On a recent rainy Tuesday, Steve Simms quietly toiled as corps administrator of the Salvation Army’s Berry Street Worship Center in East Nashville’s McFerrin Park. A gray-haired, mustachioed man possessed of a pleasant demeanor, Simms lifted a large flag — with which he’s walked along some hardscrabble streets regularly for the past five years — to show its form and physical condition. It’s snagged and clearly worn, the work of barbed and razor wire on nearby fences along Dickerson Road.
“It has been a violent neighborhood,” Simms said. He walks at least once a week, sometimes as far as three miles, carrying the flag. “We walk and pray for God to change people’s hearts and to change the neighborhood.”
The Salvation Army flag features a blue border, red palette and yellow star, in which the phrase “Blood and Fire” is inscribed. The colors, according the Salvation Army, are noteworthy: Yellow stands for the fire of the Holy Spirit, red represents the blood of Jesus, and blue symbolizes living a pure life. Simms honors the Salvation Army flag like most Americans do the Stars and Stripes.
No doubt, Simms’ walks aren’t to be confused with a carefree Sunday stroll through a park or a suburb. Along Dickerson Road and its side streets, drugs, alcohol and prostitution are common. Optimism is scarce. A middle-aged, unassuming gentleman strolling with a flag would seemingly be a target for verbal — if not physical — abuse.
“I’ve never been physically threatened, and I’ve interrupted drug deals,” said Simms, who serves as church planner at the worship center and works with his wife, Ernie, the facility’s other corps administrator. “I’ve been approached by some rough-looking people.”
While crediting quality police work, Simms said the flag walks have had a calming effect in the area. He sees less violence and more people who recognize him. No longer is he perceived as the weird guy carrying a Salvation Army flag. Others have even joined him on occasion.
“After a couple of years, a guy started walking with us and carrying a flag. He said, ‘I’m carrying this flag and nobody seems to think it’s unusual.’ I said, ‘That’s because we’ve been doing it for a while.’ ”