Humanizing The Dehumanized: Homeless On Franklin Street

Humanizing The Dehumanized: Homeless On Franklin Street

Everybody deserves to tell their story.
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Franklin Street is home to a number of trendy restaurants, hang-out spots and pop-up shops, all frequented by UNC Chapel Hill students and residents of the surrounding areas. On weeknights it's a great place to go with friends to find a reprieve from homework, and on weekends it's the prime place to be for a fun night of going out.

What about when those adventures are over? Students return to their dorms for a comfortable night of rest in their beds, and families head back home.

But for some, Franklin Street just happens to be home.

Homelessness is the most understated epidemic in America, with an average of 500,000 Americans living in the streets on any given day.

In large urban areas, the statistics are observable; however, in small towns such as Chapel Hill, the epidemic is slightly more nuanced. On streets that bustle with students and families, it can be difficult to see the individuals who call those streets home. These people are ignored, scoffed at, and not given the dignity of responses. Though sometimes the situation can seem threatening, most of the time the people who beg for just a kind word are direct victims -- of familial issues, of substance abuse and of bankruptcy, to name just a few.

So why are these humans who are condemned to the streets treated with such animosity? I took to Franklin Street to find out. I set out to humanize the dehumanized.

Meeting Charles

This information is published with explicit permission from the individual with whom the interview was conducted.

I walked up to Franklin Street on a blistering Wednesday afternoon, my back drenched in sweat from my backpack. It was unbearable, just hot and sticky and generally uncomfortable. I took my camera out to take some test shots of the lighting, and that's when I saw him.

As I would come to find out, I was looking at Charles Gear, a man who has been living on Franklin Street on and off since the late 1980s.

For all those years, he has called the small area outside the University Presbyterian Church his home.

He seemed skeptical as I walked up with my camera on my hip, so I gave an amicable smile. The last thing I wanted to come off as was threatening. As unobtrusively as possible, I took a seat next to him on the low stone wall where he typically resides, and he gazed up at me with stormy eyes.

I introduced myself and described my reasons for seeking him out. Though he seemed eager to chat, his responses were often limited to short answers, with some things sounding trite for him.

Almost immediately, he made sure to let me know that his whole day isn't spent sitting and watching the bustle of Franklin Street. He seemed uncomfortable with the notion that I may judge him for not being productive on a daily basis. After nearly three decades living on Franklin Street, not knowing where his next meal is coming from, and talking to various reporters and interviewers, he seemed rehearsed in quickly spitting out in a raspy Southern twang, "[I sit] right here. Not all day. I go to the hospital and visit where the sick children is sometimes."

As a man with a heart for humanity and human interaction, Gear told me all about how he loves being around people. His eyes lit up when I asked if any students ever come up to talk with him. He nodded, saying that he "typically talks with them about the Bible." Fittingly enough, he said that residing outside a large Presbyterian Church gives him hope for the plans that God holds for his future.

His past, however, is dark.

Gear started fidgeting when asked about his history, and the speculations as to why are endless. He didn't give much insight, for reasons of shame and discomfort. I, of course, didn't want to pry too much into this man's life on a random Wednesday afternoon, but he did imply that alcoholism may have been partially to blame for his current state. He said that there is a widely-spread notion that homelessness is the direct result of an addiction to drinking or drug abuse, or even both together. His eyes cast down to the ground and he quietly muttered, "Ain't it?"

He declined to relay any more about his personal journey.

I asked Gear if I could get him anything, or if there was anything he wanted the public to know about the homeless culture.

"Take [the homeless] out to eat sometime. Give us, like, a pair of socks. A toothbrush. People don't do a whole lot. It don't take a whole lot."

After a few more minutes of chatting, Gear mostly interested in asking me questions about the journalism school at Carolina, I snapped a few pictures and then headed to class. He waved goodbye and gave a crooked half-smile as I walked away. He thanked me for being so kind to him.

Aftermath

Since that encounter with Charles Gear, I have noticed a change in my own behavior. When coming in contact with homeless individuals, I used to be one of the majority who pass by with downcast eyes, neglecting to show any kind of interaction. Now, I walk by with a smile, and if I have any change, I'll give a dollar or two.

I don't have a lot of money to give right now, especially as a first-year college student, but as I learned, it doesn't take a lot to help.

I now find myself humanizing individuals on the streets and treating them with the same respect I would treat my peers. One's situation does not dictate character, it's how that individual deals with the situation that truly shows who he or she is.

So now, I walk on Franklin Street with a new perspective. I greet the people who call those blocks of concrete their homes, and if I have time to stop, I'll ask if I can get them anything from the convenience store down the street. The majority of the time they smile and say it's not necessary, even after I insist. These are real people. They're not part of the scenery. They have needs. They have lives. They have dreams.

And, of course, every time I walk down Franklin Street now, I make sure to greet Charles Gear. He always asks if I'm still writing good stories.

Hopefully, this one is up to his standards.

Cover Image Credit: Karen Stahl Photography

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I'm The Girl Who'd Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

You raise your protest picket signs and I’ll raise my white picket fence.
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Social Media feeds are constantly filled with quotes on women's rights, protests with mobs of women, and an array of cleverly worded picket signs.

Good for them, standing up for their beliefs and opinions. Will I be joining my tight-knit family of the same gender?

Nope, no thank you.

Don't get me wrong, I am not going to be oblivious to my history and the advancements that women have fought to achieve. I am aware that the strides made by many women before me have provided us with voting rights, a voice, equality, and equal pay in the workforce.

SEE ALSO: To The Girl Who Would Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

For that, I am deeply thankful. But at this day in age, I know more female managers in the workforce than male. I know more women in business than men. I know more female students in STEM programs than male students. So what’s with all the hype? We are girl bosses, we can run the world, we don’t need to fight the system anymore.

Please stop.

Because it is insulting to the rest of us girls who are okay with being homemakers, wives, or stay-at-home moms. It's dividing our sisterhood, and it needs to stop.

All these protests and strong statements make us feel like now we HAVE to obtain a power position in our career. It's our rightful duty to our sisters. And if we do not, we are a disappointment to the gender and it makes us look weak.

Weak to the point where I feel ashamed to say to a friend “I want to be a stay at home mom someday.” Then have them look at me like I must have been brain-washed by a man because that can be the only explanation. I'm tired of feeling belittled for being a traditionalist.

Why?

Because why should I feel bad for wanting to create a comfortable home for my future family, cooking for my husband, being a soccer mom, keeping my house tidy? Because honestly, I cannot wait.

I will have no problem taking my future husband’s last name, and following his lead.

The Bible appoints men to be the head of a family, and for wives to submit to their husbands. (This can be interpreted in so many ways, so don't get your panties in a bunch at the word “submit”). God specifically made women to be gentle and caring, and we should not be afraid to embrace that. God created men to be leaders with the strength to carry the weight of a family.

However, in no way does this mean that the roles cannot be flipped. If you want to take on the responsibility, by all means, you go girl. But for me personally? I'm sensitive, I cry during horror movies, I'm afraid of basements and dark rooms. I, in no way, am strong enough to take on the tasks that men have been appointed to. And I'm okay with that.

So please, let me look forward to baking cookies for bake sales and driving a mom car.

And I'll support you in your endeavors and climb to the top of the corporate ladder. It doesn't matter what side you are on as long as we support each other, because we all need some girl power.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

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This is Cyntoia Brown And THIS is Why She Deserves To Be Freed, Immediately

A glimpse inside the incarceration of a Tennessee woman who was sentenced to life behind bars for killing a pedophile who solicited her for sex.

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In 2004, Cyntoia Brown, a Tenessee woman, was sentenced to life in prison for killing a man who solicited her for sex when she was only 16 years old. Now, 14 years later, the court has ruled that she must serve 51 years in prison before she is eligible for parole.

So, what happened to Brown all those years ago? Brown says at the time of the murder, she was living with her abusive boyfriend who would often physically and sexually abuse her, force her to sell sex for money, and pump her full of drugs to make her more controllable.

Brown was picked up on the side of the road by a 43-year-old insurance agent named Johnny Mitchell Allen. Allen brought Brown to his home, showed her his extensive gun collection, and then came onto Brown. Brown then resisted Allen's sexual advances. After being rejected, Allen reached below his bed. Brown assumed he was reaching for a gun, and then shot Allen with her own gun out of fear of being shot herself. On the morning of the shooting, Brown's abusive boyfriend advised her that she better come home with money that day. Out of fear of her boyfriend, Brown then stole money from the dead man's wallet and left the home.

Since then, prosecutors have argued that Brown's intentions were to rob this man from the very beginning, though Brown and her lawyers insist that the shooting was done out of self-defense. It's worth noting that Tennessee law states that any sex work done by minors is ruled sex slavery. Brown was 16 years old, and practically in the custody of a man who is said to have repeatedly raped and solicited her to have sex with other men for money. She was under the control of someone stronger and more threatening than herself. She was scared and did what she thought she had to do to make it out of that situation alive.

I'm in no way condoning murdering someone. It's just pretty appalling to me how courts are so quick to send this woman to prison for the rest of her life when proven sexual predators like Brock Turner are given six-month sentences and only made to serve three for raping an unconscious woman in a park. How in the world does shooting a pedophile out of self-defense warrant a more severe punishment than raping a defenseless woman? Does this make sense to anyone? If so, please enlighten me.

Now, people across the country are pleading Tennessee governor Bill Haslam to grant Brown clemency before his term is up in a few weeks. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Rihanna have shared their sympathy for Brown on social media, which has garnered a lot of publicity from a younger demographic.

On Monday, Governor Haslam gave a speech on education at the Nashville Public Library. After being asked about the amount of justice within Brown's case, Governor Haslam said: "We're reviewing a lot of cases, and while Cyntoia's case has gotten a lot of publicity, I don't think you want us to treat her's any different than a whole lot of cases that I think people want us to review."

Haslam said everyone in his office is looking very deeply into Brown's case and he will make a decision on whether or not to grant Brown clemency before his term is up in a few weeks.

Haslam's conservative reputation could be impacted by his potential decision to show Brown mercy. It all comes down to how he wants to be remembered as a governor. My hope is that justice is shown and that Brown is treated as a victim of sex-slavery, rather than a killer and a thief. No person should be sent to a life behind bars for trying to defend themselves.

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