Birmingham’s Batman still changing lives 31 years after his death

Birmingham’s Batman still changing lives 31 years after his death
Bianca Donerson holds her son Xavier Rister and stands next to the Nissan Xterra she received in the first Willie J. Perry Foundation's Wheels of Change giveaway. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Bianca Donerson rode the No. 8 bus to Old Car Heaven Wednesday night, carrying a stroller, car seat, diaper bag and her 1-year-old son.

When the Mobile native left for her Hoover home, she was driving a 2002 Nissan Xterra, courtesy of the Willie J. Perry Foundation’s Wheels of Change car giveaway.

Willie J. Perry Foundation gives away not one, but two cars in first Wheels of Change event from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The foundation celebrated Willie Perry Day in conjunction with Secret Stages, the two-day walking music festival. But the theme of this night was secrets revealed as Donerson’s ride was one of three cars going to new homes.

The other vehicles were a second car that went to a single father of two, and the Rescue Ship Batmobile, which is going back to the family of the man known as Birmingham’s Batman because of his selfless acts of assistance to stranded motorists and others.

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Donerson was at a loss for words when she stood beside her vehicle following the announcement.

“I am so excited,” she said. “I just feel so blessed right now.”

The 26-year-old said she and her son, Xavier Rister, have been in the Birmingham area the past five months, living first in shelters before moving into an apartment. They moved to Birmingham so Xavier could get better treatment for biliary atresia, a rare disease of the liver and bile ducts that occurs in infants.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Donerson continued. “God knows I needed this.”

Barry Jefferson was the only man among the six finalists. He said he wasn’t disappointed when he didn’t win the Xterra.

“I kind of felt that’s what Willie would have wanted,” he said. “I know I’m going through a lot but I figured there were some women who needed it more than I did.”

Jefferson had not had a very happy birthday on Wednesday. The 30-year-old suffered with a headache and chills that left him in bed much of the day as he saved his strength to come to the event.

While outwardly subdued, he was excited when his name was called for the second car – a 2003 Dodge Durango.

“I wasn’t expecting them to have a second car,” he said. “I want to show more excitement but I’ve got the worst headache in the world right now. But I’m so excited because I’ve got two kids that I’m raising by myself.”

The Xterra was donated by Allen Mann, who received it from her father, Dr. Peter Bunting. She said she married into a family of two children and quickly had a third child so a larger vehicle was needed.

Mann donated the car because her father instilled a sense of community as she was growing up.

“Money is not something to hold onto,” she said. “It’s something to give away. It stuck with me.”

The Durango was donated by the Halfway To Prosperity Center, another nonprofit. A member of the Wheels of Change selection committee told a friend with Halfway that she wished two cars could be given away since the top two contenders were so deserving.

The souped-up 1971 Ford Thunderbird that Perry drove until his death in January 1985 had wound up in the hands of the city of Birmingham. It had fallen into disrepair and eventually wound up at Old Car Heaven.

An attorney in the city’s legal department alerted Marquetta Hill-King, the foundation’s executive director and daughter of “Birmingham’s Batman,” that the keys to the car would be turned over at Wednesday’s event. Some forms must yet be signed before possession returns to her family.

The restoration and return of the car to Perry’s family are goals of the Rescue the Rescue Ship campaign that began in 2009. That effort stalled and resumed about three years ago. The campaign also is funding a documentary on Perry.

“By it being turned over to my family, we can take care of it like it should be,” Hill-King said. “What we want to do is restore it (and) get it back to as close as original as we can.”

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