Looking back through the mental fog of a week-old directive to boil water before usage, Early Walker’s decision to truck water from Chicago to LeMoyne-Owen College in South Memphis clearly was an act of love delivered about midday on Thursday.
Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) issued the boil-water advisory on Feb. 18 as Greater Memphis reeled from damage to water lines that could not handle sub-freezing temperatures that punctuated winter storms packed with snow, ice and a wintry mix.
A run on bottled water and food items turned area grocery store aisles into lanes of empty shelves for would-be customers. The water emergency prompted outpourings of compassion on multiple levels, including local governments, TVA, elected officials, civic organizations, churches and neighbors helping neighbors.
The Memphis area was part of a wide swath of the Mid-South and the South punched and largely crippled by the storms freezing effects. In Chicago, Walker – owner of W&W Towing and a well-known local philanthropist – issued a call for help, with his eye trained on Dallas.
Fortunately for those in need at LOC, he also had the heart to adjust his plans when he heard of the need in South Memphis at the city’s only HBCU (historically Black college and universities).
“I just want to say that we are so grateful for the compassion shown in the city of Memphis for our students, and now from those living in Chicago,” said Dr. Vernell Bennett-Fairs, who recently took over as LOC’s president.
“Resources have been made available, and with this very generous donation of water, we will be able to reach out to our community and help those who don’t have water.”
A few hours after the Walker-led distribution of food, medicine, toiletries and loads of bottled water, MLGW lifted the water advisory. LOC students have transitioned to virtual learning, with the 86 living on campus, where they coped with the boil-water advisory and low water levels. None, Bennett-Fairs said, were without food and water.
Enter Walker and his 53-foot trailer of LOC support.
“We want you at LeMoyne-Owen College to know Chicago is here,” said Walker. “We asked our community for help filling the trucks, and we ended up with four truckloads of water. Thousands came out and answered our call.”
Sean Howard, public relations officer for W&W Towing, explained how one of several relief trucks destined for Dallas came to be diverted to the LOC campus. It began with a call he received from an aunt, an LOC retiree.
“And she told me that the students on this campus were in need of water. I told her that we were filling three truckloads to take to Dallas. She hung up, and I knew what that meant. We really needed to get some water down here to LeMoyne-Owen College.”
After the three truckloads for Dallas were filled, the donations of water kept coming. A fourth truckload was routed to Memphis.
Walker, who started W&W Towing with a beat-up, 1984 Ford F-350 truck, said Chicagoans sometimes “take for granted” their ability and preparedness in dealing with winter storms.
“This storm had an impact all across the country,” said Walker. “We had to do something … This wasn’t just a local issue. It was a national issue. People all over the country were suffering.”
LOC enrolls 800-plus students, 97 percent of whom are African Americans.
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(Photos: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)