Violence and silence
There are a lot of guns, drugs, and violence
People get killed everyone knows but when it comes to testifying they're silent
Where I come from
You shoot before you swing, you sleep but you don't dream
You keep your mouth shut and never say what you've seen
Where I come from
You sell dope to get by, you smoke dope to get high, but dope isn't the answer sometimes you gotta cry
Where I come from
Not every murder makes the news
You stay up all night because if you snooze you lose
I wish where I came from wasn't so violent
I wish where I came from people would speak up and not stay silent
– by Bensley Bornelus, Fort Myers High senior
Bensley Bornelus' life experience straddles two worlds.
The Fort Myers High School senior wide receiver, a Division-I football prospect, has numerous friends from the predominantly black Dunbar community and others who live along mostly-white McGregor Boulevard, according to a story from the Fort Myers News Press.
Bornelus, who was born and raised in Fort Myers to parents who immigrated from Haiti, does not live in either of those places. He lives somewhat in between, near Deleon Street, which he views to be an increasingly dangerous neighborhood.
When his honors English teacher asked the class to write a ballad earlier this year, Bornelus, 18, drew his inspiration from shootings that claimed the lives of two of his good friends.
“It has a lot to do with that,” Bornelus said. “I feel like it’s a danger zone all the time. Last year, I had just finished playing against South Fort Myers, and we had a shooting on Deleon Street, a block away from my house.
“He didn’t die, surprisingly. And a couple of years ago, a couple of guys got killed on the street right next to mine.”
But two shootings this year hit home.
Stef’an Strawder, a club basketball teammate of Bornelus, died from a gunshot wound July 25 on teen night at Club Blu in Fort Myers.
“I still don’t even believe it, even to this day,” Bornelus said.
Lawrence Lockley, a childhood friend and classmate at Dunbar Middle School with Bornelus, died from a gunshot wound in his Fort Myers neighborhood Aug. 28.
“He was a good kid,” Bornelus said. “He used to get in some trouble, but I know the last time I talked to him, earlier this year, he was on the right path. He kept talking about college. He really wanted to go to college.”
Giftson Bornelus, Bensley’s older brother, plays wide receiver at Davidson College. He, too, lost a close friend to a shooting death. Jo Jo Brunson, a teammate of Giftson Bornelus at Fort Myers High, died April 20, 2013, at the age of 17.
All three of those shootings remain unsolved.
“Everyone gets scared about what happens next, if they say something,” Bensley Bornelus said. “To be honest, I want my poem to change that. Actions speak louder than words.”
Many weekend nights, Bornelus will log on to Facebook, hoping there isn’t more news of violence but following feeds of his friends when something happens.
“Facebook is news for the new generation,” Bornelus said. “Whenever I want to know who got shot, I just go on Facebook.”
Bornelus sometimes sees something else that troubles him on Facebook: Friends categorizing people who are different from them.
“Don’t fall into the stereotypes,” Bornelus said of what he has learned. “All people from Dunbar aren’t bad. Most people from Dunbar are good people. Some make wrong decisions. Don’t let the actions of a few dictate how you feel about everybody else.”
Bornelus said he wrote the poem with the hope that it will inspire people to stop the violence – and to stop the silence among those who witness crimes.
Fort Myers High honors English teacher Courtney Butts, who gave the assignment, said some of the ballads from her class were written better, but none came "straight from the heart" like Bornelus' did.
"The typical middle ages ballads would have four stanzas of four lines each, about 16 lines," Butts said. "It was supposed to be a short, emotional statement. I was very happy when he brought it back to me. He captured his feelings. You can just see the helplessness of what’s going on here. He wants to see a change."
Bornelus has the rest of this football season and senior school year to navigate before beginning the next step in his life journey. He has four football scholarship offers: Kent State, Southern Mississippi, Florida A&M and Stetson.
Going to Kent State would allow him to play against his brother for a season. But going to Stetson would allow Bornelus to achieve his goal of becoming a dentist, as he said the school has a strong dental program.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Bornelus has caught 12 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown this season.
“We’ve scored so fast, it’s been hard to get the ball,” Bornelus said. “But it’s good to be patient. Patience is key.”
Fort Myers coach Sam Sirianni Jr. said Bornelus has been a role model student-athlete.
“He’s always been grounded,” Sirianni said. “That’s one of the great things about football. It brings together kids from different backgrounds. You want them to be bonded as brothers on and off the field. They see the world through different eyes.
“You hope that kids get the big picture like Bensley does at age 17 and 18. He has always been light years ahead of his age.”