Our Vendors 

Participants: true face of StreetWise organization

Thu, Nov 1, 2012

StreetWise is not the magazine, nor the produce training program, nor merely case management, Executive Director Jim LoBianco said in introducing a video about three vendors at the September 27 gala. “At its heart, StreetWise is men and women like Don and Michael and Troy,” he said.

Michael Dunbar

Michael Dunbar had been in and out of the penitentiary three times and had panhandled at Union Station downtown before he came to StreetWise, which he calls the “springboard to my life.

“Every time I put on the StreetWise badge I wear it with pride,” Dunbar said. He had seen other vendors selling the magazine and came to the organization at the urging of Percy Smith, who is vendor representative on the StreetWise board of directors.

Living in a hotel at 47th and Ashland Avenue, Dunbar was able to pay his $500 monthly rent through selling StreetWise. Now he shares a two-bedroom apartment with this wife and newborn baby. In addition to selling the magazine, he works at Gethsemane Gardens. He says he’s been running away from responsibility all his life but now he wants to become debt-free and to continue his sobriety.

“I’m being really positive and I try to surround myself with people that are positive,” Dunbar said. “One thing about being a vendor – I’m a people person. I love to interact with people. Working here at StreetWise has given me the opportunity to work on my social skills.”

Troy Dixon El

Troy Dixon El says he has also learned how to better deal with the public through selling StreetWise, “how to deal with rejection with a smile and to keep steppin’. I love selling StreetWise. It opened the door to other opportunities. I got a lot of moving jobs. People need their yard raked or shoveled. It opens a lot of different doors for people who are trying to do the right thing.”

Earlier, Dixon El had been in and out of prison, homeless and frostbitten.

“I asked God, ‘why don’t you just let me die. I see You ain’t going to let me die so I got to do something to get through this pain.’ I didn’t realize the blessing StreetWise had for me. If I didn’t have this avenue I would probably end up going back to prison or drunk myself to death. At one time I just existed, I didn’t know what life was about so it opened my eyes.”

Dixon El did not meet his father until he was 13 and the elder was released from prison. Initially he decided to follow his lead as a major drug dealer but four years after his father died, he proclaimed his nationality in the Moorish Science Temple of America while in prison. Through the teachings of Prophet Noble Drew Ali, he aims to live according to the principles of love, truth, peace, freedom and justice. He also attends Alcohol and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. He has bought a computer, gotten a Facebook account, and served as a StreetWise Quality Assurance Team captain for two years.

“I make sure that the quality of our StreetWise vendors is up to par,” he said. “I make sure they are following the code of conduct that we have here and treating people the way they are supposed to be treated.”

Don Smith

Don Smith was born in Cabrini Green but now as a vendor at Dearborn and Maple Streets, he knows so many people on the Gold Coast that people call him “the Mayor of Dearborn Street.” He helps children cross the street, hails taxis, and introduces elderly neighbors to each other.

Smith avoided gangs and violence through his involvement with school sports. His father was also a role model: a veteran who was married 59 years and didn’t retire until he was 73. “He worked in a bar and didn’t have any off days. He kept a roof over our heads, food in our mouths, clothes on our backs.”

Smith came to StreetWise because he couldn’t find a job anywhere and was just following his friends. Like Dixon El, he has worked on the vendor quality assurance team. Now he has stepped up to become a vendor on one of the new Neighbor Carts, located at Wilson and Broadway. Selling fruit is a good job, Smith said, because “it’s helping people to have better lives. At one time I would have sold drugs or cigarettes. This is the total opposite. When I was selling drugs I was taking and now I am giving back.”

StreetWise has given Smith a chance to redeem himself, to prove he is somebody, he says. “I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t joined this organization. I am moving ahead, helping others to join this organization. If they stick with it, they will be as successful as I am.”

Written by Suzanne Hanney,
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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