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"Street Spirit" and the power of pocket change

Mary Rees
Alando Marcell Williams displays the June issue of Street Spirit.


You’ll find homeless vendors selling the Street Spirit newspaper in front of grocery stores, restaurants and post offices across the East Bay.

The Berkeley Bowl Marketplace on Oregon Street is a favorite location. KALW’s Mary Rees spoke with regular vendor Alando Marcell Williams. Click the player above to hear the story, or read the transcript below.  

ALANDO MARCELL WILLIAMS: [to passer-by] Small donation, sir, towards the Street Spirit today? Anything would be appreciated.

My name is Alando Marcell Williams; I’m from Berkeley, CA.

I been selling Street Spirit over eight years now. It’s stopped me from going in and out of jail; I don’t go to jail no more. And helped me, provide me with food, clothing, and meet a lot of different people, good people.

A lot of times I wake up with no money; I take one of these papers, might bring me $50, might bring me $100, might bring me three dollars. Something better than nothing any day; that’s why I love this paper.

One day I was here and a guy walked up to me and said, “How much is a paper?” I said, “Whatever you want to donate, sir.” He walked in, came back out with a cup of coffee, went in his top pocket and gave me three 100-dollar bills and said, “Have a nice day.” You find good people like that out here.

[to passer-by] A little help today? Excuse me, sir.

Sometimes the police come and ask us, “Do you have your badge? Did you leave your badge at home? Well, I’ll take your money and papers and give you a citation.”

[to passer-by] How you doing, man?

PASSER-BY:  Oh, hanging in there.

WILLIAMS: I’m hanging like wallpaper, too.

PASSER-BY: That’s all I got.

WILLIAMS: All right, thanks a lot, man.

A lot of these people I done seen around, and I know. Familiar faces and old friends. People that come up here, know I’m up here; they see, me talk with me, ask me how I’m doing.

I grew up on Dwight Way and McGee; I went to Berkeley High. Got a baseball scholarship to play for the Oakland A’s, and then after my mom had got murdered, I had a nervous breakdown from there. I didn’t have no one to turn to, because I was the oldest out the bunch. My grandmother and my grandfather, that’s her mother and her father, they was up in age. They took custody of me and my brothers, when they was up in age, so they passed away. After that, I had a nervous breakdown. I went to Napa Hospital for four years, four and a half years. Still didn’t have no one to turn to, so I started using drugs. From drugs to prison. Out of prison back to drugs.

I kept angry. That’s why I stayed up in prison a lot. I asked them, “Why did they do that to my mom, take my mom from me and my brothers?”

I’m not on drugs no more; I’m good with saving money. Just keep it in my pocket, just buy the things I need.

Sooner or later, God could provide me with a place, ‘cuz He know I mean well.

They gave me a spot, told me to come down — I was on G.A. [general assistance] — bring proof of income, Social Security card, so I did all that. So they said, “Ah well, you get to move in next week, Mr. Williams — I mean, next month, Mr. Williams! The place will be ready for you next month.”  So about a week before I’m ready to move in, they called me back down to the office; they had gave me the keys and everything. They said, “Oh, you have to give the keys over.” I said, “Why is that?”  “We did a criminal background check on you.” So… they said, “Well, appeal it!” I just was kinda upset and just said, “Forget them people.”

[to passer-by] Little gift today towards the Street Spirit? Any donation would be appreciated.  All right, you have a good day, man.

I’m just that type of person. I got a good heart, and if you say, “No,” I can understand it, I can respect it.  If you say, “Yeah,” fine with me. I just gotta keep on keeping my head up, and keep smiling.

I might just have seven to eight papers, and, I run out of papers, I panhandle. And they still give us donations. Sometimes I don’t need papers to make money. Depends on how you present yourself to a person. Some people call it begging, but I don’t call it begging. No, if you got a heart, and your heart feel free to give up some, that’s good. If you don’t, oh well.

I love this. This my job; I wouldn’t give it up for nothin’ in the world.

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