Jim Coleman is an elderly man, frail of feature, but strong with character and warmth who I see on Mill Avenue often. The first time I noticed him was many, many years ago; sitting on the corner, offering tracts, with a gentle smile and a good joke for anyone who cares to listen. This is a write-up from an interview with him December 13th 2008.
Paralyzed totally, two months later he could drive and started to come down to Mill Ave, visiting almost every week for a long time in '99. The reason for his paralysis is Guillain-Barré Syndrome—an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks the nervous system. Jim has recovered a lot of his original motor control, but unfortunately any direct damage to nerves will never recover. As a result, when we see Jim, he’s usually in his wheelchair.
He recounts his experience in the hospital as a catalyst to his eventual repeat visitations to Mill. “My legs don’t work, what’ll I do, what’ll I do. Well, I figured—nothing’s wrong with this motor-mouth.”
With this in mind, he visited another patient in the hospital and spoke with him about his Christianity. When he was out doing physical therapy at a pool, he met a black man who mentioned to Jim that he might as well take it down to Mill Ave. So here he came. He says that when he first started coming out to Mill, he came every night for a while. His wife also came out with him every night in those early stages.
Ever since I first started seeing him, he’s always sat there quietly with a buffet of pamphlets that he gives out to people. He doesn’t use the amplification or shout really, but he will talk to anyone who talks to him.
One thing that I’ve always appreciated about him is that he actually made an in with the street rat population—joking that he is in fact a Mill rat, since he lives right off of Mill Ave. I have seen him getting people warmer clothing, and sometimes taking kids off to eat slices of pizza.
He still tries to visit three times a week—Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday—but he can’t always do it all week; since he uses his income to help pay for what he does. And it does run out. But he tries as much as he can with what he has to help out the street rats and the homeless population.
He is careful to point out that he avoids being belligerent or “in your face” and thus feels that he can get a better connection with people. He used to hang out on 6th street and Mill for about the first six years he’d been coming out to Mill Ave and when the other Christian groups started to appear, he flocked with them for a while. Certainly he’s seen several come and gone already since over the past decade there have been six different groups of street preachers.