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Mike Brown: Overcoming hardships, experiencing generosity

Wed, Feb 1, 2012

Mike Brown

StreetWise vendor Mike Brown uses the mantra “live, and let live” during his daily routine selling the magazine at Bryn Mawr and Winthrop in front of Starbucks.

Brown has overcome many struggles that help him value each day. “Actually, I’m lucky to be alive. I’ve had a triple heart bypass surgery, I’ve had prostate cancer, I’ve had tuberculosis. I’ve had my throat cut in a CTA robbery,” Brown said of his hardships. He added, “That’s why I say there’s got to be a God, because if there wasn’t, I’d be dead.”

In addition, Brown struggled throughout his childhood in a broken home and eventually found an escape when he joined the Army at 17. “My first job was an overhead crane operator. I loaded plates of steel.” Brown said that a drinking problem followed his service in the Army. After hitting rock bottom Brown eventually overcame the addiction. “I might have one beer once in a great while, but that’s it. That’s my limit,” he said.

Despite family problems, Brown continued to stay close with his oldest sister Shirley who died six years ago. Brown said, “She was nice. She was Christian and believed in God.”

Following his military service Brown worked in a myriad of jobs. “I worked for Superior Match Company, they make matches. I worked for a company that makes paper for Xerox. I worked for a mattress company. I loaded trucks. I worked for Rock-Ola Jukebox Company, which was a good job, I assembled jukeboxes and speakers.”

Since retiring Brown has worked as a StreetWise vendor and values the daily interactions with his customers, “It is extra income, plus I like meeting people, talking to people. I’ve met a lot of good friends and good customers through StreetWise.”

Brown has received much generosity from Chicagoans and shared, “Yeah, the things that they do for me never ceases to surprise me. One time a guy comes by and says, ‘Here, have lunch on me.’ He gave me a $10 bill. Sometimes I have a woman who comes by with her husband and gives me $5 and says ‘keep the change.’ ”

The funds Brown earns from StreetWise help pay his rent in a Chicago Housing Authority unit. Someday soon, he hopes to save enough money to purchase a couch, end tables, a bookcase, and a TV.

Brown ended on a note of generosity for StreetWise and its customers, “I’d like to say thanks to StreetWise for giving me a job. And I’d like to thank all of my customers for buying StreetWise. It makes me feel good that people still care about other people.”

Written by Ann Wanserski,
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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