the community and in school. Those things like that help me cope."

Robinson is hoping the community can band together to stop the violence and let families live in peace and without fear.

"I hope to see the community just to come together and be peaceful," Robinson said. "I'm glad they made an arrest, it brings justice to both of the families, but we're still seeking for that peace -- we can't really find that peace until we all come together.

"I just hope that these tragedies will bring triumph and will bring victory for our community and it will bring us together."

Benton saw the positive potential in Robinson and brought it out of him, encouraging him to graduate high school and chase his dreams.

"He never led me the wrong way," Robinson said. "He always told me don't do what I did, do what you can do. He saw positive in me and brought it out of me."

While Robinson said graduating without his brother and classmate by his side was emotional, he knows he will carry with him the lessons they taught him for the rest of his life.

"My brother didn't make it to this moment," Robinson said. "He didn't make it to this moment for me to actually be able to tell him, 'Bro, I did it. I made it.' Just for him to hear those words, I know that would've just made him smile."

Robinson said Benton and Bryant taught him very valuable lessons in how to be true to himself.

"Not to be selfish, number one, and to always be true to yourself," Robinson said. "Be who you were created to be. One major thing is to not listen to anything negative people have to say about you. Whether it's your past or your present or your future, no matter what it is, don't take in what people have to say negative about you. You hold your head up high and you keep moving forward. Live life, be happy and always love each other, because we never know when our brother might be gone, or our sister or our mother or our friend might be gone."

And Robinson plans to apply those lessons to his own life.

He said he plans to honor the relationship he had with his brother and honor his brother's memory by taking some time -- since he graduated early -- to go up to Baltimore and help organize things to keep Benton's name, business and legacy alive.

"I want to make my brother smile again."