"Pass the Mic" is a storytelling space featuring the voices and stories of people with a lived experience of homelessness.
People have always told me I have the gift of gab. I put folks at ease—I talk to them, I ask questions. I meet people where they are to get a better understanding of who they are.
Growing up in East Baltimore with nine siblings, I’ve always had that family bond. Life back then was good. There were plenty of parties, sports, and one thing we never argued over was food. It didn’t matter what neighborhood you were from or what you need. If you fell on hard times, someone was always ready to lend a hand.
It wasn’t hard to see how quickly life can change, but I also learned what it takes to get your life back.
I believe that good comes when you do good; that when God opens your eyes every morning it’s time to put in that work. And anyone who knows me knows that I’m a diligent man, an educated man, and a researcher.
Even when I fell on hard times, I didn’t waste any time looking for where I could find clean clothes, shelter and health care in the city. At the time I was living and working as a head cook at the Salvation Army and was always ready to share those bits of wisdom with anyone needing a leg up.
It was through that same bit of research I first discovered Health Care for the Homeless at their site in West Baltimore. They saw my drive, and gave me the tools I needed to get myself housed and put my health back on track. They saw me for the well-rounded person I am, which is more than I can say for most people who walk by someone experiencing homelessness.
When you’re homeless out in those streets, society looks at you different. They don’t view you as a person, you’re just an object there on the ground. But no one knows what you’ve been through, or what got you to that place; instead they make up a story about who you are.
The truth is you never know if that moment of empathy could be the turning point in someone’s life. I’ll never forget being at Lexington Market a few years ago and a man from New York came up to me, just so hungry. I didn’t have much myself, but went to get him a bite to eat and left him with a few dollars.
Some time later I was back in the Market, and a well-dressed man taps me on the shoulder. It was him. He had cleaned himself up, found a job, and held on to that memory of us meeting there, to that single act of kindness. For those few dollars he wanted to thank me with a crisp $50.
There’s a saying I like that goes: I used to complain that I didn’t have any shoes until I saw a man with no feet. I’ve had my hard times, sure, but I know there’s always someone with that little bit less. I don’t want to forget that someone, and at 66 years old I’m still looking for new ways to give back. It isn’t about the titles or the money, but having that compassion.
We all have a role to play in this work to end homelessness and advance equity for our neighbors.