StreetWise Vendor Jackie Robinson may not boast of a history of ground-breaking baseball playing, but his customers will certainly attest that his legacy is no less impactful. Every day, Jackie impresses the residents near Belden and Clark (where he vends) with his shining spirit and undeniable drive to defeat any challenge thrown his way.
Brittany: How did you get the name “Jackie Robinson?”
Jackie: Well, I was born and raised in Chicago. I’ve been here for 46 years and I’m actually one of eight children. And my mom just loved baseball, because her brother used to play baseball back in Mississippi before Jackie Robinson broke the record allowing black people to play. Her brother, Johnnie B., was actually [killed by a mob for his relationship with a Caucasian girl. So to honor him], they named me Jackie Robinson, after her favorite baseball player.
B: That’s quite a sad story, Jackie. But you’re certainly the type of person a mother would be proud of. Are you still close with your family?
J: Well, my mom and dad are still living, but nobody talks to nobody. So the people that visit me at Belden and Clark are my family. And I treat them as family. You have some ladies that come through and I say, “Hey mom! How you doing?” And they say, “Hey, Jackie! How you doing? Give me a hug!” Then you got your guys who come through… “How you doing today, brother? How you doing, Jackie?”
B: What motivates you to keep working to better yourself?
J: I just love life, and I’m always joking. I still keep going. And people say, “Man, how do you get through it, Jackie? What are you made of?” I’m made of the same thing you’re made of! Blood and flesh!
B: You say that the people at Belden and Clark are your family. Do you have any particular stories you could tell?
J: There was a couple that gave me a condo to live in for three weeks and four days. I mean, I had just met these people only two days before, actually. They said, “Jackie, we’re moving to Nevada. How short are you for a hotel?” [It was the winter and the weather was well below zero]. I said, “I’m $32 short.” She said, “Well you can stay in our condo. Just turn in the key when you leave. So she gave me the key and I lived there for over three weeks. I bought food and I was able to eat. And they let me use a laptop. Now I’ve got their number. I’ll text them and say, “How’s it going down there in Nevada? What ya’ll doin’?”
B: Tell me about a recent accomplishment you’ve made.
J: Well, I had been homeless since 2012. See, I can’t hold a job, because of my sleep apnea and I have chronic arthritis in my knees. I had a job at Burger King, but I got fired. I was standing up, flipping burgers. Next thing you know, I fall asleep with a spatula in my hand and the boss came over and said, “No, we can’t have you. You’re a risk to us.” But to me, in my mind, I’m still flipping burgers! In my mind, I’m working. I am getting on disability in July and I found an apartment all by myself using the Chicago Reader. The Reader’s got some nice stuff. I’ll be living in Edgewater. It’s a studio. I just need to figure out how to get furniture next. But it means a lot to have my own place.
B: So what do you like to do for fun?
J: I like to play video games. I like card games, too. I like poker a little bit. I also like fishing. I can’t wait until it gets a bit hotter in July. I’ll get me a pole and go over and fish and I’ll be there from sunrise to sunset, right over on Lake Michigan by the harbor. Other than that, I like going sight-seeing. I’ll get a Metra pass and I’ll ride all over.
B: Jackie, is there anything else you’d like to say?
J: Just that I appreciate Belden being there for me as family. It’s like they’ve accepted me like I’m a son.