The first thing I noticed about George, when I arrived a little late for our meeting at the Street Roots office, was how nicely he was dressed. He was sporting a blue dress shirt, a tie, and nice dress slacks. A suit jacket was draped over his chair. “Dress well, feel well,” he said; “dress bad, feel bad.” He added that when he dresses nicely, people see that he is “chasing after health, not drugs.” He likes good clothing and dreams of becoming a clothing designer.
The second thing I noticed about this Street Roots vendor was his easy smile and love of words. He began with stories of lessons his grandmother taught him as a little boy while she taught him to fish. The stories seemed ripe with moral instructions about hope, self-sufficiency, and independence. “Stay positive,” he said, smiling. “Keep believing in what you do.”
George told me a number of things he does to help him keep a positive attitude even during the toughest times. He said he reads the book of Galatians every morning and encourages others to pursue education so “they can reach their goals.” Sometimes late at night, when his only mattress is a large slab of concrete, he talks into his tape recorder. He shared part of one of his recordings. His voice on the recorder described being outside with nowhere to go at two in the morning. The monologue is interrupted by his congested voice saying “stay positive” midway through his description of the night.
I asked to see what George carries in his small, black backpack. He has two manila envelopes with some artwork in pencil and a plastic folder neatly organized to hold Street Roots newspapers and other important information.
“Art, business and communications” are three things that are important to him. He mentions the three frequently when I ask him about either his background or his goals. A pencil drawing of a Christian cross reflects his art and religious interests. Taking the initiative to start selling Street Roots over three months ago, even though the gout in both his ankles made it difficult for him to walk, reflects his devotion to business and self-reliance. No one who has ever talked with him doubts his devotion to the spoken word and desire to communicate.
Selling Street Roots “gives me a chance to dialogue with lots of people and see people I haven’t seen for years.” He clearly relishes the contact and interactions. George sees lots of people on the streets doing nothing, he says. He uses selling Street Roots to model self-sufficiency and “encourage them to do something with themselves.” His main goal in life is right now, he says, is to “reach everybody to believe in education so they can reach their goals.” Continue reading