Mr. Chico: I'm Still Here

Aug 14, 2023 | by Brent Rinehart

Just east of Uptown Charlotte, near the corner of Belmont and Seigle avenues sits a small house that has been there for decades. Around it, new modern homes and apartments are springing up. Restaurants and breweries have popped up, giving uptown workers a place to gather for lunch or happy hour.

Occupying that small house, often seen waving at passersby, is a man known affectionately as Mr. Chico.

“I’ve been here in Charlotte 53 years, at my house where I’m at now,” he said.

While it’s unusual today to stay anywhere for 50 years, it’s been home for Mr. Chico and his wife, who past away two years ago. Through the years, especially recently, he’s received many offers for his property. But, he is always quick to turn them down.

“They’ve been trying to run me out but I’m not going nowhere.”

The Belmont Neighborhood is one of the clearest examples in the city today of gentrification in action.

The average home price just 10 years ago was around $125,000. Today, it’s nearly $400,000 – above the county average.

This neighborhood’s prime location close to uptown, convenient access to the city and its entertainment options make it very appealing to newcomers.

But, not too long ago, Belmont was one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Charlotte. Violent crime rates exceeded the county averages. Drug deals taking place on the corners were a regular occurrence. In the 1950s, The Salvation Army moved into the neighborhood to offer hope in the midst of despair. Crime still takes place here, although things are continuing to improve.

Just 20 years ago, this was a predominantly black neighborhood. Today, rising rents and property values have forced many of its longtime residents out.

“At one time, Belmont was kind of rough. It has been a big change. You know how they are building up now, where we had small things. Now we got big things. Like I say with taxes. I used to pay a little tax. I’m paying so much tax now I can’t even keep no money,” he said. “But, I thank God for still being here.”

His loyalty lies with his community – and his church family.

“As long as The Salvation Army is on Belmont Avenue, I’m going to be here. And, I thank God for it.”

Eighty-seven years of age, Mr. Chico spends the majority of his time navigating his electric wheelchair up the street to The Salvation Army Belmont Corps Community Center. He found a home there decades ago. His relationship with the church began through volunteerism. In the 80s, he recalls all the times The Salvation Army would host food giveaways and he would come up to the church to help.

Today, he’s a member of the church – officially a “soldier” in The Salvation Army, but he’s more than that.

He does a little bit of everything at the church.

“I cook, clean, whatever has to be done, I do it. Sunday School, I come in and put Sunday School books out and everything. I open the church up every Sunday.”

On Tuesdays, you can find him in the kitchen or preparing the room for the Belmont Corps senior program, where a lively group of ladies gathers for fellowship and worship.

He makes his way around the room to make sure everyone is comfortable and has what they need.

His heart for service comes from his faith, instilled in him at a young age. He grew up in Virginia where his grandfather was a minister. His three sisters and brother are all Christians and involved in the church. In fact, his brother followed a similar path, serving his church the same way Mr. Chico serves his.

“I was brought up in the church from a little boy. I know how it is to love the Lord. I guess my family was just meant to do this…to work with the church. [My brother] is a trustee and everything. I’m a trustee here. I thank God for it.”

After all the change Mr. Chico has seen in his city and neighborhood, his heart for people and community has never wavered. Every Sunday, and many days throughout the week, you can find him here at The Salvation Army. Smiling. Waving. Inviting others to experience the same hope he has in Christ and the same joy he finds in fellowshipping with others at his church.

His message has been the same for decades.

“We’d like to have you come to church on Sundays. Sometimes I sit out there in my chair as they pass by and I say come on in, come on in. I invite anybody out there to come and worship with us. We have a beautiful church here.”

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