WHO: Demauriae Bennett and the people of San Antonio.
WHAT: Roslyn Bates took to Facebook, putting out a call for five children to help celebrate her son’s birthday. Hundreds of strangers and business owners came together to make the day memorable for fourteen-year-old Demauriae.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: On a Saturday evening in San Antonio, dozens of kids gathered by the bright and buzzing arcade of Main Event to celebrate Demauriae Bennett’s fourteenth birthday. Batman and Spiderman led a group to a game of laser tag, and a few of the kids later lined up to politely thank Demauriae for inviting them. Nearly all of them were strangers just a few weeks ago.
In June, Bates was not confident there would even be a party for Demauriae’s birthday on June 22. In part because of Bates’s small family and her son’s limited circle of friends, the mother-son duo were having trouble finding a group to spend the day with. So Bates went to Facebook, posting to a group called Street News SA for “help with five children to attend his party.”
When asked if he would be okay with five strangers singing him “Happy Birthday,” Demauriae said yes. As the post went viral, five strangers became hundreds, and Bates’s inbox was flooded with people eager to attend Demauriae’s birthday and offer support. Businesses specializing in entertainment, decor, and food offered their services for the party. Wild Child Bake Shop and Bri’s Sweets Shop offered cakes and other sweets, car clubs Show Stoppaz and Notorious Swangaz drove in for the party, and Mano’s de Oro barbershop gave Demauriae a haircut before the big day.
Arturo Alderete, a line cook at the Hilton Palacio del Rio in downtown San Antonio, agreed to sponsor the entire party at the Main Event off of Texas Highway 151 on July 2. A San Antonio native, Alderete often plays a Spurs “superfan” character, visiting parties, hospitals, and other events to entertain those gathered. When he first saw the Facebook post, Alderete thought, “I want to make this kid smile,” he told Texas Monthly. In addition to the city’s history of Mexican culture and art, San Antonio is defined by its tight-knit and friendly community, Alderete says.
Countless others chipped in to celebrate Demauriae. Alamo Candy provided colorful goodie bags full of their specialty Mexican-style candy. Robyn Fonseca of Kam’s Kreations helped decorate the room with balloons. The week prior, Fonseca connected with Bates through Facebook and invited the family to her son’s birthday, creating a personal connection before the day.
Christopher Hernandez, founder and owner of Sonrisa Entertainment, towered over guests in a Batman costume at Demauriae’s party, alongside the company’s Spiderman character, played by Russell Brown.
For Hernandez, the event was personal. Growing up, he remembers being bullied for his size and his ill-fitting clothes; he recalls moments of loneliness, watching other children’s friendships blossom. After surviving cancer, Hernandez started his company to help others celebrate life. He left the party on Saturday touched by the outpouring of love from the community. “Sometimes people could say, ‘I’m just so busy. I don’t have time for you,’” he says. “If you want to, and it’s your heart’s desire, you’ll make time. So seeing the people here, it was their heart’s desire to be here.”
Susie Cantu, who came to the party with her daughter Gabriella, saw the post on a San Antonio moms’ Facebook group and was immediately moved, telling Texas Monthly she experienced a similar situation with her young son and that it must be particularly hard for an older child. “As a mom you just know how it feels when no one shows up,” she says.
“Until we joined those groups, I didn’t realize how giving the community is,” Cantu says. Like many people, she joined Facebook groups during the pandemic as countless neighborhood and mutual-aid style groups like Street News SA were created.
After a game of laser tag, Demauriae, soft-spoken and well-mannered, told Texas Monthly he was shocked but grateful for the turnout at his birthday party. “I’m so blessed,” he says. He expressed his love and appreciation for his friends, family, and late grandmother, and described his affinity for the TV show Stranger Things, and for sports, baking, and playing video games. Guests described Demauriae as humble, kindhearted, and imaginative. Bates, a private nurse pursuing a bachelor’s in psychology at San Antonio College, described her son as a “big teddy bear” and a “humanitarian,” always offering to pay for dinner, donating his money, and leaving notes with “I love you” on her desk. She said the love her son has received back has restored a sense of hope within her.
Many of the guests have already offered continued support and company to Demauriae and his mother, vowing to become family. Demauriae and Alderete now play basketball together, and Bates says she will be booked for the month of July helping Fonseca with her party decorating.
“We’re looking forward to starting our new life with our new family,” Bates says.