D Kevin McNeirHealth

D.C. Businessman Chet Bennett Receives Gift of Life

Returns Kindness After Longtime Friend Donates Kidney

Chet Bennett has long been a popular fixture throughout the District – a businessman, philanthropist and mentor to hundreds of youth and budding entrepreneurs.

But his life turned topsy-turvy about a year ago when his physicians informed that he’d need to undergo dialysis three days a week, placing him on a national listing for patients desperately in need of a kidney to replace the failing organ within.

Bennett’s story of selflessly giving his time, talent and tithes to those in his Northwest community would be aired in a report on WUSA9 in the early months of 2019 – a tear-jerker but also a call to action for many of his friends.

Chet Bennett, founder and CEO of the Bennett Career Institute (Rob Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Chet Bennett, founder and CEO of the Bennett Career Institute (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

In fact, after the news broke, 11 people stepped forward volunteering to give Bennett a life-saving kidney. One of the potential donors, Acia Williams, a good friend to the kind-hearted businessman for 20 years, would be determined as a perfect match – the subsequent operation went off without a hitch.

But this emotional tale doesn’t end there. On Monday, Feb. 10, Williams cut the ribbon for the grand re-opening of her own beauty shop located at the intersection of Georgia and Florida in Northwest – A New Image by Acia.

The benefactor for Williams – Bennett. Williams has seen her dream come true, becoming the owner of the shop which she’s managed for the last eight years for Bennett who owns several salons throughout the City as well as a beauty college and several licensed daycare centers.

Speaking to reporters from ABC7, Bennett said, when referring to his own act of kindness, “This is thank you. I can’t begin to thank you enough for giving me life, but we can start with you making your dream a reality by having your own salon.”

“I thank God that whatever voice it was, she paid attention to it.”

Acia Williams prepares model Mabel Lei's hair for upcoming event after receiving the hair salon as a gift from Chet Bennett. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Acia Williams prepares model Mabel Lei’s hair for upcoming event after receiving the hair salon as a gift from Chet Bennett. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

Since the surgery last April, both Bennett and Williams report they’re doing fine.

Bennett, in an interview held last year by WUSA9 reporters, said when he first learned that he’d need a kidney transplant, found the news difficult to fathom. After all, he had never been in hospitalized and questioned why he’d suddenly been given a “death sentence.”

Nonetheless, he says he held on to his faith. When learning that a match had been found, ironically due to this benevolence of someone he’d long known, he viewed it as tantamount to the law of reciprocity.

“When you give to others, you too receive unmerited blessings,” he said tearfully. “You reap what you sow.”

Blacks Lagging in Donating Organs

Each April, the U.S. marks National Donate Life Month – an observance established by Donate Life America and its partnering organizations in 2003. The annual celebration features an entire month of local, regional and national activities to help encourage Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and to honor those who have saved the lives of both adults and children through the gift of donation.

Bennett numbers among hundreds of thousands of African Americans who need organ transplants, most notably a kidney, to better their prospects for long-term survival. Bennett’s experience mirrors those of far too many people of color, who often remain unaware of one of the nation’s least understood yet most critical category in a litany of health disparities between Blacks and whites.

According to federal data, Blacks account for just 13 percent of the U.S. population, but they make up nearly 30 percent of the more than 114,000 U.S. patients waiting for organ transplants. And while Black patients comprise around 33 percent of those waiting for a kidney and 25 percent of those waiting for a heart, those in the racial group make up less than 15 percent of living and deceased organ-donor pools.

Experts say the low percentage of Black donors continues due to a somewhat unsurprising combination of factors, chief among them African-Americans’ lingering mistrust of the medical field. It’s the toxic residue, they say, of the nation’s uneven racial history, which includes decades of discrimination and unequal treatment from doctors and in hospitals.

According to the 2012 National Survey of Organ Donation Attitudes and Behaviors, more than 64 percent of whites were more likely to check the box on their driver’s license allowing their vital organs to be removed and transplanted after they die, compared with just 39 percent of Blacks. That percentage is lower than those of Asian/Pacific Islanders (56 percent) and Hispanics (44 percent).

Those attitudes were borne out in data from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network: Of the more than 10,000 deceased people who donated organs in 2017, about 6,800 were white but just 1,600 were Black. The disparity among living donors is even starker: 4,445 whites donated an organ last year, compared with 526 Blacks.

Dr. Velma Scantlebury, the first African-American woman to become a transplant surgeon, agrees, but says the bigger picture is far more endemic.

The chronic gulf between Black and white organ transplantation “may reflect the differences in access to health care as well as other factors that disadvantage specific ethnic groups,” said Dr. Scantlebury, associate director of the Kidney Transplant Program at Christiana Care, a regional nonprofit health care system based in Delaware.

But there are indications, Scantlebury says, that racial discrimination may play a role in access to transplant waiting lists.

“Research also has shown that African Americans in low socioeconomic neighborhoods, along with poor education (about transplants), are less likely to be listed for transplantation compared to whites in similar neighborhoods.”

“This is a complex problem,” said Dr. Joseph Vassalotti, chief medical officer for the National Kidney Foundation.

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Award-winning journalist and 21-year Black Press veteran, book editor, voice-over specialist and college instructor (Philosophy, Religion, Journalism). Before joining us, he led the Miami Times to recognition as NNPA Publication of the Year.

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