Michael Evans was standing in line at the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office in Detroit last August, waiting to pay his taxes, when he heard a disturbing sound ahead of him. The elderly woman at the window was crying—and so was the cashier helping her. Then Evans learned why: He heard the cashier inform the woman that her house was in foreclosure and headed for auction. He also heard the woman tell the cashier that her daughter had recently died.
Evans, a businessman who had just buried his father, couldn’t stomach the idea of this woman losing her home right after losing her child. He approached the window. “I don’t mean to butt in,” he said to the cashier, “but if y’all can get her house back, I’ll pay for her taxes.” The amount due: $5,000.
The two women were stunned. Their despair turned to disbelief. The cashier left for a moment to confirm the amount and that it was all right for Evans to pay it. Evans vowed to go straight to the bank and come right back with the money. And he did.
But when he returned to the treasurer’s office, he asked someone else waiting in line to hand the $5,000 check to the cashier. Evans was trying to slip away quietly and, preferably, anonymously.
“I didn’t want this attention,” he explains.
Of course, attention found him—it’s not every day that someone pays a stranger’s hefty tax bill. That said, Evans often finds himself on the giving end of charitable situations, though for years he went unrecognized for it. He is the president of M2E Investments—the name is a reference to his son (and namesake), Michael Evans II. The firm owns a variety of businesses, from restaurants to a portable restroom company, most located in the inner city of Detroit and many devoted to improving it. His 1 Premium Driving School gives driving lessons to teenagers, often for free. In 2015, when he saw a story on the news about a local boy with an incurable bone disease, Evans held a fund-raiser at his Detroit Shrimp & Fish restaurant to help pay for the boy’s wheelchair and van. He also donated all the money the restaurant made that day to the boy’s family.
“We help people, me and my son,” Evans says. “We send a check; we walk into funeral homes and just pay for the whole funeral. We try to help our community.”
Why does Evans give so much to strangers? It’s a question he never fully answers. “To be honest, I don’t like putting money in the banks,” he says. “Doing things with your money is better.” As for paying the elderly woman’s taxes, he says he did it “for no other reason but to make sure the lady was in her house.”
A few weeks after the tax incident, Evans received the Spirit of Detroit Award for his lifetime of generosity. Again, he didn’t want the attention, but his son felt the honor was overdue. “It was good to see my dad finally get the recognition he deserves,” the younger Evans says.
Michael Evans Sr. is nearing 60 and will retire soon. Before he does, he hopes to convert some commercial spaces he recently acquired into low-income housing. And he’ll continue to sponsor his local youth football league team—he pays for their equipment, uniforms, and out-of-state travel.
His son will carry on with the business, and—no less important—with his dad’s penchant for philanthropy. “I model my life after him,” Evans II says of his father. “When I have kids, I want them to look at me the way I look at my dad.”