Ed Cephus is a familiar face of StreetWise to many Chicagoans because he sells in front of the Art Institute. He is the subject of our Father’s Day feature because while he and his significant other, Monique, have no children of their own, they are parenting children who have been left to their care.
How did you get to StreetWise?
“I came to StreetWise in 1992 and I met a guy who was always walking around with money and I was like what do you do for a living and he said, ‘I sell StreetWise.’ And I asked him, ‘Well, what is StreetWise?’ And he told me that it was a newspaper and if you could get away from the stigma attached to being a StreetWise vendor, it’s actually a decent income. His name was Ronald, but they called him Mr. Wise because he had an editorial/advice column in the paper at the time. He had also taken a class at Second City, so he would put a comedic twist to his advice.
“He was also a homeowner and he lived out in Hazelcrest. So that’s how I got a sense of treating this like a business. This man was able to afford a home from StreetWise. He also taught me the difference between selling to individuals and selling to a big crowd. That’s why I think I have a lot more success than others, because when people are going across the street, a lot of vendors will pick a couple people out of the crowd and try to talk to them, but I talk to the whole crowd. Because I average a sale every traffic light. So sometimes there might be 25 people crossing, so if I get 1 in every 25, that’s every traffic light.”
How did you come to be a “dad?”
“Monique who was a cashier [at StreetWise] is my significant other. On August 1 of 2008 we moved into our apartment. August 3 of 2008, she had my baby. August 4, my baby died. Her aunt paid for the funeral and eight days after the funeral, [Monique’s] aunt died and left us her three children.
“Brandy, who [just] went to prom, she’s the youngest, so she’s 19. When we got her, she was in 7th or 8th grade. Then her sister was in high school, so Christine is now 23. And then we have Michael who was a freshman at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, so now he’s about 25. He’s graduated from Grand Valley State University.
“Also, we had a cashier [at StreetWise] by the name of Kathy back when we were on 13th Street and she died. The baby, Shirley, went to her aunt, who also died. So that’s how we ended up getting her. She’s graduating from 8th grade and I’ve been legally been taking care of her since 2008.”
Brandy is graduating from Prospective Charter School with a 4.6 GPA on a 4-point scale. Michael received a degree in criminal justice, worked as a counselor for children in state custody and will now be working at a juvenile detention center in Willowbrook. Christine also went to Grand Valley State and now works in child care for an agency downtown. Shirley is an honor roll student at Prospective.
“Shirley has done well, she has adjusted well. Everybody has kind of mended and we all are just one family. We recently joined church and we had a lot of, everybody was out kind of doing their own thing, so Sundays now and Wednesdays when we go to Bible study gives us a chance to come together as a family and spend that quality family time.”
Cephus is now selling StreetWise and working with the Safe Passage program in Chicago Public Schools. He also volunteers at the garden outside a school in Roseland and does maintenance at the 26-unit apartment building in which the family lives.
I bet your family’s really proud of you.
“Oh yes, my parents are blessed to still be alive and they live directly Katy corner from the school that I work at. They’re 86 and 84 years old. Well, they’re actually my aunt and uncle, because I lost my parents when I was six weeks old and they took care of me, so I guess that’s where I get it from. They took me in from six weeks. Their names are Elois and Delores Bills.”
What are your goals?
“Right now, I am trying to start my own LLC, because there’s a lot of property in my area that’s available and you know the people who [advertise in] there [StreetWise], CIC, I’ve taken all their management courses, so I feel that I’m ready to find property and fix it up and use it as income property. Because I found that there’s a house going for only $9,000! And the house across the street is $1,100!”
What are the biggest lessons you’re trying to teach your kids?
“A sense of community. The sense that it not only takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to maintain the community. My parents have always been the type… my aunt and uncle have always been the type that not only do they plant flowers in front of their home, they help with all the neighbors’ homes. They planted a community garden. And when they see people in need, or they see someone outside with a flat tire, they come out and ask if they’d like to come in and use the phone. So it’s just that sense of community that we are our brother’s keeper.”
Brittany Langmeyer and Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Publisher & Editor-In-Chief