CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Sam Bethea has been in and out of jail 29 times. He’s turned his life around. And now he’s become a fixture in uptown for his simple message.
As he’s learned, it’s not always well received.
While some protested the Republican National Convention in Charlotte and demanded social justice Monday night, Bethea took to the streets of uptown to share a different message.
“Jesus saves. Jesus loves you, you guys,” he said to demonstrators, repeating his mantra.
Friends of Bethea said his spirit is contagious, his attitude infectious -- and his love for humanity is sheer inspiration.
“I do it because God called me to the streets,” he said.
With just a bicycle and his booming voice, Bethea said he has shown up for every demonstration in uptown since he started doing this full time six years ago. But on Monday, that message came to a head with protesters in South End.
“You’re taking away from the message,” one protestor could be heard saying in Bethea’s live stream of events that he posted to Facebook.
Some claimed Bethea acted as a distraction to their cause. Moments later, video showed some members of the group dousing him in flour, glitter and silly string, even yelling profanities to get him to leave.
“(It’s got) flour, it’s got soda, it’s got juice. As you can see, they flour-bombed me,” Bethea said holding up the clothes he wore that night. “Throwing glitter in your eyes. I just thank God that it didn’t get in my eyes.”
It’s not the first time he’s received criticism.
Some uptown businesses said they had enough of Bethea’s preaching in 2017, with nearly 20 people filing noise and disturbance complaints to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
Bethea has maintained his high spirits and said the protesters didn’t faze him. Eventually, he’ll wash his hat and vest and head back on the street, determined to live out his calling.
“They have a right to say what they want to say, within the bounds of the law, just as I do,” he said.
After the videos circulated online, some of Bethea’s supporters rallied around him to raise money so he can continue sharing his message.