“I grew up in Plateau. I was in the physical therapy assistant program at Bishop, but the field was so saturated when I graduated that I went into culinary arts and cooked in restaurants. I helped Chakli Diggs open NoJa. I opened a restaurant, but couldn’t get the small business loans and ended up owing the IRS money. I worked two jobs, driving for a cab company during the day and working in a restaurant at night. I have three degrees and am also a pastor. I thought driving taxis was for old men and I was embarrassed to be driving one, but I was determined to pay off my debt to the government. I started doing the medical runs and picking up the rides that other cab drivers wouldn’t do. Taking people to the hospital and driving people in wheelchairs. Some would be taken to the doctor’s office and wait hours for a ride home, so I would stay in the area to pick them up faster. I made myself accessible to those who didn’t have much and used my pastor skills, love of people, and customer service to care for each person who rode with me. I also started making money and saved enough to buy vans and start my own LLC, Derek’s Taxi and Transportation. This became my business and I have been driving since 2011. It is more than a ride. I minister to people in new ways and reach people I never would have met in church. I don’t throw religion at anyone. Who I am speaks for the God I serve. I also use my knowledge of the history of Mobile to make the trip exciting because Mobile is the South’s best-kept secret. I pick someone up from the airport and by the time they get to their hotel, they know about our food, our culture, and what they should see. They are amazed by the people and how clean the city is.
I know what is like when you don’t have easy access to transportation. I was going to Davidson High School and moved back to live with my sister in Happy Hills. I left at 6 a.m. to catch three buses to Davidson. There were no shelters and it was even worse on the days it was cold or raining. I see everything as a driver and treat everyone the way I want to be treated, no matter what the fare is. Sometimes I know they can’t pay and drive them anyway. I have driven people who shouldn’t be living alone or they are in a wheelchair and don’t have a ramp on their home. Some are on dialysis or bleeding. I see them at their hardest times. I transport migrant workers from one of our local nurseries every week to Walmart and a Mexican Specialty Store. They have never failed in two yrs to exhibit love for their families. I drive clients from the rural parts of Alabama to Hoover, Alabama for pain management and take them home. It can be a 12-hour day. I have taken people who have missed their flight to New Orleans, Atlanta, Biloxi, Panama City, Fort Walton, and Nashville.
I pick people up at the Greyhound bus stop. During the days of Backpage, some of them were 16-year-old girls coming in wearing pajamas and hairpieces carrying nothing but little tote bags. I dropped them off at the same motels and told them the private investigator’s office is next door. I warned them that what they were doing was going to get them in trouble. Sex trafficking was an epidemic and they were so young. Sometimes riders are on drugs and have a chemical dependency and we talk about that. You have to always be aware of your environment because sometimes things aren’t right. I used kindness and awareness to get out of a situation where I knew my riders were going to harm me.
My mom died from a blood clot when I was 11. Everything changed, but I never pitied myself. It is dark in the pit but I learned you have to look up to find the light and keep moving. I have been a preacher for almost 20 years and at Union Missionary Baptist in Plateau for six years, the church the original descendants founded. It is challenging to prepare a sermon every Sunday and give people the fresh word. Sometimes it is hard to hear from God with a family, a business, shepherding a congregation, and a personal life. I have suggested to the deacons that during the Sunday school time, we leave the church and have Bible study in people’s homes. We have to take our ministry beyond the walls of the church. Our church is having the 150th church anniversary on Sunday. There are so many positive things happening in Africatown and it is exciting to see it finally get the attention it deserves. I have five kids and I want to build a legacy of history, service, and caring for them. We are making Mobile a better place for all to live.”