Carlton Johnson, 46, is a street vendor and writer for Street Sense, an advocacy newspaper with a focus on the homeless and poor in Washington, D.C., a city with a poverty rate much higher than the nation’s average. The paper gives the homeless and poor a way to make some money and serves as an outlet for their writing.
We’re selling newspapers with Johnson today. A character straight out of Central Casting, Johnson makes his pitch to scores of strangers in the bustling Gallery Place-Chinatown neighborhood: “Street Sense!”
Tourists, people shopping and workers on their lunch break all hear from Johnson as he tries to first grab their attention, and then try to persuade them to donate $1 for a copy of Street Sense.
“Street Sense! A non-profitable organization working to eradicate the problems of the homeless. You can help our organization by purchasing one of our publications today. Street Sense!”
Will Johnson sell his 25 papers today? It’s a “Friday, they’re tired, they really don’t feel like being bothered. So the key to today is going to be personality and trying to talk to as many people as we can. Like this young lady right here. You know Street Sense is more popular than a mocha latte…” Carlton says, as he works his way into his element.
Along the way, he tells us about his views on selling, his own past of being homeless and what it does to the human spirit.
“Homelessness in some ways can break your spirit or it can lift your spirit it depends on who you are. I really think that in some cases, homelessness can actually make you stronger. As the old cliché goes, if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger,” Carlton tells us. “And then in some cases, homelessness has broken people down to the point where they just doubt themselves and they get to the point where they really have nowhere to turn and Street Sense may be that alternative.”
As the recession takes its toll and mainstream journalism struggles, it's just possible Carlton and Street Sense have a lot to teach us.
Please see: streetsense.org
And check out the New York Times piece that features Carlton and Street Sense: nytimes.com/2009/04/13/business/media/13street.htm