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It All Started When My Car Blew Up

It was an early morning during the second week of August, a typical day like most others. I said goodbye to my family, then drove away. My destination, a conference in Wyoming, MI. Driving along US 131-South, and making good time, I heard a loud noise, and saw a dense cloud of black smoke in my rearview mirror. I knew there was something seriously wrong. By the grace of God, I made it onto the 44th Street exit where the van stopped at the exit light.  

A friend stopped and helped me push the van off the road, looked under the hood, and said, “Your van was shot. The head gasket is blown.” After my friend dropped me at home, I told my wife what happened and realized that the convenience of having a vehicle made me blind to what this community endures on a daily basis.

The next day, I walked to Fannie’s Corner to purchase some items. I overheard the store manager speaking to customers who seemed disrespectful. I thought, “What prompted that type of interaction?” Motivated by what I heard, I began talking more with my neighbors, and through these testimonials, I learned that there was a real problem. Bottle/can returns were limited to $3 per person, and instead of the cash refund customers were entitled to, the store employees offered customers in-store credit. Moreover, if customers are unwilling to accept the credit, their bottles/cans were not accepted and they were asked to leave the store. This is a practice that Fannie’s has followed for a long time.

I shared my “awakening” with Paul Mayhue, Michael Scruggs, Paul Larthridge, and Bishop Walter Durham and arranged a series of meetings at Bates Place to formulate a plan of action. Because of our concern and motivation to revitalize this community, we became The Concerned Citizens Against Predatory Engagements or CCAPE. CCAPE members began gathering testimonies from affected neighbors. 

Still, these new revelations weighed heavily on my heart, so Sunday morning, I shared my experience with the congregation of First Church during our time of sharing joys and concerns. After the service, members of the congregation sought me out to ask how they could help or stand in the gap. 

After more thought, I developed a plan to organize a shopping day to transport neighbors to various local shopping centers to purchase their groceries free of charge. Please understand that I am not a fan of taking money out of the community. However, my personal journey allowed me to bear witness to unfair merchandising in the neighborhood (high pricing, fraudulent policies, etc.)

From this revelation, the Bates Place Food Express was born. The Express operates on Wednesday mornings with a planned departure of 9:30 a.m.  Residents who live within the Bates Place geographical service need only call or stop by before 9:15 a.m. to complete necessary paperwork for travel, and volunteers are standing by to shuttle neighbors to the grocery store, and then home. In addition, volunteer drivers will assist with unloading packages to their front door. I have embraced a mission of empowerment. However, I felt the need to do more. I met with Paul Mayhue, Michael Scruggs, Paul Larthridge, and Bishop Walter Durham.  These men, who are known for their strong voice in advocacy for the community, and I knew action must taken. Our plan was simple: confront the proprietors of Fannie’s Corner and the BP Gas Station at the corner of Eastern and Franklin, and demand that they recognize the harm their policies created to the neighborhood. 

On November 5, our plan moved into action. A gathering of approximately 40 protesters lined the area around both establishments wielding banners and signs, chanting slogans of encouragement to the city. WOOD TV-8 and WZZM 13 reporters were on hand to record this show of unity in the community, long absent from the southeast side. 

Our demands were simple. We asked to meet with the proprietors of both establishments to talk about change, which they agreed to do. After some debate, we agreed upon points of change to the practice of recycling and deposit returns, and will meet again for the final step: signing the Memorandum of Understanding detailing agreed upon changes and re-connection to the neighborhood. 

This story continues to evolve as we monitor this ministry of reconciliation. I paralleled my story to the process a seed goes through when buried in fertile soil. It( dies) germinates and and as a result....that single seed produces a harvest. Little did I know the seed of this harvest would be my car. It all started because my car blew up.

[Image: Flickr user sheeshoo]

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