One Panama City man has taken on the task of lifting the morale of his neighbors after the storm and it’s working. 

Rebecca Angel Baer
November 9, 2018
Southern Living

It has now been a month since Hurricane Michael made landfall at Mexico Beach on October 10, 2018. The monster category 4 storm was unforgiving and did not discriminate in the breadth of land and homes it destroyed. Our neighbors in the Florida Panhandle are just now beginning to pick up the pieces and figure out how they move forward when so much has been destroyed. They are going to need our help for a long time to come.

 

Southern Living’s News and Travel Editors recently made a trip down to the coast to see the damage with our own eyes, and it is as bad as it appears on our TV screens. Panama City Beach is, for all intents and purposes, up and running. There is visible damage to roofs and signs, but for the most part, it fared well. This was incredibly surprising to us but cross the bridge into Panama City and it is like entering a different world. Everywhere you look—utter destruction. In every neighborhood, at every turn, homes and businesses are destroyed. In many cases, all that is left is a pile of rubble. Where there are shells of homes and businesses left, it looks far more like an invasion of tornadoes tore through town rather than a hurricane. Splintered wood, mangled metal, and piles and piles of debris are all that you see. Well almost all.

 

There is a beacon of light standing on a street corner if you know where to find him. Every single day, Decaris Hunter stands on a street corner with signs of encouragement—actual, physical signs. Always smiling and waving, Hunter shows up every day holding homemade posters with phrases like “spread the love,” and “Panama strong 2gether we stand,” a simple act of kindness with a big impact.

 

Posted by Decaris Hunter on Sunday, October 21, 2018

 

 

 

Posted by Decaris Hunter on Monday, October 15, 2018

 

 

 

“It’s all about us showing the world that even after we had devastation like a hurricane that hit us {and} impacted us in such a bad way, that we can still come together and spread love,” Hunter told us.

 

It’s clear watching him work, that Hunter has become the city’s chief cheerleader in the aftermath of this horrible storm. We stood next to him and watched as he waved at passersby and they waved back, all while the sun blazed down and a disconcerting number of bees buzzed around his head. Did you know that after storms, when trees have been toppled in mass that the bees and wasps are ever present because they no longer have nests and hives up in those trees? But Hunter wasn’t bothered by any of that. He just kept spreading that love.

 

“I know to a lot of people this may just be a poster, but to some people this is like that little motivation. That little encouragement, that little sign that people need to see that it is going to be OK.”

And Hunter sees that a lot of people are getting the message. “I’ve had the best reactions from people who tell me like this one sign, this one message changes their entire day. I’ll have people tell me, ‘I drive all the way out of my way to go to work just to come see what your poster says today.’ And that’s what keeps me out here today. Showing that this is what brings us together when we need to be brought together the most.”

 

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Hunter actually began his mission of spreading love before the storm. Watching a video on Facebook of a little girl talking about how she was scared of violence and other scary things she sees on the news, he said it sparked something inside of him. “Because it was like, dang, children aren’t supposed to be afraid to live. So it made me think, they look for us as adults to tell them everything’s gonna be alright.”

 

This mission truly began in June and his actions are also in part, inspired by one of his heroes, Ellen DeGeneres. Hunter looks to her as someone who always shows love to all people and it was that kinder side of the world he wished to share with children like the little girl he saw in that video. But when that storm struck his hometown, he knew his mission had changed. He was more motivated than ever and committed to helping lift up his neighbors, even though he too was in need. Hurricane Michael had not been kind to Panama City’s ambassador of kindness.

 

“I have my family still and that’s the most important thing. Honestly, we lost our house. We lost everything.”

This stunned us. Here he was, day after day, all smiles and signs of love, but this man had lost everything.

“I’ve kept myself so tied up with trying to spread love that I really haven’t had time to really let it hit me yet. But I don’t think I really want it to because I feel like I’ve started something, and I’ve got to finish it.” As he spoke, a car horn honked, and someone yelled “I love you” out of the window. The smile on Hunter’s face in return said it all.

 

“I want people to understand that even though we lost everything—we lost a lot of things in this city—but all of this can be replaced. The one thing we still have is our life, and we can always have better. So, I want people to love life and enjoy life and just live life again.”

He continued, “I want it to be normal to be able to tell somebody everything is going to be OK. I’ve got your back. I’m here for you. Because that’s not the normal anymore. We are so divided. It is so left side, right side now. In my world, it’s just one big circle and I’m trying to bring everybody together.”