There is a working class, blue-collar bar I visit often in Flint called Jester's. To outsiders it might appear as a rough and tumble place, with an unsual mix of bikers, pool sharks, white folks, single moms, gangsters, old folks, black folks, autoworkers, young folks, latin folks, and everything in between. A true melting pot, defying it’s label as an economically segregated city. The people watching in here doesn’t get any better.
Located just inside the city limits of Burton – which is even poorer then Flint – people come to forget. With 25% unemployment, the highest crime rates in the nation, and a fleeing population, you have to wonder how smiles can possibly happen. And yet they do. You see people struggling. People are out of work. Some are working. Many are making ends meet. Others live on the edge. A sudden, costly car repair, for example, can rapidly spin out of control into a black hole of financial despair of which there is no way out. I’ve seen it firsthand, countless times.
My heart goes out to the people of Flint who did nothing to bring this economic devastation onto themselves. And they have enough to worry about without the problems of the world creeping in. Even global tragedies pale in consideration to the view outside their own front window. I’m reminded of the kids at Southwestern High School in Fahrenheit 9/11 that when viewing bombed-out Bahgdad, comment “There are parts of Flint that look like that!”
And now I get word that Jester's, this past Sunday, held a fundraiser. Not for its own townspeople, who could use a hand, but to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. I’d wager a significant amount that few people in Flint have ever set eyes on a Haitian in their entire life. Now, consider the result:
They raised over four thousand dollars for Haiti.
This in a town where one can purchase 50 homes for $60k (that’s $1,200 per home), where a dinner for four costs $24, and car dealers sell used cars with an internal mechanism that disables the car when you get behind on a payment – where ever you are.
You get the idea of the significance of this event, this amount of money, and how out of proportion it is for Flint.
Four thousand dollars.
Four thousand dollars from what Business Week called “America’s fastest shrinking city.” Four thousand dollars from a town that is not doing better than anyone else. Raising $4,000 is like raising $4 million dollars from a small cocktail party in New York. It’s way more than it should be, and you wonder just where the money can possibly be coming from.
When I heard the figure, I immediately felt like The Grinch, after he boo-hoos the townsfolk for trying to do something worthwhile as he sits on his perch wondering what all the fuss is. Then he sees the joy the event brings, the selflessness, the spirit of giving, especially at a time when there is so little to give. And his heart breaks free and grows from two sizes too small, to fifty times its size, bursting all constraints.
To George Zaravelis, the owner of Jester's, and his lovely wife Genie, I cannot fathom how you did it. And the world now has an example of how the people of Flint – beaten down and counted out, still have a few more rounds left.
I have never been more proud of my hometown.
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