Nannette Ricaforte reminds us that “Homelessness might rob one of his dignities but humanity perseveres in all.”
I sat on the bench holding my heavy camera with sweaty palms watching my friend’s band perform at a homeless outreach in Fullerton, California. It was the Fourth of July and my friend invited me to take photos of her, her band, and the homeless who came to partake in what the outreach offered: warm food, entertainment, haircuts, showers, clothes, and friendship.
Was it providence or coincidence when the first person to strike up a conversation with me was Jim (name changed), a homeless man who was a photographer for 35 years? He approached me because he recognized the lens I was using.
“A red ring on that lens means you are serious about your photography.”
We proceeded to have the most intellectual exchange about Nikon versus Canon, 16-35mm lens versus the 70-200mm lens, and film versus digital cameras. I meant to take a photo of him but never had the chance; nor did I ask the reasons for his homelessness. Jim sat in urine soaked pants, spoke through missing teeth, and flipped his unwashed hair out of his eyes but the contagious excitement his voice exuded while discussing photography was undeniably human, not homeless.
Recently, a maelstrom of protests ensued in response to Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mark Jeffries’ comments made in 2006 about the brand’s maxim. Jeffries states, “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong in [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
One response to Jeffries’ opinionated comments came in the form of a video created by writer Greg Karber where he’s seen scouring a thrift shop for A & F clothing. Afterwards, Karber sets out for L.A.’s Skid Row with his purchased items and began disseminating them to its homeless denizens. At the time the video went viral Karber was praised for his actions and applauded for his resourcefulness by the media, bloggers, and websites.
Did Greg Karber have the homeless community’s best interest at heart?
Mary-Margaret Sweeney’s article elaborates on how the Abercrombie prank is insensitive to the homeless by “using their vulnerable position on the street for his gains.” She reminds us that the homeless are human beings who deserve respect despite their lack of shelter.
Reading her article intrigued me so much I was compelled to pick the brain of my good friend, Derrick Engoy, who organizes Laundry Love, a community service project based in Long Beach, California. LL is an initiative of people who adopt a local Laundromat helping impoverished individuals or families wash their clothes and bedding by providing quarters and building relationships.
Helping the impoverished has always been close to Derrick’s heart. He believes one shouldn’t make their point at the expense of others; suggesting Karber could have written a letter to Jeffries and A & F instead of marginalizing a group of people to convey a specific message.
I doubt Greg Karber anticipated the intense backlash his video generated. Whether or not his intentions were altruistic toward the homeless, his video served as the catalyst to a heated nationwide debate that incited an open dialogue defending the homeless and the minority group excluded from sporting the A & F brand. You could almost hear the collective outraged cries across the country.
Outrage and offense are two emotions that compel people to talk, discuss, and work to finding solutions to social issues. It is how social justice warriors are born.
Maybe now the homeless will not be invisible to passers by. Maybe more people will stop to discover what their unique stories are. Maybe their humanity will outshine the soiled clothing and dirty smells.
Like Jim, who was a photographer for 35 years and lives on the streets, they all have a story worth telling. Homelessness might rob one of his dignities but humanity perseveres in all.
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–Photo: Nannette Ricaforte