Wednesday, February 5, 2014


“I’ve felt like jumping in the river myself and just drowning.” After everything I had heard, I couldn’t blame him for these words. They were said confidently, shamelessly, and initially appeared to be his first negative comment of the otherwise optimistic interview. However, two strong-willed heartbeats later, Dennis added, “But I know its gotta get better.”

After a bone-chilling afternoon spent crossing the same intersections and watching our shadows become stretched beyond recognition against the asphalt, I heard Alan finally say the words we were both dreading, noting that it was a good time to head back for the day. A small part of me was almost relieved that the search for our first Face ended this way. Perhaps our lack of success meant that the ones we were looking for were all inside somewhere staying warm. I justified our lack of success just long enough for us to turn one final corner and see a man standing alone at an intersection.

Dennis, fifty years old and not slowing down, embodies two of the most important qualities that it takes to be a true southern gentleman: kindness and hard work. He dreamed of going to medical school, has never been to jail, and, until now, remembers always having a job. Growing up on a farm in McCalla, Alabama, he was raised by his aunt and uncle who engrained in him a mentality drenched in the ideals of honesty and Luke 6:31. From a young age, Dennis had a longing to help people however he could. He took this desire and went on to trade school following his high school graduation. Soon after he started working in construction and was able to travel the United States building Wal-Mart stores and working at state fairs.

His cross-country tour was nothing short of an adventure. While building a theater in Iowa, he decided to stop by the address of his birth father that he happened to remember from when he was a child. To his surprise, his father was still living in the same house and instantly recognized his son, despite the last time he saw Dennis was when he was only five years old. They are still in contact today.

He also recounted experiencing Hurricane Katrina from the makeshift safety of a Louisiana motel. After eight and a half hours of wind and rain, there was substantial flooding and the roof was blown off the building.

With a knot in his throat, Dennis spoke briefly of his wife of twenty years who died while he was in Louisiana.

After being laid off during the state fair network’s off-season, he returned to Birmingham and tried – unsuccessfully – to reunite with his brother and two sisters. He has now been without regular employment for two and a half years. He instead works odd jobs for people around the city and regularly stays at the Firehouse Men’s Shelter in downtown Birmingham.

Dennis believes that the greatest misconception of the homeless community is that not all of those who are down on their luck are struggling with addiction. In fact he describes many of the people in his situation as people who wind up homeless because they lived on faith. Growing up, he never thought much about the homeless, but always gave when he could because he was told it could happen to anyone. Now that he is there himself, he notes in hindsight the importance of planning and saving money.

Even though he spends his days on the streets and the nights at shelters, he demonstrates incredible understanding toward all people. He spoke on multiple occasions that one of his current frustrations is that businesses commonly approach him with potential jobs with no follow through. However, after vocalizing this, he quickly added that he couldn’t blame them because he knows there are so many factors that affect employment.

Dennis held a bag given to him by a thoughtful passerby, containing items like food and blankets to help fend against the bitter cold that was cracking our knuckles. He expressed his appreciation, but said that what meant the most was the momentary conversation that he was able to have with the woman who gave him not only the gift, but also a moment of humanity.

With a life of incredible circumstances and remarkable hope, we were thankful to be just a step in the walk of Dennis, alone at the intersection, perfectly positioned both on the sidewalk, for photographs, and in his life, to look as hopefully forward as he does boldly and honestly behind.


We ran into Dennis again about two weeks after this interview in another part of downtown Birmingham. His smile upon recognizing us meant more to us than he could ever imagine. He told us that he was deciding between getting a grant to go back to school or going back into truck driving, saying "the truck will be my home until I can find a real one".

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