Passion for community drives One Thousand Men Marching

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 30, 2012

By Nathan Hardin
EAST SPENCER – After sleeping on a prison-issued cot for nearly 60 days, Mike Mitchell said he had a midnight calling to do more with his life.
It was the summer of 2003. Mitchell was lying on his bed, he said, when he had an “encounter with God.”
The vision changed his life.
Mitchell was released from the Neuse Correctional Institute the following day.
“I’ll see you in about six months,” Mitchell recalled a prison guard saying as he left.
“We’ll see,” he replied.
He said it seemed the prison was as far away as authorities could have placed him, especially for a 60-day sentence.
“But I think it was good that I left,” Mitchell said. “My mom and dad couldn’t even come see me because I was so far away.”
It was the last time Mitchell met the North Carolina justice system.
Nine years later, the 46-year-old is an associate minister at Southern City Tabernacle AME Zion Church in East Spencer.
He was one of several who gave testimony Saturday morning at the conclusion of the One Thousand Men Marching.
Event organizer Andrew Davis said about 100 people marched from Fairview Heights Missionary Baptist Church on Old Concord Road to Shady Grove Baptist on South Long Street.
The march began at 10 a.m. It was held as part of a movement to empower men and their families, Davis said.
“I thought it was great, considering,” Davis said of the turnout.
The group arrived at the East Spencer church ahead of time, despite moderate downpours Saturday morning.
Davis said funeral services for beloved Spencer resident James Stout also had an effect on the event. Several people arrived late after the visitation.
The Rev. Mike Mitchell, Pastor Henry Diggs, the Rev. Clarence E. Marlin of Fairview Heights and the Rev. Timothy Bridges of Shady Grove delivered messages.
Part sermons and part speeches, pastors wove together a passion for Christ with a passion for the community.
Bridges kicked off the service, reminding supporters of passersby who inquired about the 3-mile venture.
“You have no idea what this is going to do for people who were just standing by watching,” Bridges said.
Each pastor spoke of the need for change and said the change had to come from within the community.”Whatever needs to be taken back, let’s take it back,” Bridges said.
Outside the church, tents housed organizations geared to help men and unite the community.
Some of the groups included the Fishers of Men from Fairview Heights, Men Inspiring Success Through Education Role Modeling (M.I.S.T.E.R.) from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and the North Rowan Connection, a mentorship program.
A program was also available to help formerly incarcerated men apply for jobs and adapt to life after jail.
Those were the attendees Mitchell hoped to reach.
“The drugs, the women – it’s nothing compared to serving God,” he said.
In his youth, Mitchell played sports at North Rowan High School before getting a football scholarship to Livingstone College, he said.
After one year, he transferred to Catawba College.
But Mitchell said he started partying and didn’t take classes seriously.
He never got on the field at Catawba.
Shortly after, the school revoked his scholarship.
That’s when the bottom fell out, Mitchell said, and he began drinking and doing drugs.
It wasn’t until that night in June 2003 that things changed.
“God laid me down to speak to me,” he said.
Along with the ministers, East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett spoke to those in attendance at the church.
“We cannot have idleness, whether it’s our men or women,” she said.
Pastor Diggs, of Faith Temple Triumphant Ministries, also spoke to the church.
He said community members need to start looking into their own homes for “opportunities for change.”
“Something has got to be done differently in order to change the direction,” he said.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.