By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
When he first walked onto the Miles College campus, Lamar Benefield said didn’t know what to expect. He grew up in Druid Hills, a small neighborhood in north Birmingham and acknowledged while younger he didn’t see a future.
Even after he enrolled at Miles “I still didn’t think of myself as a college student,” he said, “my mom was more excited than I was but, reality hit me on the first day of classes … It was kind of intriguing to be around so many different people from so many different places. Everybody was on a mission and I wanted to be a part of that.”
After arriving on campus, Benefield hasn’t looked back.
The 27-year-old entrepreneur, philanthropist and visionary has since co-founded Brothers and Sisters Inquiring Change (BASIC), a charitable organization that helps homeless people; hosted a Bring a Friend Job Fair at Fountain Heights Recreational Center; received an Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy from Trinity International University of Ambassadors based in Duluth, GA for his community efforts and most recently hosted A Taste of Birmingham to gather Birmingham citizens and visitors in town for The World Games to get a taste of what Birmingham’s local food trucks and business owners have to offer.
Benefield is no stranger to hard work. He saw his mother take on several jobs a day from certified nursing assistant, cleaning houses and doing hair to provide for him and his three younger siblings Lakira Benefield 26, Qarmisa College 22, Katelyn Hall 13.
“Seeing my mother work as hard as she did for us it made me want to level up and become a provider for my family,” said Benefield, who worked to assist his mother with younger siblings.
Benefield said he learned how not to make money while younger. “Growing up in [Druid Hills] I was introduced to illegal entrepreneurship. I saw how fast money operated and it seemed like everybody was doing it, but my peers had bigger dreams with no guidance” he said.
Although his parents separated when he was age 10, Benefield still felt the warmth and love from his aunts, uncles, and grandparents. “I grew up around a real family-oriented environment and everybody was close,” he said.
Benefield attended Tarrant High School then later transferred to Huffman High School after he and his family moved. He remembers being labeled as a troubled kid.
“I had so many write-ups I got put out of Huffman High School for selling marijuana,” he said. “They sent me to alternative school. At that time I couldn’t see a future but I decided to somewhat get my act right.”
Over time Benefield returned to Huffman and after graduating didn’t have a clue what he wanted to do besides the illegal activities he saw growing up until he received a phone call from his grandfather Joe Benefield who was a Mathematics professor at Miles.
“He asked me if I wanted to go to college. Although I was receiving letters in the mail from schools, I had to remind him I had yet to take the ACT, SAT basically I didn’t do anything that was required of me to attend college.”
In the summer of 2013, Benefield arrived on Miles College campus.
“I went from wearing Levi Jeans to slacks. I’ve always had swag, but I felt the need to be on my grown man. I wanted to look and feel like I was headed towards success,” he said.
As a sophomore, Benefield declared his major as communications and attended a Communications Club meeting.
“I felt like I could fit in,” he said. “The environment was very welcoming, and I felt a growing opportunity. That club had great leaders and they were organized. First and foremost they gave back to the community. We would go to Holy Family [High School], and mentor the students.”
He pursued a career as a digital reporter interviewing students and faculty on campus about events and individual successes. Wanting to grow as a freelance digital reporter Benefield reached out to several publicist and media personals in Birmingham to interview local doctors and lawyers, and professional athletes who came to town.
“I had the privilege to interview so many people like Birmingham’s Rickey Smiley, [stand-up comedian, television host, actor, and radio personality] and Jeh Jeh Pruitt [sports anchor/reporter with WBRC FOX6] but I really enjoyed interviewing NBA players Eric Bledsoe and Chris Paul. That was big for me.”
That led to an internship within the athletic department on Miles College campus. Benefield would travel and do media for the football team, which won an Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship while he interned.
Being on campus with other students, faculty and staff allowed Benefield to build his confidence. At times he would feel pressure from some professors but knew this was to mold and shape him to successfully complete college.
“I could credit so many professors for my transformation. I’ll never forget I had a D in Dr. [Bala] Baptiste’s news reporting class for midterms and I had to bring that grade up. I literally was in his office every single day. I ended up passing his class. During my senior year I had to present my senior presentation. He pulled me to the side and told me why he was so hard on me. He basically wanted to challenge me and I’m forever grateful for that.”
‘Sun Up Until Sun Down’
Although he didn’t live on campus Benefield spent a lot of time there networking and building professional contacts. “I was on campus sun up until sun down.”
He also came across like-minded individuals who wanted to give back to the community. In 2017, Benefield along with LaKenya Rush, Nicole Smith and Justin Bryant founded Brothers and Sisters Inquiring Change (BASIC), a charitable organization that helps homeless people. “We wanted to do something positive in the community specifically in the Birmingham and surrounding areas.”
BASIC has organized several events within the community including job fairs, college fairs, car washes and charity events.
“My most memorable event was when [we] raised money for a pregnant woman that fell on hard times. We partnered with a local library and gave her a surprise baby shower. She was overwhelmed with emotions,” he said.
In May 2018, Benefield graduated from Miles with a bachelors of arts degree in communications with a concentration in Journalism. Months after graduation he traveled to Los Angeles, Boston and New York.
“When I went to New York City and saw how big it was and how people were networking and just doing business in general. It inspired me to come back to Birmingham to plan and execute everything I wanted to do here,” he said.
“I quickly began to think of a way to give back to the community. [During a Stop The Violence rally in his old neighborhood] I heard several people mention they were unemployed,” he said. “I had to do something about that. So I thought I need to bring a job fair here.”
Benefield planned his first Bring a Friend Job Fair in at Fountain Heights Recreational Center. “I used my resources, made calls to people I networked with over the years, created a list of employers and there was my event.”
The first Bring a Friend Job Fair in July 2021 had more than 200 attendees some of whom lined up an hour before the job fair began. “I didn’t expect it to turn out the way it did but I was overwhelmed with emotions. I said if I could help one person obtain a job my mission was complete,” he said. “That job fair allowed me to build meaningful relationships with HR professionals with majority of the employers.”
In June 2022, Benefield received an Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy from Trinity International University of Ambassadors for his community efforts. “During the ceremony they highlighted me as the youngest graduates and it was an overwhelming feeling. I was a sponge in that room,” he said.
Leaving the ceremony Benefield said he felt inspired to return to Birmingham to plan and execute A Taste of Birmingham, which he to put together during the first weekend of The World Games.
“This was a great opportunity for Birmingham citizens and foreigners to come out and experience different types of foods from different cultures,” Benefield said. “We had local American food vendors, Hispanic, Kenyan and some from Liberia, and I’m so excited to interact with every face I see,” said Benefield.
Benefield said it was his best event thus far.
“I was nervous, I didn’t know what to expect. I organized it to the best of my ability. The day of I sat back and just let it flow. Majority of the food trucks sold out and that made me extremely happy. That’s when I felt like my job was complete.”
He is known for planning and organizing events but this one was a challenge because he was new to the food industry therefore he had to make a lot of phone calls to food vendors that he had never had an in person interaction with. The highlight of his day was to see children running around having fun and the long lines at each food truck and vendors.
It’s been important to do what he can to improve his community, he said. Asked how he felt about the direction of the city, he replied, “While I was in college most of my peers were talking about leaving Birmingham and going to larger cities to pursue their professional careers. I saw years ago the [positive] direction Birmingham was going in and I proudly said I’m staying here I want to be a part of this.”