All Winston-Salem native Candice Marie Benbow wanted to do was get some sleep in her New Jersey apartment the morning of Dec. 15, but she couldn't because the next-door neighbor she had never met was playing loud music at 3 a.m.
What she did next — bake a pound cake and leave a note at her neighbor's door — has become a sensation on social media, underscoring the power of kindness. It resulted in calls to make a Hallmark movie and in stories from "Inside Edition" and news organizations in Europe.
Since moving into the apartment complex in September, Benbow had gotten used to her neighbor playing music. She even appreciated his musical tastes.
But that morning, it was too loud.
Most people would either call the police or knock on the neighbor's door to complain. Benbow, a theologian and writer, didn't do either. As a single woman, she wasn't keen on knocking on a stranger's door to complain.
Instead, she baked the cake and wrote a note, leaving both at his door. The note was polite yet to the point: "When you get home every evening and blast your music, I've come to expect it...To be fair, you've helped me catch a vibe. But last night...Fam, you tried it. You really did. I don't know if you were hosting the official afterparty for our building's holiday social or singlehandedly determining this generation's R&B king. But 3 a.m. is just too late to be that loud.
"At 3:26 a.m. I couldn't tell if you were playing some uptempo hits from The Weeknd or you pushed the shuffle on some house/techno. Either way, I could have done without that set."
After Benbow, who has a large social media following, tweeted about her experience — which ended with a picture of her and her neighbor, Tommy Amaro, taken when the two finally met — the story has gone viral. Her tweets have been retweeted thousands of times and commented on by people as far away as Australia. Ava DuVernay, director of "A Wrinkle in Time" and "Selma," even chimed in on Twitter.
Inside Edition has interviewed Benbow and her neighbor, and there has been a serious push for the Hallmark Channel to make a movie about their "cute meet." But for Benbow and Amaro, the whole experience has shown the power of kindness in a world often marked by hate.
"It's easy for one thing to blow up and become the thing that sparks war for the next 15 years between two people," Benbow told the Journal Monday. "It's just goodness. It's good old-fashioned conflict resolution that two adults can say 'Hey, there's a problem,' and figure it out and find out that they come from vastly different worlds and have gone through the same things."
It turned out that they were both grieving the loss of a loved one. In November 2015, Benbow lost her mother, Debra Benbow, a nursing professor at Winston-Salem State University.
Amaro's 28-year-old daughter, Loreal Amaro Maldanado, died in a car crash in March.
When the two finally met, Amaro apologized and they laughed. Benbow then went over to Amaro's apartment.
She noticed he had two doves.
They were from his daughter's funeral. When the family tried to release the doves, they wouldn't fly away. Amaro figured the doves were meant to stay with him.
And that's when the two started talking grief and the process of coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.
Benbow said her love for baking came out of the process of grieving for her mother.
"Baking for me has become therapy," she said. "It was how I was moving through the loss of Mama."
Should I eat it?
Amaro said when he first saw the pound cake, he wasn't sure he should eat it, considering what prompted it in the first place. But he read the note and ate the cake. And it was delicious, he said.
He also felt bad about the music. He said he didn't even know anyone was living next door. Amaro said that, on the night of Dec. 14, the apartment complex had thrown a holiday party. There was plenty of food left over, and he wanted to throw a celebration in honor of both Loreal and his youngest daughter, Kaylin Amaro, who is a singer.
Benbow's gesture was the icing on the cake.
"I found it to be the sweetest thing ever," he said. "Normally, the neighbor would be cursing you out or calling the cops."
The pound cake also helped with his hangover, he said, laughing.
He was shocked by the outpouring of support and interest in the "cake incident."
"I'm going bonkers," he said. "This is new to me."
Benbow, who is a contributing writer for Essence magazine and has written for other publications, said her literary agent has fielded offers to turn the story into a movie.
"It would be a cool Christmas movie," she said. "Hopefully in the next season, this will actually be a possibility for something we can see on TV."
But for now, Amaro and Benbow, once strangers, have become friends.
"Now we're good," Amaro said. "And now, I'm going to invite her to all my parties."
I wanted a record of what time I took the eggs and butter out the fridge to begin prepping my #PeaceOfferingPoundCakeLoaf to accompany my #tfWereYouThinkingThrowingALoudAssHousePartyAt3InTheMorningLetter pic.twitter.com/2pJ9M2kKkX— Candice Marie Benbow (@CandiceBenbow) December 15, 2018
I wanted the best way to tell my neighbor that he tried it with his late night party. So I wrote him a letter and baked him a cake. pic.twitter.com/SxPKAzOHp0— Candice Marie Benbow (@CandiceBenbow) December 15, 2018
AND HIS MUSIC TONIGHT IS THE LOWEST IT HAS EVER BEEN! #PrayerAndPoundCakeWork— Candice Marie Benbow (@CandiceBenbow) December 16, 2018
UPDATE: I JUST MET MY NEIGHBOR TOMMY!!!! He’s so freaking cool! He apologized for the noise, promised to invite me to the next party and most importantly...HE SAID MY POUND CAKE WAS AMAZING!!!! pic.twitter.com/NcU8t0ZfqT— Candice Marie Benbow (@CandiceBenbow) December 18, 2018
While talking to Tommy, I learned that he's new to the area as well *and* this is his first Christmas without his daughter, who passed away earlier this year in a car accident.— Candice Marie Benbow (@CandiceBenbow) December 18, 2018
It was a sweet and gentle reminder that we never know what folks are going through and it is always best to lead with kindness. When we can extend grace, we really should.— Candice Marie Benbow (@CandiceBenbow) December 18, 2018
We did Inside Edition today and a news crew will be here later! So dope to see what kindness can do! So proud of Tommy for finding a way to thrive this year! (SN: I met a neighbor after the interview who said, “I saw this on Twitter and had no idea that it was here!” 🤣🤣) pic.twitter.com/Ddh4HcA2Xd— Candice Marie Benbow (@CandiceBenbow) December 23, 2018
Thank you!!! That means so much! I’ve been working hard before this to make it a thing. Hopefully, it can become that now! 💕💕💕 https://t.co/CMS2VbHwSW— Candice Marie Benbow (@CandiceBenbow) December 23, 2018
This thread is important tho. My friends and I look forward to @hallmarkchannel Christmas movies every year and are always disappointed because they don’t do as much to cast POC/envision them as leads as they could. https://t.co/0v3H2WSYkw— Candice Marie Benbow (@CandiceBenbow) December 24, 2018