MEMPHIS, Tenn. — “You see guys flipping at nine and 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. at night. They just want $10 or $15to get them something to eat and call it a night.”
Whether you hear the claps, shoes pounding the concrete or the loud roars from the crowd, the Beale Street Flippers are hard to miss. They’ve been a staple in the city of Memphis since 1986 and they’ve helped save people’s lives.
“We’re not just entertainment. We`re saving people`s lives. You`re saving young black men’s lives,” said Rarecas Bonds.
The Flippers are made up of about 40 people who perform after school hours. The youngest start out at just five years old.
Many of them are from the worst parts of Memphis and join the group as a way to escape gangs, crime and poverty.
“‘Ain`t no telling what I`ll be doing if it wasn`t for Beale Street,” said Deangelo Bland.
“The focus isn`t how long we been out here. The focus is how many kids lives we`re saving, because three or four hours on the street with us or two or three days out of town with us we’ve kept four, five or 10 people out of the streets.”
When Bonds was just five years old he started flipping, creating the group as a young entrepreneur. At the age of 11, he was flipping down Beale Street with Tom Cruise in the move “The Firm.”
Then it became more of a movement. He began incorporating others and developing a special brotherhood.
That brotherhood came face to face with tragedy last year after one of the original flippers, Jessie Williams, was gunned down at an apartment complex in South Memphis.
“It was terrible. I spent 10 years traveling with Jessie. We all met up, we all went straight to Regional One, met up there. It was a tough couple of days.”
It’s the very reason why the Flipper keep doing what they’re doing. They’re hoping they can fight the streets and save one member at a time.
“Soon as they leave us they got a million people they`re talking to. They gotta go back home to families, they gotta go back home to the same hoods, they gotta come back home to the same communities, same friends so straying them in the right direction. We do our part, well we try, but they have choices.”
Bonds said he does have to stay on them and even set up rules. No guns, drugs or bad grades.
“It keeps me doing something positive,” said Eric Bonds.
“That`s the first thing I ask. ‘Aye man, how is school going?'”
The Flippers want to be acknowledged as more than just performers here on Beale Street. They do much more than that. Throughout the year they travel across the country performing at events, college and NBA games, and even weddings and parties.
“To me the most rewarding aspect of it is to take guys who have never been out of the city of Memphis on an airplane,” said agent Rollin Riggs.
The Flippers create a lot of firsts for some of these men. Some of them have never even had an I.D. The tips they earn flipping allow to pay for their first bill or even rent their first apartment.
“Most of the kids we get are the kids you see begging at the stores, or you see the kids that`s been in trouble, so we try to bring them along on Beale Street. You see the kids walking at night at 16 and 17 years old.. so you be like, ‘Aye man. Come here. Where are your parents?'”
The Beale Street Flippers are saving lives and helping them become men who no longer have to battle the streets.
For more information on the Beale Street Flippers, click here.