It’s been a while since I posted something from one of my favorites, street newspapers. Begun to help the homeless help themselves, nonprofit ventures like Real Change here in Seattle provide a source of income for many who want to make a difference in their own lives. They’re offered a hand up, not a hand out. One such person is Reggie Thompson, Vendor of the Week.
Reggie Thompson is discovering a new Reggie Thompson. For years, too many too-long days aboard an Alaskan fishing boat stifled his creative side and artistic ambitions. The physical–and sometimes deadly–work kept him moving 18 hours a day, seven days a week.
Since the day he had first arrived in Alaska, Reggie had imagined he would be fishing for the rest of his life. But an injury to his wrist had cut short his life at sea. He returned briefly to previous work in telemarketing management in Anchorage, but the job then ended and Reggie moved on.
And so it was with an injured wrist, no job and two aging parents back home in Virginia that Reggie picked up and moved to Seattle in 1997. Then, two and a half years ago, he found himselt at the Real Change office.
“You got to work your own hours, be your own boss,” he says of the career change. “After all those years on the boat, that sounded really good to me.”
He regularly sells more than 300 papers each month in front of the Specialty’s Cafe and Bakery at 3rd and Spring downtown. He’s close with many of the people who work there and the customers who frequent the bakery. Some just stop to buy the paper, others want to stop and talk with him at great length about his life, their lives, Alaska, music, anything.
But while that’s been important to Reggie, it’s not what has stirred this latest transformation in him. Last year, he joined photography and community journalism classes hosted at the Real Change office.
“I thought that journalists on the street have a lot of good stories to tell that people haven’t heard yet,” he explains. “I like writing because I can express myself and also share these stories with my customers.”
He is also working on improving his photography skills through Path with Art, a nonprofit aimed at providing art classes to homeless and low-income individuals in Seattle. And then there’s music. When he was a young child, Reggie received a guitar from his father. Reggie taught himself to play by ear. Rock ‘n’ roll, soul, jazz; he loved it all. Years later, in the 1970s, he would even get the chance to play onstage with the Motown band The Symbolics at New York City’s historic Apollo Theater.
“That was an experience I will never forget. I had been hanging out with all those guys, all those musicians in Harlem at the time. And to get to play at the Apollo, it was unforgettable.”
Reggie is grateful for the chance to grow with his artwork now. His writing has been published in San Fransisco‘s Poor Magazine, and he writes regularly for the vendor-powered blog (insp-blog.org/realchange).
Loyal customers who support him at his spot in front of Specialty’s are also some of the biggest supporters of his writing, artwork and music. Talking about those people–his community–he tells me, “I just enjoy working here. Since the first day I came here they’ve been a part of my life. I’ve got to thank them for supporting me through all the ups and downs. It’s beautiful, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
…everyone has a compelling story…deserving to be told…hugmamma.