Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Defying the Stereotype

Thanks to Steve Blow, Dallas Morning News columnist, for this moving piece on the victim of tragic accident on yesterday.

Nearly all of us would describe Clay Campbell as 'homeless' and many people intentionally dredge up the worst stereotypes when it comes to these citizens. But one reason for that is because its much more convenient to promote those stereotypes than to have compassion and to try and do something about the primary tragedy: homelessness itself.

Often when we try and get people to understand the plight of people who live on the streets, those efforts are made with all manner of caustic and sarcastic comments. It would be interesting to hear from some of those same people about this situation.

Estimates put the number of homeless people in Dallas at above 6000. Clay Campbell is not every homeless person. But there are far more of them than we know and they need our compassion, not our hard hearted indifference.

"Clay Campbell was killed Monday morning when an 18-wheeler struck him as he stood on a street corner just south of downtown Dallas. Witnesses at the scene described him as "a transient," and that was reported in news accounts of the accident."

"But now family and friends want to set the record straight."

"Clayton Webster Campbell may not have led a conventional life, but he was not a transient. In fact, he died in the same hospital where he was born 34 years ago – Baylor University Medical Center."

"Campbell was a 1995 graduate of Highland Park High School, attended the University of North Texas and served in Iraq in the U.S. Navy."

"And, according to his mother, he was a young man who "just never found his way."
Campbell confounds many of our notions of what it means to be homeless."

""No, he might not have had a roof over his head every night. He died along South Central Expressway in an area where the homeless often roost for the night in hidden corners."
But Campbell reported regularly for a volunteer job in Plano, clean and well dressed. Just two weeks ago, Campbell was in coat and tie, posing for ribbon-cutting photos with U.S. Rep.
Sam Johnson."

""He kind of bounced around. I don't think he had a permanent address. But he definitely wasn't a bum," said Robert Aiken, who worked closely with Campbell for the last year.
"He was just trying to get his life squared away," said Aiken, also an Iraq veteran.
Most recently, the two men had been working together in Plano to establish the U.S. Veterans Chamber of Commerce (www.usvcc.com). That was the basis for the recent photo session with the congressman."


Shawn Williams said...

I think everything you say is right on point, but isn't it easier for society as a whole to humanize Clay Campbell the veteran and Highland Park graduate than it is Tyrone Jenkins South Dallas dropout? They are both human right? I think it has to do with how much society feels they have in common with the person they are looking at, and its easier for some to have compassion for the person in the photo vs. the one sitting on the corner in downtown Dallas.

Gerald Britt said...


Thanks for the reply. I guess my question is: why is our default position that we have little if nothing in common with the Clay Campbells or the Tyrone Jenkins's of this world?

Do we really believe that we've 'worked harder', 'earned our lifestyles' didn't make the 'same mistakes', 'pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps', without the help of someone else who gave us opportunities and stood by us in our failures?

When we talk about how much we love our veterans, does that extend to these veterans?

I think its much easier to distance ourselves through accusations of 'laziness'and addictions, than it is to actually put ourselves out by demonstrating that we care.

In a real sense it transcends all of the usual axioms that say 'That could be us'. It IS us and I think that uncomfortable fact makes us act so uncharitably at times.

Karen Shafer said...

This is a good example of why it's so important to know people who live on the streets face to face. When you do, each and every one of them is 'relatable.'

Once we realize that, it changes everything, and challenges all of our assumptions. That our position in the world is earned and deserved is certainly one of them. That's why it's hard to 'be with' other people's pain. When we can't blame them for their plight, who do we blame? It's just easier to be dismissive.

The terrible and brutalized backgrounds of so many people living in street-dwelling homelessness -- it's so hard to accept that our culture continues to let children and others be in these situations -- with predicable outcomes.