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My very first recipient: Knox

Happy New Year!

365 days ago I embarked on an amazing journey.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it would forever change my life.

When I started I had been out of work for 75 days, I was hungry for a job, at least that’s what I thought.  Looking back on it, I think I was searching for something even greater: purpose.

Sure, the first month without work is awesome.  I got loads of sleep, made it to the gym on a regular basis, read all the books that were on my list to read and made time to see friends and family.  But the second month brought with it changes.  I started waking up late and staying in bed watching television until midmorning.  Don’t get me wrong, not all of my skills were wearing away, oh no.  I was actually developing a rather impressive talent in guessing the showcase showdown price on The Price is Right!  By the way where do they get those people…I should be on this show.  Anyway, this need for a higher purpose in my life combined with my interest in philanthropy and the values my mother and father taught me as a child all collided.  I literally woke up one morning in early December with the idea of giving a different stranger a few dollars every day.

Writing the blog was a purely personal venture at first.  It quenched my thirst for a job-like activity.  Every day I would come home and write up the blog entry.  I had never blogged before and to be honest, hadn’t really followed anyone else’s either.  So I really had no idea what I was doing.

Me and mom in Rio de Janeiro in 2003.

I started on the three-year anniversary of my mother’s passing.  Possibly the kindest and most generous person I have ever known, she was a huge inspiration.  She guided me through all 365 days.

Every day was a unique adventure.  People always ask me who my favorite recipient was.  That’s like asking a parent to name their favorite child.  So many of them were special in their own way.  Whether it was someone’s personal story that touched my heart or their creative idea of what to do with the ten dollars, every person left their own unique footstep along this year’s path.  And at some point what was a personal project turned into a movement and you joined me on the journey.  That moment was magical.  I received over ten thousand emails and comments from people all around the world who said that they were inspired; whether it be by my personal commitment or by one of the stories of the year-long cast of characters I introduced them to.

December 14th always loomed deep in the distance but before I knew it the day had arrived.  I decided to host a celebration with the goal being to reunite as many of the recipients as possible and put them together in one room.  In addition to introducing them to one another, it was also an opportunity for those who had been following the journey on the blog to meet the recipients in person.

Darrold, recipient from Day 189, picks a winning raffle ticket. (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

It was bitter cold and windy on the 365th morning of the Year of Giving and my emotions were equally turbulent.  The excitement for the evening was met with a bit of sadness that this special year was coming to an end.  Sure I have some tremendous plans for 2011, but things would be different.   It’s like moving back to a place you once lived.  It’s never the same.  The magic isn’t easily created twice.

I spent all day on the 14th doing last-minute things for the event.  Thankfully my good friend Patricia Anderson had volunteered to take care of the brunt of the work and I was only left with a few minor tasks.  I ran a few errands and delegated a couple of jobs to my father.  The thing that took me the most time was editing the video that I wanted to show.  I have close to two hundred video files from the last year and I wanted to piece something together that would capture what this year meant to me.  I had never worked with video files before I started blogging and one thing that I learned is that it is a very time-consuming process.  A film editor once told me to benchmark one to two hours of work for every minute of final cut video.  I literally was editing until 10 minutes before I needed to be at Tabaq Bistro, the location of the event.  Miraculously I managed finish on time.  Click here to watch the video.

I was reunited with Knox, my very first recipient from Dec. 15, 2009. (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

I arrived and any plans I might have had for the evening were checked at the door. Events tend to just take over and you are then on autopilot for the most part.  It was very much like a wedding; lots of beautiful and emotional moments all blurred together.  Thankfully there are some great video clips by ABC-7 reporter Jay Korff and amazing photographs by Michael Bonfigli.  I encourage you to check out both of these links.

The year would not be complete however until I passed on the final installment in my $3,650 investment in kindness.  Who would it be?  There were several people at the celebration who I didn’t know, so they qualified.  But who?  People often ask me how I choose the recipients.  It’s not a science, it’s much more of an impulsive decision.  Then I remembered the dozen individuals who were volunteering their time to work the event.  I knew some of them, but there were a few unfamiliar faces.  One of them belonged to Alyson, a 25-year-old DC resident who was busy working when I pulled her aside and placed the ten-dollar bill in her hand.

The final $10 changed hands during the event when Alyson H. became recipient #365. (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

She works in congressional relations at the Peace Corps headquarters here in Washington, DC.

“I’m going to buy two raffle tickets,” Alyson told me.  Participants at the event could purchase raffle tickets for five dollars a piece for a chance to win some fantastic prizes from generous organizations and individuals (see list of sponsors) in the DC area.  All the money collected, about $2,200, is being donated to three amazing nonprofits: DC Central Kitchen, Street Sense and the Urban Philharmonic.  Each have played a special part in this year-long journey and it seemed fitting to mark this event with an act of giving back.

Unfortunately Alyson didn’t win anything in the raffle, but that wasn’t this Minnesota native’s real motivation.  She is just a giving person at heart.  In addition to her meaningful work with the Peace Corps, she takes time out of her busy schedule to do things for others.  In fact, she had recently volunteered at DC Central Kitchen.

So what now?  Well, for 2011 I have two big things planned.  First, the ten-dollar a day giving continues with other unemployed people signing up to be Kindness Investors and give a ten spot away every day for one week and then share their stories here.  It’s truly an amazing experience.  Later today you will start to get blog posts from Melinda from Xenia, OH, the first Kindness Investor for 2011.

Elijah (Day 185) made it to the event, still not wearing shirts or shoes...and it was cold! (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

The other big project I am planning is to personally volunteer once a week for the entire year.  After reflecting on the previous 12 months I realized that the most valuable part of this experience has been the interaction with others, the time I spent with the recipients.  That’s what matters, to really care about someone else and their story.  So, I am going to be volunteering my time with some great nonprofits over the coming year and sharing the stories here on the Year of Giving! I hope you will follow along and drop me a note about how you incorporate volunteering into your life.

In addition to my personal commitment, I am challenging all those who are out of work to volunteer at least one day of their time.  We currently have 15 million individuals who are out of work in the US.  If we take an arbitrary hourly salary for each of them of $20 and calculate the value of each of them spending an eight our day volunteering, it comes up to $2.4 billion.  Now the average person is unemployed for six months right now, so double that amount and you get the total potential for the US for a year.  $4.8 billion is a seismic amount.  To put that into perspective, that is more than the economy of Zimbabwe!  Or three times the economy of Belize!  And we haven’t even mentioned the benefits the individual gets from volunteering!

I also want to work with companies to get them to create programs that encourage their employees to volunteer.  Imagine what we could do if we got just 20% of the active workforce to volunteer one day a year!  Anyway, check back in the coming weeks for more on this exciting new project.

Pierre from Day 359

Everything that I have ever done that was meaningful was sad when it came to an end.  So too is this moment.  The Year of Giving is not an earth shattering idea.  As Pierre from Day 359 put it, “Probably many people have thought something similar, but the difference is that you took the initiative and did it!”  He’s right.  What is unique is the experience that I have had.  When I started this project I thought that I might potentially change the lives of a handful of people, but I never thought about how it would change me.  I am forever changed.  I look at giving differently now.  It’s contagious and it has seeped into all aspects of my life.  I look at the homeless man on the street through a new lens now.  I’ve learned that sometimes it’s more valuable to stop and ask their name and how they are doing than it is to drop a dollar into their bucket.

As I reflect on this experience, I can’t help but be reminded of some sage advice in Mitch Albom’s real-life story Tuesdays with Morrie. In the book, Morrie tells Mitch, The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”  I did just that and today I have 365 new friends and a truly meaningful purpose in life.

It’s ironic that just when I thought I was reaching the end I’ve realized that in fact it is just the beginning!  It is truly a happy new year.  Stay tuned…

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Yesterday evening was Day 365 of my Year of Giving.  It was absolutely brilliant.  It was so good to see so many past recipients of my $10 joined by blog followers, family and friends.  I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening.  If you want to get a taste of how the evening went, check out this awesome segment that ran on ABC-7 here in DC.  More to come on this when I write up the blog post for Day 365.

I hope I look as good as Margie does when I'm 65!

Now, let me take you back 17 days to a cold November 28th.  My brother Ryan invited me to be his guest at a Washington Capitals game.  It was there that I met Margie while she checked the tickets of the fans who entered the 200 level concourse. 

Margie, an usher at the arena for the past nine years, works all kinds of events.  “At first I didn’t care for hockey because I didn’t understand it, but I’ve learned some of the rules and things and now I’d probably say that it’s my favorite.”

A DC native, Margie and has four children and five grandchildren!  I wasn’t surprised to learn that she had worked in the nursing and healthcare field for most of her life as she is clearly a caring person.  She provided home healthcare for both children and adults; helping them bath, get dressed, cook, grocery shop, etc.  “I love helping people,” Margie said, “I’m a people person.” 

We laughed a lot.

She told me that this has been a difficult year for her.  “I’ve been having kidney and liver problems,” sounding positive despite the unfortunate circumstances.  She’s on several medications and hopes that her situation starts to improve soon.  It would be completely reasonable for her to use the $10 to help pay for the medications that she needs, but she decided to pass it on to someone who needs it more than she does; one of Margie’s daughters has a foster child who is expecting a baby.  As she looked down at the ten-dollar bill in her hand she said, “I know she could use the money.” 

I gave her a big hug before I left.  I look forward to seeing her again the next time I am at the Verizon Center.

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On Day 276 I had some company with me as I searched for a recipient.  A news crew from Spain’s television network CUATRO were following me around for a story they were doing on my Year of Giving.  We met at Illy Café and chatted for a short while before heading to a nearby park where I tried to give my $10 to a man sitting in the park.  He refused.

We then started heading north on 21st Street I think.  It had been drizzling all day but the rain started to pick up a little bit and we sought shelter under an awning that extended over the sidewalk for a few minutes.  I then spotted a young guy walking two dogs across the street and I thought I would approach him.

I ran over to Jake with the news crew chasing after me.

Jake was helping his girlfriend out by walking her dogs. They were cute dogs. I remember the dog on the right is named Georgia. (photo: Reed)

Jake is a local to the Greater DC area.  He grew up in Alexandria, VA and graduated from T.C. Williams High School.  Now, 29, Jake is studying psychology at George Washington University.

On this specific day he was taking his girlfriend’s dogs for a walk.  He said that he would probably use the $10 to sponsor a day of dog walking for her some day.  “Her dog walker charges $10 for a walk, so this will help her out for at least one day,” he told me.

Jake is 29 so he is not your traditional undergraduate college student.  I asked what he had chosen to do after graduating high school and his answer surprised me.  “Well, I came to GW and studied for a couple years but then I was drafted by the San Francisco Giants to play baseball in the 2002 draft.”  Wow…I guess I should tell you that I used to dream of playing professional baseball for the New York Mets so I was pretty excited to meet a professional baseball player.  No, I didn’t grow up dreaming about being laid off my job and giving $10 away…that just sort of happened.

Jake making a double play look easy. (photo: Matt Thornton)

He played for nine years in the minor league organization of the Giants.  He spent most that time playing 2nd base and shortstop for their AA and AAA farm teams.  “It was a great experience,” he shared with me.  “You learn a lot.  You are consistently setting a goal to get better, always working to get to where it is you want to go.”  He went on to say that the fact that he was playing for half the year and then off for the other half made it really hard to stay focused on those goals. 

Jake talking to the Spanish news reporter. (photo: Reed)

“People would always tell me that my baseball career was going to help me so much in my professional life after baseball,” Jake said.  “I’m sure it will…using what I learned about setting goals, the drive that I have.”  I have no doubt.  Professional sports are highly competitive and only the best like Jake can survive for extended periods of time.  When I used to hire sales people I loved candidates who were runners or disciplined in some athletic area.  They understand commitment and know that you will have to go through considerable pain sometimes to achieve their goal.  They don’t quit.

I did some searching on Jake and found this interesting clip.  Apparently it is not live footage from a game rather a commercial that was taped for Gatorade.  The announcer lists the Fresno left fielder as Jake and although he didn’t play outfield much, I have a feeling it is him since he played for Fresno.  I tried to confirm this with him but I must have written his email down incorrectly.  If you know Jake, please put me in touch with him.  Anyway, have a look, it’s a cool clip.

By the way, you may remember that I happened to give $10 to another professional baseball player in May, Anthony on Day 158.  It’s either a small world or I got to too many baseball games.

We said goodbye and Jake continued on his way with the dogs. (photo: Reed)

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On Day 241 I met up with the Russian Channel One team again.  They came to my apartment and filmed a little and then we headed over to Dupont Circle to find a recipient.  The first person I stopped was a young guy named Oliver.  He said “no” originally and then he said something that was very interesting.  After we spoke for a few minutes he made me an offer.  “I’ll take your ten-dollar bill if you take my twenty-dollar bill.”  I thought that was a really cool idea.  He was pushing my concept to the next level.  Unfortunately as you may know, I can not receive anything in return for my $10 so I couldn’t do that.  That was his condition on taking my money and unfortunately things didn’t work out, but I loved his creativity.  I didn’t get his information, but hopefully he will check this out and drop me a line!  I liked his style!

I then approached another person who said they were running late and didn’t have time.

Eric at Dupont Circle (photo: Reed)

They say that the third time is a charm.  Well, Eric helped make that statement come to fruition.  He looks to be a twenty-something who works for an IT company where you can dress how you want and the hours are flexible.  Well, I was pretty much right-on.  He works as a software developer for a non-profit that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike.  Basically it seems like they try to improve transparency and help the public connect with the government.  And since it was close to 10am, I think I am right about the flexible hours too. 

Eric is originally from the Catskills of New York but has also lived in Boston and NYC before coming to DC.  “I really like it here,” he says.  That might be largely as a result of his job as it turns out.  Either he really likes it or hopes that his boss reads this because he told me, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been working where I am now.  There’s just 35 of us, it’s pretty cool.” 

Eric talking to Andrey from Russian Channel One (photo: Reed)

He keeps himself busy outside of the office as well.  “I like to do improv comedy and ride my unicycle.”  That’s right, Eric rides a unicycle.  He told me that one day when he was in Boston he saw a guy riding to work on a unicycle and he asked him if he could borrow it some time and the guy agreed.  Apparently it’s a small trusting community.  I mean, it would be easy to spot them if they don’t bring it back, right!  I assume he has his own now and didn’t keep the other guy’s unicycle and flee to Washington.  Hmmm…anyone missing a unicycle up in Boston?

Eric has “a few brothers” and is the proud father of a cat.  He also has a girlfriend – sorry ladies.  Speaking of which, he said that my $10 would help him take his girlfriend to dinner.

I finished and then the guys from Channel One had a chat with Eric for a while and we parted ways.  Cool guy.

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I have been contacted by some interesting news organizations about my year-long commitment.  From local news here in Washington, DC to morning shows to CNN.  Even a handful of international news organizations have reached out for interviews.  Recently I was contacted by Russia Channel 1, the leading broadcasting network in Russia.  They asked if they could interview me and follow me around for a couple of days.  Today is the first of two days that they joined me finding my daily recipient.

Carolyn in front of Union Station in DC (photo: Reed)


We met at Union Station and talked for a little while and then set out looking for someone to give my $10 to.  The first person I asked said that they were in a hurry, but the second person I approached agreed to receive my ten bucks.  Carolyn is in DC visiting her daughter who lives here and is a DC school principal.  

Although originally from Little Rock, AR, she now lives in Los Angeles.  In addition to raising five children, this 75-year-old found time to lead a career as a police officer, a nurse and later a pastor. 

Giving is nothing foreign to Carolyn.  She shared with me that she went to Haiti on  missionary tour and fed 2,000 people per day.  “It was such a site to see,” she said describing countless children as old as six that didn’t have clothes.  Back stateside she helped at men’s shelter for many years.  Just then she takes out a piece of paper in her bag that has contact information for free legal services for those living below the poverty line.  “Right now I was planning on going over to this McDonald’s and see if there is anyone who might need this information,” she explains to me motioning toward Union Station.  I’ll probably use your $10 to get me something to drink there too.  Here is a video of her explaining how she shares the legal information.

Carolyn says that she tries to help at least one person every day.  She credits her faith with fueling her service to others.  “I grew up in a Christian home,” she told me.  “I know that Jesus Christ is my personal savior and he has always opened doors for me.”

I asked her if there was anything that anyone reading her story could do to help her.  She reluctantly told me about a hospital bill that has gotten out of hand.  “I still owe about $1,300,” she says.  She tries to make monthly payments of $100, but the interest keeps building up.  She said that she could use some help getting that paid off.  “If anyone would be so kind as to help I can give them the payment information and they can directly pay the hospital.”  So many of my readers are very generous themselves, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone offered to help this kind woman.

After I was done speaking with her, Andrey from Russia Channel 1 interviewed her some as well.  You can see that here:

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So I went out to Safeway last night and bought a copy (actually two) of the bright pink Woman’s World Magazine.  It was the only thing I bought and I got a couple strange looks from the cashier.  Anyway, on the back inside cover there is really good article on the Year of Giving and a picture of me in a shirt that looks really green in the photo!

On Day 199 I ventured out looking for a recipient. It was one of those sweltering hot days and I didn’t a bit more get three blocks away and my forehead looked like I had just finished a spicy plate of lamb vindaloo.  Speaking of Indian food, which I love, have you heard of the Karma Kitchen?  There is one in Berkeley, Chicago and here in DC.  The website says, “Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads $0.00 with only this footnote: Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those dine after you.”  Now they don’t do this every day, but I think here in DC it is every Sunday at the Polo India Club (1736 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC).  I haven’t been there on a Sunday yet to check it out, but I have exchanged a few emails with one of people behind the idea.  Apparently the Year of Giving inspired them to share the stories of their guests and also give $10 away to a stranger every Sunday!  Read what Stephanie did with her $10!  Very cool.  I hope to check it out very soon!  Thanks to the folks at Karma Kitchen for believing in kindness of others!

Ok, sorry, I got sidetracked…so as I walked around the corner of a Starbucks I saw a man with what looked to be hundreds of envelopes that he was furiously licking shut.  I thought I would go in and meet him and see if he would accept my $10 or even just some help finishing off those envelopes.  You can do them pretty fast with a wet napkin or paper towel.

He was a bald pudgy man probably in his late 50s or early 60s.  He peered at me through his heavy framed glasses and in a thick accent said he didn’t have time.  I started to offer to help him with the envelopes and he barked something else at me that I didn’t understand but in fact I did understand that he didn’t want to continue the conversation.  So I left.

I walked around some more.  Up to Dupont Circle down Connecticut Avenue.  Maybe the guy smoking the pipe on the bench or the man who appeared to be homeless shouting at people walking by or why not mom holding her daughter’s tiny hand waiting for an ice cream?  For some reason, none seemed right that night.  I ended up strolling through some more residential streets and found Valerie (whose name I have changed her on her request) and Katie sitting on their front patio enjoying the subtle breeze that attempted to counter the thick omnipresent heat and humidity of the first day of July.

After graduating from the University of Arizona, they decided to move to DC and get some work experience.  Now they were relaxing on the eve of their last day in the apartment.  Katie is moving back to Arizona to attend law school in the fall and Valerie is staying in DC but moving to a new apartment in Georgetown.

When I approached them Valerie was talking about a young guy that works at the Subway near her office.  He is from Nepal and “exudes kindness” she says.  Every time she goes in she learns a little more about him.  Apparently he moved here and wants to go to college but doesn’t have the funds to do so.  “I just feel so bad that here is a guy who works so hard and is so nice to people and he can’t afford to get an education.”  Oh, and on a totally different note, Valerie highly recommends the new Subway special: an egg-white sandwich with veggies and cheese on whole wheat with a coffee for $2.50.

So at some point Valerie asked if I wanted something to drink.  “We’re having watermelon juice and vodka.”  That seemed like a strange combination.  “We have moved literally everything out of our place.  The only thing we have left in there is half a bottle of wine, watermelon juice and a handle of vodka.”  A handle?  Hadn’t ever heard it called that.  Anyway, let’s try this watermelon and vodka, I hope they still have ice!  You know what, the drink wasn’t bad either.

They told me a pretty funny story too.  Apparently they needed newspaper to pack some of their items so they swiped their landlord’s New York Times off the porch – he lives upstairs from them.  “We didn’t think he would miss one day’s paper.”  Well, he did.  He came down and asked them if they had “borrowed” it.  Caught off guard they denied it.  As we were talking about this, he and his wife arrived home.  He seemed like such a nice man.  I think they felt a little bad about it.  Maybe they will use the $10 to buy a back issue copy of that day’s paper and send it to him!

Speaking of the $10, I asked them what they were going to do with it.  They decided to split the $10 evenly.  Valerie said she was going to take her $5 and add her own $10 to it and give it to the young man at Subway to help him with his savings.  Katie said that she was going to take the $5 and add her own money to sign Valerie up to take the GRE exam.  By the way, I checked and the exam costs $140 so that is really nice gift!  That’s ok she said though, “If I had to invest in any person in the world it would be her.”

Pretty cool.

It was dark and I needed to get home.  I thanked them for the hospitality and wished them luck.  I actually think I might have seen Katie the next day sitting out on the terrace at the Front Page in Dupont.  Still proudly wearing my Brazil shirt on the day that they lost to The Netherlands, I passed a table full of football fans and one of them waived to me.  I walked over to the table only to be unsure of who it was.  I came up with some awkward things to say I guess and then went on my way.  Well, I guess we’ll find out if it was her when she reads this!

Update July 11, 2012: I received a request from the woman I have called Valerie here requesting to change her name and remove photos of them.

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I am still struggling with my computer issues, but trying to push forward.  Thanks for all the kind emails.   

Elijah Alfred Nature Boy Alexander (Photo: Reed)

 

The man that I am going to introduce you to today is someone that I had seen on Day 124 when I went for a run.  I was jogging through Lafayette Park which is just in front of the White House when I ran by a shirtless black man with matted cotton white hair sitting on a bench holding a wooden staff.  I thought to myself…when I get home I’m going to get my $10 and go down there and give it to this guy!  Well, as it turned out when I got back there I couldn’t find him.  Fast forward 61 days and I was walking through Lafayette Park with a reporter and a photo-journalist (Jon from Day 184!) from Street Sense when I saw the same man.  Unfortunately he was talking to someone so we sat down and waited to see if the other gentleman would leave so I could go and speak with the man I soon found out goes by the name Elijah Alfred Nature Boy Alexander Junior.  

Elijah was very friendly when I approached him and graciously accepted my invitation to sit and talk for a while.  The only item of clothing he was wearing was a pair of jeans that had been cut all the way up the sides like a loincloth.  It’s been years since he stopped wearing shirts and shoes.   

Originally from a place called Grambling in northern Louisiana, Elijah gave up his job at Southwestern Bell in Dallas, TX at the age of 31 and began wandering North America as an objective observer.  He has been married twice and has fathered six children with five women.  He shares a lot of information about himself on his website.  I spent hours reading through different parts of his site and his Facebook Page.  I thought I would share one of his many poems he has written and posted online.    

About the Author, The Poem  

By a midwife in a Mount Olive Community in 1945 was born
Elijah Alfred Alexander, Jr., as he has always been known,
to Elijah, Senior, daddy, and Annie Brooks (Gaulden) mother,
with two sisters older and sandwiched by an older and younger brother.  

December ’63 he finished his high schooling, a year and a half late,
while working also, and by the next year’s end had a military date.
He was married the next spring to one Camala Louise Taylor, by name, who mothered Karn Marshell, a girl, and a boy the third of the same.  

Vietnam was in full swing and took him twice to the east
where he, by one, helped the population to increase.
As an aircraft mechanic he finally got orders for Japan
only to have a medical discharge return him stateside again
where he, by another boy’s wife, increased the population,
totaling six (two in sixty five before the marriage relation).  

In ’72 he divorced, and in ’74 married again,
Dellie Mae Bolton, and before three months was a preacher man.
In August of ’76 he gave up being a telephone maintenance man,
to obey the messianic call to “judge not, go into all the land,
observe all things though you’ll have no place for your head.”
Traveling by foot his comforts got heavy so the extras he shed.  

Living like animals and not judging he used the art of reason,
saw all things relative and put all things of man into a season
and became mentally, physically, spiritually, and financially free.
He believes its how all christs, titled Christians, are called to be.  

                                            – Elijah Alfred Nature Boy Alexander Junior  

Photo: Reed

 

He now divides his time between two residences in DC where he does some house sitting.  This past winter he was the “fire guard” for the wood burning stove at one of the homes he stays at so he was not at the park as often.  Given his choice to not use a lot of clothes, I asked him how he gets by in the winter.  “I shovel snow,” he said with a smirk.  

Elijah has traveled extensively through North America, all by foot unless offered a ride.  He tells me stories about the 5 Canadian provinces, 44 continental US states, 11 Mexican states that he has visited.  He then remembers that he even made it to Belize.  “How could I forget Belize!  I spent nine months there!  Three and a half months of which I was in a mental institution there because they thought I was crazy and then four and a half months locked up in jail.”  That is not the only place he has had accommodations behind bars.  He has made visits to several jails around North America for indecent exposure; 32 visits in Louisiana alone, a place where he says the jails are usually quite nice and the people treat you pretty well.  Elijah tells me about being arrested for taking an avocado from a fruit stand.  “I was told by a higher power to get a piece of fruit, so I got it.”   According to Elijah there is an old law on the books that allows the poor to enter grocery stores and take fruit without paying for it.  I haven’t been able to find that law yet.  

I could go on and on talking about how interesting I found my chat with Elijah, but I want to encourage you to visit his website and get to know him for yourself.  Elijah is someone who reminds us not to judge others by the clothes that they wear (or don’t wear).  

As for my $10, he said he would use it to get some fruit, this time he said he will pay cash for it.  He learned his lesson about taking fruit and not paying for it a long time ago!  

Notes: Elijah holds office hours in Lafayette Park from roughly 10-5:00 every day.  I bet he would love to meet you.  You can see other photos of my visit with Elijah in this week’s Street Sense!  Go buy a copy and help a vendor out!  

References:  

Elijah’s website  

Elijah’s Facebook Page

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