- Associated Press - Saturday, September 10, 2016

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - Jermaine “Maintain” Hickman is easy to spot in traffic.

Sitting on 26-inch chrome rims, his brown ‘79 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight leads weekend convoys of custom classic cars around the city as necks crane to see it down the street. Big wheels, flashy paint jobs and amped-up sound systems are the trademarks of Flossin Car Club, an area automobile enthusiast club founded by Hickman about a year ago.

“We try to stand out,” Hickman, president of the club, said in the parking lot of Woodruff Career & Technical Center, where a group of about 20 car club loyalists meet monthly to talk shop.

Loving cars is just one of the requirements of membership, which comes naturally to people who go so far as to name them. When someone asks about a member’s car, they don’t just get a make, model and year. They get an introduction.

The reason for that, Hickman said, is pretty simple.

“When we look around at these cars, we see a baby,” he said. “That’s the difference between the average person and a car-head.”

Along with creating a presence at local car shows, Hickman said social media has sped the club into the spotlight and helped put it on the map. More than 1,800 people signed up for the group’s Facebook page since it launched, further expanding the club’s reach and allowing more people to become involved. The page operates as a public forum for everything auto-related.

For original member Derry “Chizz” Chism, Flossin Car Club gives him an opportunity to showcase “Stella” - his 1977 Malibu Caprice Classic - during road trips to car shows in cities such as St. Louis, Moline and Chicago.

“We do a lot of nice things for the community, and it brought a lot of people together who normally wouldn’t have been together before,” he said.

What started as a small group of friends riding around the neighborhood has become a not-for-profit agency geared toward helping the community. Book bag drives, holiday giveaways and free cookouts around the city have all been a large part of what Flossin Car Club members do to give back to the neighborhoods they hail from.

Growing up, Hickman said, he would often sit on the front porch and gaze at every beautiful car that drove by. Even as a boy, he knew many of the owners, and came to learn that quite a few were involved with drugs, gangs or prostitution.

“You still get profiled for big wheels because they’re associated with drug dealing and gang banging,” Hickman said, but the rear window of each member’s car is emblazoned with the club’s logo to let everyone know exactly what they represent.

Through the club, Hickman said his crew aims to erase the stigma associated with big rims and flashy cars while setting a positive example for young kids to demonstrate how they, too, can achieve their goals without resorting to crime.

“We all got legit jobs and we can have this,” Hickman said. “This isn’t just a drug dealer’s dream no more.”

A self-described tomboy, Rachelle Edwards said she always felt welcome and never had reservations about being part of a club that’s centered on a traditionally male-dominated hobby. When she joined the ranks, she was dubbed with the honorary title “First Lady,”

The time and money she has invested with her 1979 Pontiac Bonneville gives her a sense of pride, she said, and it’s something positive she can enjoy with her son.

“There’s a lot of negative going around in our city right now,” she said, “so to have some kids that’s influenced by this, it’s a good thing.

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Source: (Peoria) Journal Star, https://bit.ly/2bkf23c

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Information from: Journal Star, https://pjstar.com

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