By Grayson Hester
Even Superman can be in only one place at a time. But that doesn’t stop Corbin, Ky., resident and White Flag Ministry volunteer Darell from trying to emulate him.
Darell, who moved to Corbin nearly six years ago, is one of White Flag’s most regular volunteers and knows intimately the challenges facing both unhoused people and the organizations set up to assist them. It’s a task so difficult that, at times, it requires a super-heroic response.
“Well, the challenges for me? Really, it’s trying to be there for everybody,” Darell said. “And you can’t be Superman, and Superman can’t be in more than one place at one time. And I try my best to cope with what everybody else is going through because I’ve been on the other side as well. And I’m no stranger to it.”
Darell had relocated to the small Kentucky city to help take care of his twin daughters, one of whom, he says, looks like him and one who looks like the mother whom he sees only sparingly. He realizes it’s hard to care for other people when one’s daily task is simply trying to survive day-to-day.
“The way I see it, being out here is kind of like being in prison,” Darell said. “You got to barter and trade with each other to survive. Pretty much the whole challenge is just surviving.”
Darell arrived in Corbin in late 2016 and would soon find out firsthand what it means to face this challenge: He spent two years as an unhoused person. It was during this period of his life that he first came into contact with CBF field personnel Scarlette Jasper’s White Flag Ministry, which opened in Darell’s second year there. It was a meeting he did not initially greet with open hands.
“I was actually at a homeless shelter and things didn’t go so well,” he said. “So, I decided to dip out, and a gentleman by the name of Paul Sims—who works here at the church—tried his best to help me out, and I kept denying him because I was in a different place, and I didn’t know anybody, and I kind of gave the man an attitude.”
Like Superman, Darell had traveled to an unfamiliar place as the result of family upheaval, a place in which he didn’t immediately find belonging or people who could relate to him.
But, also similar to the seminal DC Comic hero, Darell soon learned that, differences notwithstanding, no one can do this life alone—and that true, deep connection might be merely an arm’s length away.
After initially rejecting Sims’ offer, and, subsequently, “going away for a while” and struggling “in the next place,” Darell accepted White Flag’s still-outstretched hand. Sims embraced Darell and, in his second year in Corbin, introduced him to Jasper. That decision would change his life.
“Well, I’ve pretty much been a loner since I came here, and interacting with Scarlette really opened my eyes to seeing that you don’t have to be out here by yourself,” Darell said. “There’s other people out here, and there are people willing to help get you on your feet.”
One of Superman’s hallmarks is his Clark Kent alter ego, cultivated to keep secret his true identity as someone who, as southerners might express it, “ain’t from around here.”
But, as anyone who’s read even the barest minimum of Brené Brown could tell you, the line between secrecy and shame is a fine one indeed and, in this way, Darell’s move to accept help also moved him out of reticence and isolation. He was allowed to be his full self, not bifurcated on the axis of respectability, but instead accepted in his fullness.
“And it’s really tough, man, being on the streets and being, where you don’t get to see family and friends like that, it’s really tough. And once they find out that you’re in that situation, the mood and the attitude changes,” Darell said. “And me, when I first got this way, I didn’t really tell anybody for the first two years, I didn’t really talk to my family. It was just too much.”
It’s not just intergalactic superhumans with whom Darell and his story share similarities; it is, tragically and unsurprisingly, those just down the street from him and those all across the country.
It is people like Darell, cast aside and rendered homeless by economic systems designed more for hoarding wealth than shoring up compassion, that White Flag Ministry was created to serve.
And while it does offer material necessities—housing and hot food in the winter, financial literacy services (Jasper’s speciality) in all seasons—it offers something less tangible but no less important. It offers belonging. It offers purpose.
“You don’t have to be out here by yourself,” Jasper said. “Darell has become a vital part of White Flag Ministry—one of our most-trusted and always-there volunteers, always involved. He has the perspective and insight of someone who has experienced homelessness, to be able to share with some of the struggles and some of the ways we can best be advocates and walk with our folks who are experiencing homelessness.”
Since that fateful initial offer, Darell has lent to White Flag his indefatigability and ingenuity—so vital to surviving on the street and outside of society’s concern—often working overtime to make sure his people’s needs get at least heard, if not met.
“I think we’ve helped a lot of people in and outside of our community,” Darell said. “And nobody’s more dedicated than me. Even if I’m not here every day, or, since we’re just Monday through Friday, I still take the initiative and help out on weekends when everybody is closed and at home, which I don’t mind doing. Saturdays and Sundays when I’m not doing nothing, somebody will say, ‘Hey, I need a meal.’ I say, ‘Meet me at the White Flag.’”
So crucial is his volunteering at White Flag—which is to say, his serving the community—that Darell structures his daily routines around it. His days begin with a healthy breakfast—“like anybody else”—and end with pointing people toward resources, providing extra clothes, distributing housing information—anything the organization needs.
Because, at the literal end of the day, what Darell looks forward to most is what he and all of us need the most—relationship.
“Seeing different faces that come through that need assistance, but also making friends, and even sometimes where I open up my own home, if they need a place to crash or just for a little bit or need a shower,” he said. “And I think this place is really important, not just for people outside of White Flag, but also the people that we help. So, at the end of the day, I just look for a smile and a ‘thank you.’”
Perhaps this is why Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, didn’t merely instruct his hearers to provide a banquet or hand people the leftovers. He explicitly admonished the audience—which includes us, all these millennia later—to prepare a table. To offer a banquet. And to invite anyone and everyone to it. It’s not just about quelling hunger. It’s about abolishing isolation.
“A place at the table means, to me, there’s a spot for you here. And that’s what I think the white flag means to me,” Darell said. “Back in the day, that flag meant to people, like, ‘I’m giving up,’ they’re just waving it in the air. But that flag here, to me, it means ‘hope.’”
And is it a coincidence that the insignia Superman sports on his chest—you know, the one we earthlings mistake for an “S”—is his native planet’s symbol for ‘hope’?
This article first appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of fellowship! magazine. Check out the issue and subscribe for free at www.cbf.net/fellowship.