After a stranger helped them in their time of need, Horatio and Natasha Bennett launched a nonprofit that delivers care packages to Detroit’s homeless.
By Rachel Pepe
Photography by Hayden Stinebaugh
“Helping one to help others” is more than a motto — it is something Horatio and Natasha Bennett live by every day.
Years ago, their car broke down in Tennessee, and a stranger drove them 372 miles to their Georgia home.
The couple didn’t know the name or telephone number of the man, but he changed their lives.
“We decided then, while we were standing in the driveway, that we would never see a person in need and not try to help them,” says Horatio, 77.
In 2013, the Bennetts, who now live in Oak Park, founded the Horatio and Natasha Bennett Foundation. The nonprofit delivers new blankets and care packages to 18,000 homeless and destitute individuals on Detroit streets.
Natasha, 61, describes a bad winter several years ago when they saw adults and children trying to get into a shelter. “Around 10 p.m. (the shelters) have a cutoff, but the line would still be all the way around the block,” she says. So, she and her husband waited until shelters closed and distributed blankets to keep people warm on the streets.
To help people they can’t reach on their own, the Bennetts also give blankets to the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, C.O.T.S and Cass Community Social Services.
Aside from their foundation, Horatio and Natasha spent decades promoting Caribbean culture in Detroit.
“When I came back to Detroit, there were no Caribbean activists anywhere,” Horatio says. “Nobody knew what reggae was, and I’ve been a musician from Jamaica, so I decided I would promote the culture here.”
Horatio says he started the first reggae band and released the first reggae record in Detroit. His work also led to the creation of the first Detroit Caribbean Carnival in 1971.
Toronto already had a carnival that brought many attendees. But his goal, he says, was to bring the culture to Detroit and make it easier for people to participate without traveling a long distance.
“It has continued to evolve up until now, and it became one of the largest summer activities because we attracted thousands of people here in Detroit,” Horatio says.
From 1987 to 2006, the Bennetts published the Caribbean Source Newspaper, another way of promoting the culture. Horatio explains that many people from Caribbean nations live in Detroit and want to be in touch with what is happening in their country.
“It also had stories about what was happening here, so we could have a tie and feel like we are one,” Natasha adds.
After paying it forward over the years, Horatio wants people to know that they can make a difference too.
“I really want people to realize that what we are doing, they can do, because what you are seeing is two people who saw a need and tried to fulfill that need,” Horatio says. “Anybody can do the same thing.”
To donate blankets or support the Horatio and Natasha Bennett Foundation, email firstname.lastname@example.org.