Thank you to Lawrence Young, a neighbor, who shared this store about Dwayne.
Thirty years of oblivion. That’s what most of us would consider the last half of the life of Dewayne Fleming, most commonly known as Brillo on the streets of Minneapolis. But after being shot and stabbed more than once, that is not the term that he would use to describe it. Being kidnapped and locked in a trunk for days only adds to the color of the man who told me “I like my women so black they just short of blue.”
We met after Dewayne was released from Hennepin County hospital where he had spent a considerable amount of time being treated for congestive heart failure. When I visited him there I could see when his memory kicked in and he recognized me. I hadn’t seen him in years but I could tell he had something funny to say but the tubes he was attached to kept him from talking. That’s the first and last time I ever saw him at a loss for words.
I became Dewayne’s neighbor and moved into a place across the hall from him. Everyday we spent hours in the kitchen sharpening each other across the table with our experiences and wisdom until breakfast was ready. We had the best soul kitchen in the city. We were the bean and cornbread brothers and it was doing good things for the both of us. Dewayne lost weight and seemed to be improving in health. Although he was confined to a certain part of town for a long time, his conversation covered the universe. His comments didn’t come from out of left field but the other side of the cotton field where truth was spoken and it trumped feelings. His views were raw and as he understood it. He loved to tell me ways of outsmarting or maneuver any obstacle the system could offer.
It was during one of these sessions that I realized I was talking to my medical advisor. I had injuries from an auto accident and had no idea how to negotiate the medical field, which was to me, a quagmire between someone who needs treatment and the medical and insurance fields. One day as I was leaving on my quest for treatment Dewayne stopped me and said, “You bout to walk into the lions’ den wearing bacon underwear. Take me with you and do what I tell you and we’ll get all that done today.”
When I got back home I had everything I needed to start my recovery. He explained not only the mechanics of how these fields work but the psychology of them. He made me understand that the medical field was full of hoops to jump through guaranteed to frustrate the insincere and timid as well as those in need. He explained job titles and what the duties behind them were supposed to be. He was like my personal PHD on the subject.
Whenever we went somewhere in my car I felt like I was driving Denzel Washington around. Waves and acknowledgements came from everybody that saw him along the way. Every stop light meant a conversation with someone in the next car, on the street corner, or on the bus stop. He was a bonafide celebrity.
Brother Bishop, as some of us called him, was crude but unpretentious. He always told me to count my blessings and not my troubles. He was the absolute funniest man I ever met while expressing sage wisdom at the same time. He told me he’d had a beautiful life because God hadn’t let him die from all the tribulation he’d been through. All his anecdotes were about his experiences on the streets. He had made his peace with God but his mind couldn’t escape the last 30 years. One Saturday, after 30 years of living everywhere, Bishop Dewayne Fleming died AT HOME.