Mark Jacobs: We Appreciated Tigers Icons, But Did We Care About Them?

August 03, 2013, 5:39 PM

Mark Jacobs, an attorney and longtime community activist, is involved in nonprofit work and is chairman of Heart 2 Hart Detroit, a nonprofit organization committed to feeding and clothing Detroit's homeless population.

"Eat Em Up" (left) and "Dreadlock Mike" (right) /Facebook photos

By Mark Jacobs

“Dreadlock Mike” Alston was buried on Saturday, alongside his street pal, James Van Horn. The two homeless men were fixtures outside the Tigers’ games.

The fans affectionately called out their names, gave them spare change and shared a brief smile as they entered and exited the ballpark.

And when the fans were gone, Eat Em Up and Dreadlock Mike were alone again, roaming the streets in search of food, warmth and shelter, until one summer night when a driver killed them both and drove away.

Eat Em Up’s funeral was on Friday and Mike’s was on Saturday. I was at Mike’s funeral. A nonprofit group I’m with, Heart 2 Hart Detroit, had helped Mike out from time to time, and we felt compelled to attend the funeral and pay our respects.
The funeral was attended by approximately 40 people, a mixed crowd of ages and races, each having their own reasons to be there. Mike’s family recalled the man the public never knew, the Mike who had no catchy nickname, and for 30 minutes or so we heard a piece of Mike Alston’s story.

Mike was 55, the eldest of 5 children. He was educated in Detroit Public Schools and later worked at Chrysler. His sister tearfully recalled her big brother’s big heart and his over-protectiveness over her when they were kids.

She told us how her brother never stopped trying to turn his life around. She and a cousin told stories of Mike’s boyhood and alluded to a “traumatic teenage experience” that led him to life on the mean streets of Detroit.

There was a powerful eulogy, some poignant comments from an old friend of Mike’s, State Senator Bert Johnson, and then lots of hugs from strangers to the gracious family.

But beyond the warmth of the moment, it was the unsaid words that were most profound: what happened to this man, and where were we when it was happening?

Mike was 1 of 20,000 homeless people in Detroit, a mass of people that includes children, veterans, the mentally ill and other victims.

In death, Mike was praised as a Detroit icon, a man who alongside his buddy were  part of the colorful and  fun experience of going to a Tigers’ game.

They were the guys you’d high five, yell out their name and maybe toss them a quarter as you flooded in and out of a game. But, in reality, as we exited to the suburbs these two men went back to their struggle for survival. And then one summer night they died a violent death.

So where were we? And where are we today with the other thousands of other homeless people who  are hungry, tired, vulnerable  and frightened at this very moment you’re reading these words?

“What are we doing? What are we doing?”, State Senator Johnson implored the crowd.

It was the question of the day, and of these harsh times in our beloved but troubled city.

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