Mr. Graham Got Me Started in Cleveland by Teaching Me to Be Nice

By Raymond Jacobs

A tribute to someone-- my friend Mr. Graham. He was a longtime panhandler downtown and he brought me into the business. In 1994, I came to the mean streets of Cleveland fresh out of the penitentiary in Louisiana after 26 years, a long time after I left Vietnam. I met my friend, Mr. Graham. The best thing about him was that he was a courteous, kind man, who taught me how to panhandle on the streets of Cleveland. He was a kind man who never bothered anyone. He was always considerate and kind at the same time. I was aggressive back then. Mr. Graham said, “No. Don’t panhandle like that. Stand back away from the people, put a smile on your face, and say God bless you, no matter what. Watch and see, you’ll make much more money.”

I met Mr. Graham when I was on parole. So after they dumped me in Cleveland, I met Mr. Graham and he was one of my very first friends here. He put me on the right track. With the money I got from panhandling, I could eat. Some nights, I even made enough for a hotel room.

Knowing each other throughout the years, we shared everything—stories, times. If I had and he needed it, I would give it to him. If he had and I needed, he gave it to me.

One morning on my way to St Malachi, a place where you get a food and a place where you can relax, I ran into Mr. Graham. He said, “Where are you going?” I said, “To St. Malachi to get some breakfast.” He said, “A good panhandler panhandles for his breakfast.” I said, “I’m not too good of a panhandler.” He said, “Neither am I.” So we both went to St. Malachi for breakfast. I got a cup of coffee, a peanut butter jelly sandwich, and we both walked away at the same time. I won’t forget that story because he was just a kind guy. We panhandled at the old stadium together too. Instead of being mean or greedy, Mr. Graham taught me to be kind and courteous, which allowed me to get a good amount of money.

Later on, we both slept behind the log cabin in the Flats. I was cleaning up the park, because I thought that was the right thing to do, since I was sleeping there. Some kid came up and offered me a job, but I said, “Can I do it?” The kid said, “Yeah, anyone can do it, just talk to my mom.” So I talked to his mom and I started doing security.” His mom also gave me a steak dinner. The only reason I got that job was because I was keeping the park clean.

 So winter was starting to set in, Mr. Graham had left, but the woman I worked for gave me a key and a place to stay for a bit. Mr. Graham would still come by and look out for me and I would look out for him. He left because he got his settlement at the end of ’94, but we were still friends constantly.

So, that was the beginning for me – the beginning of a better life. I got all this because of Mr. Graham.  He taught me how to be a better person. I wouldn’t have gotten these opportunities without him.

I started selling the Street Chronicle newspaper in 2007 and I do like selling the newspaper better than panhandling. But without Mr. Graham as a friend, I wouldn’t have been able to be established in Cleveland.

His friendship meant my life because without his friendship, I wouldn’t have had a life in Cleveland. He taught me how to share. He was my friend and I felt like he deserved this.

Copyright Street Chronicle October 2013 Cleveland Ohio