ORANGEBURG — The South Carolina State football team lined the doorway to the Orangeburg-Wilkinson High gym Saturday, dressed in suits and silent. When it was time, the team entered the gym uniformly, walking down an aisle and toward the silver casket in the middle of the gym floor.
Some approached the open casket to say goodbye to their teammate while others kept their distance. Most wiped tears from their eyes as they took their seats to the right of it.
Then it was the family’s turn, and despite the choir singing gospel music, the full gymnasium felt silent as Monica Robinson Rolley made her way to the casket. Two people helped Rolley to her son’s body, one person supporting her by each arm. Dressed in white, she shook as she gingerly moved one foot in front of the other.
A mortician lifted a plastic cover from the casket for Robinson Rolley. She leaned into the casket and sobbed, staying with her son, Brandon Alexander Robinson, for several minutes. When it was time for her to take a seat, she stood upright, but her hand still held onto the casket, not wanting to let go.
This was Robinson Rolley’s second funeral in two weeks. A week before her son was fatally wounded outside a student dorm, Robinson Rolley’s husband, Steven Rolley Sr., had died. The funeral for Rolley Sr. was the day after Robinson’s death.
Eight days removed from Robinson’s death, his family, former teammates and the SCSU community gathered for a public funeral. Ten flower arrangements surrounded the casket, and to the left of it, there was a photo collage of Robinson — a larger photo of him smiling sticking out from the rest.
An outside linebacker and defensive end for the Bulldogs and a graduate of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High, Robinson’s smile and light-hearted demeanor was described most often at his funeral.
“Watching boys grow to be men is the most gratifying part of my job,” S.C. State football coach Buddy Pough said. “Brandon was growing in leaps and bounds, and he was just getting to realize some of the fruits of his labor. We will always be proud to call him a part of our beloved South Carolina State Bulldog football program.”
Justin Bernard Singleton, a fellow SCSU student, was charged with murder in the death of Robinson. Singleton, 19, was arguing with Robinson outside of Andrew Hugine Suites Hall when Singleton pulled out a gun and fired at Robinson, hitting him in the neck area, an arrest warrant alleges. Four other arrests have been made in connection with the shooting on charges of accessory after the fact of murder.
Singleton wasn’t mentioned at Robinson’s funeral. The focus was on Robinson Rolley as she had to close the casket, the choir and others in attendance praying and singing for encouragement.
She took her seat on the front row, at least two family members holding her at all times as she listened to stories about her son. Sometimes, she was able to laugh. Sometimes, she raised a hand in the air in worship. Most of the time, she sat still and listened.
Michael Addison, Robinson’s godfather, pleaded with those assembled and the community to do some “housekeeping” to prevent their children from engaging in the sort of “senseless violence” that led to Robinson’s death.
“This is senseless,” Addison said. “These are our boys. We have a conflict and we can’t even resolve it without pulling out guns.”
Suffragan Bishop Michael C. Butler of the Victory Tabernacle Deliverance Temple of the Apostolic Faith in Orangeburg had a gentler message. He laughed as he recalled the first time he met Robinson at the school district’s technology center. Still in high school, Robinson was jokingly imitating a teacher with an African accent and Butler told him to cut it out, even though he instantly became fond of Robinson.
He spoke of how Robinson had went above and beyond as a student, graduating high school with a 3.7 grade point average and majoring in industrial engineering technology at S.C. State.
“I didn’t want Brandon to go out with you all thinking he wasn’t a good child,” Butler said. “He tried to get the most out of life. He had a smile that was infectious even when it wasn’t a great day.”
Orangeburg-Wilkinson football coach Tommy Brown spoke of the disagreements he had with Robinson over his weight. At 185 pounds, Robinson needed to be heavier to be an effective defensive tackle for the Bruins, but because he also wrestled and played soccer, Robinson tended to lose weight when his football coaches wanted him to gain it.
Brown also tried to persuade Robinson to go away for college, but that was debated less than the weight issue. Robinson was firm on his stance.
“He loved his mother so dearly,” Brown said. “He had an excellent senior year, and I was trying to get him to go off to school somewhere. He just said, ‘Coach, I can’t leave my mother. I’ve got to stay close to my mother.’ ”
After Butler’s eulogy, the flower arrangements were taken away. The photos of Robinson smiling were removed, as was Robinson’s framed S.C. State jersey. Four people wheeled the casket out of the gym, going down the same aisle that Robinson Rolley and the team had walked through.
Robinson Rolley turned in her chair to follow the casket’s exit until she couldn’t see it anymore.