Melissa Harris-Perry, 7/13/13, 11:52 AM ET

Fixing potholes with a touch of artistic flair

Melissa Harris-Perry’s “Footsoldier” this week is Ron Chaney, a t-shirt designer in Jackson, Mississippi, who hit the streets to fill potholes and repurpose the asphalt for everyone in his city.

Meet Ron Chane, ‘pothole patchman’ and Foot Soldier

Updated

Ron Chane was on the way to breakfast with his girlfriend when he decided he’d finally had enough of the potholes spotting the roads in Jackson, Miss. After breakfast, they both set out to acquire asphalt and fill in the potholes that they passed on their daily commute. After filling 13 potholes the first day, they decided to go out again–and again. They’ve now filled 101 potholes in Jackson and are still receiving requests from residents equally fed up with the local road hazards.

A local business owner and artist, Chane decided to put an artistic touch on the road improvements, putting a small plant in the middle of the filled potholes and painting an arrow by them stating, “citizen fixed.” His work to address a need in his community made Chane our Foot Soldier of the week. This week, I had a chance to discuss the experience with him.

What got you thinking about the problems of potholes in your city?

Well, if you live in Jackson, you realize it’s just like any other city. People are going to complain about the government, the infrastructure, and everything else, so we’re not unique in that aspect. But we have some of the worst roads in the country, and any city official that works here would say the same thing when driving to work.

And we didn’t really think it was that big of a deal in the beginning when we got in there to do it, half selfishly–just fixing the potholes for us, and so we wouldn’t have to complain about them and start our day complaining. And then it just kind of went from there.

But it’s not a thing we did looking for any kind of attention. My girlfriend and I both work 70-hour weeks and we have other things to do. And if our city had taken care of its infrastructure a long time ago, these potholes wouldn’t be a constant topic of conversation in our town.

When we started to do this when knew that there was this huge mountain of asphalt in our city that was just sitting there with grass growing out of it–we could see it from the highway–and we always thought it was such a shame that it’s just sitting there being wasted. So that’s where we went to go do it. Realistically, we knew somehow, somewhere, at some point this was paid for by the taxpayers.

So my justification is: I’ve got four businesses, and I pay personal income tax to my city and to my state, so somewhere along the line, way more than the amount of asphalt that I’m going to re-purpose to fix these holes will have been paid for by my tax dollars. So that was the idea.

Have you heard from any local officials?

We have not heard. The only word that we had gotten is that one city official was actually sending links to the Department of Transportation trying to fire up the idea of getting them to prosecute and press charges, but the reality of that is, none of this was taken for personal gain or for profit. It was at some point paid by taxpayers, and re-purposed by a taxpayer for the taxpayers in taxpayer potholes. Pretty simple concept.

Tell me more about the plants you planted into the potholes.

Yeah, they were in the form of small trees that were growing in my yard, and I got tired of cutting them and throwing them away. So we re-purposed the oak trees. There are really cool lime green; they look super awesome against the asphalt. Especially when you have a white circle around it, and a big arrow that says, “Citizen fixed.”

I’m an artist and a designer, so to us it felt like we were getting past the idea that this is just good for our city, and an itch that we needed to scratch, to being an art form for us.

Has this changed how you feel as a citizen about being able to get involved and create change and fix problems in your own community?

Yeah. Like I said, any big city–a capital city, especially–is going to have complaints, and issues, and all of that. I don’t think we’re unique to anybody. But I know that I can make a small impact on my city by the fact that I have four businesses there– that helps a little bit. Still, me registering the fact that I complain about something that happens locally, it kind of puts a little bit of pressure on me to feel like, well, maybe I just need to do something about it.

And I think, well, I didn’t do this to sell it, and I didn’t use it for personal gain, and I didn’t put it in my yard to grow plants out of it.  Ultimately it turns out that we did this for everyone. And a lot of people have gotten use out of it, even if they just crossed through that pothole one time, it made a small difference.

Meet Ron Chane, 'pothole patchman' and Foot Soldier

Updated