This weekend we went to my best friend’s daughter’s graduation at the Tropicana field in St Pete Fla. She graduated from a college prep high school with an associate’s degree and will be attending Spelman in the fall. We are so very proud of her. When I called Ben to find out where to meet he told me to come to his office aka the funeral home. Ben KNOWS I am not keen on meeting him there because the last time I met him at the office he took me to the part where he does his work. NO BUENO!!!
Ben offers to drive me Andrea and Emmanuel to the graduation to eliminate the parking issues so we hop in the back of the limo. After the graduation Ben has to connect with his father and uncle who are prepping a graduation/birthday cookout at the park near his house. When we get to the park Ben is telling us that there are going to be a lot of food because of the amount of people coming. He tells me how much he spent on the meats and I think he’s exaggerating because NO ONE spends that amount of money for a cookout. He checks on the progress of the set up and then we leave.
Ben has to meet his team to complete a funeral but he’s running late. He doesn’t have time to drop us off at the funeral home so he says, “Drop me at the church and ya’ll take the limo back to the house.” WHAT!!!! I get to drive a limo, not a hearse but a for real limo!!!! I am hyped up. We decide we will catch back up around 4:30 at the cookout once Ben finishes the funeral. Lemme tell you, driving a limo is a unique experience. It’s really long so you have to drive half way into an intersection and then make your turn and you have to make sure you don’t clip anything. It was so much fun!!!! Andrea and I drop the car off and drive back to the condo in our SUV so we can chill for a little while and then hit the cookout.
When we arrive at the park the place is jammed packed. There is literally no place to park the car. People are putting their cars anywhere they can find a spot. As luck would have it we find a place because someone was leaving. Andrea and I get out and start looking around. There are hundreds of people milling about, eating, drinking, and playing cards. I think to myself, “How many parties are going on in this park?” We walk past a band that is cranking out tunes when we find Ben standing near a pot of crabs that has a line of people at least 20 deep. Then it hits me. All of these people are here for HIS cookout!!!
I said, “Ben. Who are all of these people?” He tells me that it’s the entire community. “We invite the city and we feed everyone.” It’s one of the ways his family gives back. They have ribs, chicken and a crab boil. There must have been a thousand pounds of meat but what I did not see…..HOT DOGS or BURGERS. Amazing!!!!
Inside the community center they have all of the sides like mac n cheese, deviled eggs, different rice dishes and vegetables. There are cookies, brownies and pie slices plated and ready to be picked up. There are people inside that are politely serving each person with a smile. They ask what would you like and put it on your plate. It is piping hot, not a cold side except what needed to be cold. They have a simple rule, ten people inside at a time and no seconds until everyone is served. Ben’s cousin Bucky was standing at the door letting the groups in. He must have an eidetic memory because no one returned for a second plate while I was standing there.
I am in complete amazement at what my boy is doing. He is meeting and greeting people, talking, laughing, hugging, and shaking hands. I see this tall guy walking around and learn he is the former Mayor of St. Pete Rick Baker. He is there in support of the family and is also seeking another term. Ben and Rick are chatting about politics, the business of revamping city hall etc. I even see a news crew there covering the cookout.
My amazement turns to inspiration and a deep respect for Ben. Ben and his family have grown multiple businesses in the community. While doing so they give back with outreaches and working the political arena. I think back to a post on Facebook where someone cracked a joke about Ben and his multiple jobs. They said it purely in good fun but I look at him differently now. I said Ben, “Do you realize the power you have?” He just smiled and said, “This is small. Come back for Christmas”.