KALAMAZOO, Mich. — William Mandella Roland pulled up to Crosstown Parkway Apartments, a senior citizens home, about 15 minutes after 2 p.m. Before he reached the door, Rosie Dirtz was already strolling out with her winter coat on and walker in hand.
“Hello Miss Rosie. How are you?” Roland said with a smile. “Your chariot awaits. Good to see you. Let’s get you to the polls.”
He did, immediately. He drove Rosie and another resident Kathy Deruiter 10 minutes down Howard Street to the Girls Scouts office where they were registered to vote.
“It feels good to be able to help people get to the polls,” Roland said during an interview on the bus. “Several months ago, the planning of this [began with] the churches that were able and capable and had volunteers to help others get to the polls.”
Roland was apart of a group of volunteer drivers who spent Election Day giving residents in the Kalamazoo area free rides from their homes to the polling places. A few churches in the city, like Mt. Zion, Galilee Baptist and First United organized the event along with the NAACP and the Northside Ministerial Alliance. Volunteers gathered in a conference room all day Tuesday at the Mt. Zion church taking phone calls, scheduling rides and dispatching two volunteers to homes two at a time. Roland and volunteer Jack Sizer responded to the 2 p.m. call.
“It’s one of those things that we feel is special because you know you have people who don’t have transportation, who don’t even know where their polls are,” said Roland, who is also an elder at Galilee Baptist Church. “We’ve got individuals by their addresses. [We] can help them with where their polling places are.”
Roland said when he found out about the event, he immediately volunteered. He grew up in Yazoo, Mississippi, a small town of 10,000 people, and he remembers going to school under the segregation system.
“One of the things I remember growing up is [my] parents in the ‘60s, early ‘60s, late ‘50s who could not vote,” Roland said. “So it’s a big deal for me to see people voting and to have any obstacles removed.”
Deruiter said voting was important to her too. She said seniors have an important voice in this election. That’s why she’s grateful that the churches provided this service to help them vote.
“It’s absolutely wonderful,” Deruiter said during an interview on the bus. “I know that the woman that I came here with, she kind of has a difficult time sometimes but she’s very bright. So having that kind of service available to her was, as far as I’m concerned, extraordinary.”
Sizer helped Rosie get around the polling station while she was inside. Within 30 minutes, both Deruiter and Rosie were finished. When they got back on the bus, Roland shouted “two more votes cast” as he was pulling away. Sizer and Deruiter responded “alright” and clapped. When he dropped them off, he thanked them both for voting.
“Nice to me you,” Roland said to Deruiter while shaking her hand. “Have a great day. God Bless.”
***If you’d like to schedule a ride, call the following numbers:***
- (269) 381-3996
- (269) 568-8992
- (269) 491-0782
- (269) 568-8993