If you were a homeless man, how would you react if you found a $20 bill on the ground in the street at 3 a.m.?
Let me tell you how a 57-year-old marine vet ex-convict responded: “It’s a miracle, thank you, God; I hit the lottery, God is good!” repeated over and over again. It was early Sunday morning on Jan. 31, and a true miracle was evolving in front of my eyes.
On Friday, Jan. 29 at 6 a.m., seven brothers of Ferris’ Sigma Pi fraternity, myself included, hit the road for St. Louis for a business and leadership conference. The event concluded late Saturday evening and afterwards the seven of us treated ourselves to a nice dinner and a night out in downtown St. Louis. After returning to the hotel, we parted for our rooms to call it a night.
Some time after calling it a night, Ferris students Braden Poole, Nate McMillen, Marcus Lindsey and myself headed outside the main lobby for fresh air and a quick cigarette. It was 3 a.m., somewhere between 45 and 50 degrees. As we were halfway through our tiny cylinder-shaped channels of death, I saw somebody coming toward us from the darkness of the sidewalk. A moment later, a 6-foot slender homeless man asked Poole to give him a light. After Poole lit the man’s cigarette, he started panhandling to Poole for a few dollars for food. Poole’s kind nature agreed to this request, but he told the man he would accompany him to a market. As they started walking, McMillen, Lindsey and I took a quick glance at each other and immediately began to follow the duo.
We set out on our journey for food and the man began telling his life story. He grew up on 3rd Mile in Detroit, was in the Marines from 1977-1984, spent many years in prison for an undisclosed reason and has been homeless ever since his release. He has been all over the country searching for a new street to call home. He spoke highly of Memphis and said he recently made his way to St. Louis. He spoke highly of religion and spirituality. One moment that stuck out to me occurred when McMillen asked the man if he receives support from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
“The VA don’t do nothing compared to the Catholic Church,” said the man.
After walking in a circle for 45 minutes, we came to a halt in our journey. We failed to find an open market for this man. Ironically, we all gained something from this experience. We were touched by his story and his words of wisdom. We were moved by the prayers he placed over our hearts.
Before we departed ways, three of us gave something to our new friend. Poole gave him $5. Lindsey gave him a fake $1,000,000 bill that had been given to him by his father. After Lindsey spent 10 minutes describing the importance of his gift, I took out my wallet and gave the man 50 shekels of Israeli currency. I had saved them to remember my journey to the Jewish state. I explained to him my experience in Israel and what it meant to me. I challenged him not to exchange the currency for its U.S. dollar amount of $13.
It was at this moment that the man finally told us his name was Don, but people call him P-Funk, a nickname tattooed on his upper chest. I listened as P-Funk thanked us over and over again. My eyes were wide as tears rolled down his cheeks letting us know how good God will be to us.
Something changed for me on the street corner. Growing up in New York, I’ve passed hundreds of homeless people. I have helped some, spoken to others and ignored many. I will do my absolute best to at least say hello to each person I pass. That miniscule form of communication may be the only they receive that day. I challenge Ferris students to do the same. If you have nothing to give at all, you never lose the power of spreading love.
After P-Funk hugged us goodbye on that dimly lit street corner, he had a $20 and a $5 bill, a fake $1,000,000 bill and 50 shekels in his wallet. At that moment these were the only assets he was able to claim as his. None of us are likely to ever see him again.