When Narvell Benning (pictured) left his house in Buffalo, N.Y., for work on the morning of May 30th, he was already on the expressway when he realized he forgot to put on deodorant. Instead of returning to his home, he stopped at a Dollar General in Cheektowaga to purchase some, but what was supposed to be a quick stop to get fresh ended up with the father of four becoming the victim of a vicious racial assault.
Benning, 36, told NewsOne that when he left the store and got inside of his truck, he noticed several children near his vehicle. Their mother was just a few steps behind. When he started the ignition, Benning said the sound startled the children, who were standing in front of his truck, and they flinched. That was when the woman, Janelle Ambrosia, lost it.
“So she comes walking down, saying, ‘You ignorant fucking N*gger.’ And I said, What did you say? She said, ‘You ignorant fucking N*gger. I said, Wow, I can’t believe you said this,” Benning told NewsOne.
But instead of engaging in a verbal back and forth with Ambrosia, Benning reached in to his pocket for his phone and began recording. When NewsOne first reported on the story, commenters on Facebook praised Benning for his calm, non-combative response. Benning says that keeping his composure was necessary for him to document the racism that many Americans refuse to acknowledge.
“Honestly, a lot of this stuff is swept under the rug, and it’s rare that you find somebody being as belligerent as she is and forcefully angry toward an individual of another race on tape,” he said. “With all of this stuff that’s going on, the world needs to know that this is happening in Cheektowaga, in Buffalo, New York. It’s happening here. It’s happening to an individual who promotes positive stuff, so if you’re going to say it to me, say it on camera. And she definitely didn’t have a problem doing that.”
While Benning understands why others would have lost their patience, he says his real pain is for Ambrosia’s children.
“The only thing I was getting upset about was the fact that she was doing that in front of her kids,” he said. “When you do that in front of your kids, you don’t give them an opportunity to love. It’s all about hate and hating something they have no idea about. I’m a calm individual anyway. I’m only competitive when it’s basketball time. I used to play basketball in college and that’s when my competitive nature comes out, but off the court, I’m cool, calm, collected, respond when I need to respond. That’s my demeanor.”
Watch Ambrosia attack Benning with racial slurs here:
It’s not clear if charges will be brought against Ambrosia, but Cheektowaga Police Chief David Zack told the Buffalo News that, “There is possibly disorderly conduct that could possibly rise to the level of harassment, but both are violations.”
Benning has not pressed charges against Ambrosia, but he is considering it.
“I want to because she is a threat to not only me, she is a threat to society if you really think about,” he said. “The way she came at me, ‘I’ll throw my hot coffee on you, I’ll snatch you out of the vehicle, I’ll break this, I’ll do this.’ If my kids would have been in the car, they probably would’ve started crying. I’m just glad they weren’t in the car.”
In an interview with WBLK’s Big Rob, Ambrosia blamed Benning for starting the ordeal by calling her a “crackheaded cracker.” Benning says that is “totally false.” She later called WGRZ-TV to apologize for her behavior:
“I am ashamed and embarrassed by my behavior the other day, especially in front of my children,” she said. “It’s not who I am and what I truly believe in. I have been under my doctor’s care for mental health issues and was in the process of changing my medication,” Ambrosia said. “And I am not using that as an excuse but to let people further understand my frame of mind at the time. I am deeply sorry for my offensive behavior and the ignorant statements I made.”
But Benning isn’t buying her mental health excuse, “I don’t believe mental health applies to racism,” he said. “The things she said in front of her children, it’s beyond mental. The racism that is deep inside of her heart — that is who she is.”
The YouTube video titled “Blatant Racism in Cheektowaga NY” has generated more than 4.2 million views since it was uploaded. So far, Benning has spoken to some local radio stations and news outlets in the Buffalo area, but he really doesn’t want this ordeal to cast a shadow over the positive projects he is working on. He has a 9-5, but asked that NewsOne not identify it; instead, Benning has a T-shirt line called “Obviously Young And Brilliant” that he is proud of.
Growing up in south Buffalo, Benning says he experienced a lot of racism, but much of it was in passing. The encounter on May 30 was the very first time that he experienced someone calling him “N*gger” so up close and personal. When asked what he wants to come out of this unfortunate incident, he says he wants his video to document the reality that racism is real and that America has a long way to go before it can call itself “post-racial.”
“I just want the world to know that ignorance is everywhere,” Benning said, “not just in California with Donald Sterling, not Florida with Trayvon Martin, not just Louisiana with the Jena six. It’s in Buffalo, New York. It’s right here, and luckily, I got it on tape to prove what’s been happening for years.”