“I do not seek revenge!” The words of a mother, clad in red and voice as stern as God on Judgment Day, replay in my mind. I heard those words echo off the walls of the church, our tears blurring the sight of the casket before us, the resting place of our friend.
A 24-year-old affable track and football star who wouldn’t be caught anywhere without a smile plastered across his face, Offie Dennis was an angel among men.
He daily wore a white T-shirt (a staple in his fashion), carrying a bottle of some variety of juice in one hand and with his verbally betrothed lady and fellow Raritan Valley Community College student, Sharene Decambre, attached to his hip. Those who did not have the privilege of knowing Offie may remember the name: He and Sharene lit up the runway along with 28 other students in the April fashion/talent show to benefit the Graham Family, a family displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
A representative from Lady Ingenuity magazine asked him if he would travel and help others again in the face of another tragedy. His response was as unhesitating as his character: “Yes, we’d all gather together again and do what we could to help.”
Not long after that, we were all brought together again – this time to help each other get through the tragedy of his death.
On June 17 Offie Dennis left a house party to go get pizza with his brother and two friends on the corner of Senior Street in New Brunswick. Someone in a passing vehicle fatally shot him in the head.
The motive: An unfinished dispute between the assassin and an unknown attendee of the same house party that Dennis and his friends attended.
The mistake: The deranged 18-year-old shot the wrong person. Offie was the victim of violence that was not meant for him.
“A king has fallen today in Israel,” Offie’s 19-year-old cousin said, his voice booming, as he recited a passage from the Bible. And he was right: a king had fallen.
Offie Dennis walked with the stride of a king, bouncing up and down as if his petite 5’6” frame was on invisible stilts and he dared the world to try to intimidate him. He seemed to pop up anywhere there was action.
He led a busy life, but he never seemed to tire; he found the time to comfort those of us who were stressing, crack jokes with those of us who needed some laughter, love his woman, balance classes, juggle new-car payments, strut in fashion show practices, play basketball with the fellas during college hour, sing in his church choir, pay utilities on his newly rented apartment. He was always on the move, and so he was on the night of his death.
As I grapple with the internal conflict of rage and sorrow, I remember Offie’s beautiful mother, her voice as strong in my head as it was the day it resonated through that tightly packed Catholic church.
“I do not seek revenge. I forgave the person who did this. That person has a soul and a mother. I pray for his family. You young people, the rage you feel, the pain, the sorrow — use it for something positive. I do not want revenge,” she said, standing next to the casket holding her fallen son. “Offie loved people. He would have taken a bullet for each and every one of you in here, and you know it. Love brought you here and now let love lead you.”
In honor of his mother’s resilience and of Offie’s own kind-hearted nature, I urge those of us who are blessed with life to try to leave a positive impression on the world, to allow our voices to be heard, to face our demons daily and reject the idea that violence can end our suffering.
I urge us all to fight back. Fight back, not with rage and destruction, but with a resolution that you will face your pain and anger so that others will not have to follow behind in the same tear-stained footsteps you have trodden. Let your sweat and blood be poured out to preserve others from having to bear the anguish you have had to endure. We all have crosses to bear, but we do not have to bear them alone.
Offie seemed to breeze in and out of my life, and even though he may not have known exactly what I was going through, he was there to let me know I can make it.
As I write and tears flow, I am fighting to practice what I preach, though in mind it seems so much easier to meet violence with violence, to silence the blood of the innocent with the blood of the guilty. Still, I am reminded that those who live by the sword die by the sword.
Hate is as infectious as love and I smile remembering the words of Offie’s pastor: “That boy ran from one end of the earth to the other because he had a message to spread, and that message was love.”
For those of his who saw God’s love manifested in the smile of a man, whose laughter will forever be engraved in our hearts, we nod: “We’ll run on, Offie; we’ll run on.”