by Darian Henderson
“At the beginning of life when I was safe and secure within my mother’s womb, I really didn’t know that the majority of my life would be without a house or home. A human being walking through life not living, but just existing. Born in Savannah, Georgia on August 17th, 1947 and moving to Cleveland at a very early age, I was really not aware this would be my plight. At a very early age in life I got fascinated with being out in the streets. As I went back and forth to the corner store for my mother, I saw what was known as the Street Life and was drawn to the women and men who participated in the street night life.” (Melvin Bryant, Grapevine 19)
Melvin Bryant or “Buzzy” (street name) has lived his fifty odd years flirting with the Street Life as he coined it. The Street Life has been both the grantor of good will and the tempter of man’s greed and obsession. Most outside onlookers might say the Street Life has gotten the best of Melvin Bryant. The people who know him, could say Melvin Bryant is Melvin Bryant because of the streets, a wise, no-nonsense, good-natured man who has a knack with numbers and can count pennies faster than any man west of 25th street.
I have known Buzzy for approximately six months now. He is my elder and like most people I meet on the streets, he tells me little of the world he lives in. He is 5’6" with dark brown skin, a unique Abraham Lincolnesque beard and short graying hair. He is well spoken with a high-pitched, deceivingly youthful voice. Buzzy possesses a distinct laugh which explodes in quick bursts, surprising strangers and welcoming friends.
Buzzy has told me many a time that he was reared in a God fearing, respectful to your elder’s family. You can be sure that Buzzy will address each person he meets with a yes sir or a yes maam. I’m not sure if this is left over debris from his mother or a social grace learned from his days of selling magazines or newspapers. At any rate, Buzzy has a polite, but playful nature about him. He seems to have very few enemies and I never see him interacting with any one with malice or anger. He has been a friend to me in the time that I have known him, speaking about the life of a homeless person, educating me with his wisdom and knowledge about the streets and life in general.
Two weeks ago, Buzzy walked into the office and told me to call his parole officer, he was turning himself in. He went on to explain that he was in jail from 1969 to 1995 where he was paroled for one year’s time. It was his responsibility to report to his parole officer for one year where he would then be totally free of our penal system. For some reason, he did not continue to report to his parole officer. Therefore he was violating his parole, which can be grounds for his return to prison to finish his sentence. Two weeks from now, his case will be heard at a parole hearing in Lorain county.
As we prepare to testify on his behalf to the board I am asking myself, Why did Buzzy decide to make this decision to turn himself in? Why did he voluntarily decide to go to two police stations in order for him to be taken back into custody so he finally will be able to be totally “FREE” of the system. Why, after two years of being homeless did he decide to take the chance of being put into prison for 5-10 more years where he will go back to a place in which he will be unable to think for himself, do for himself and act for himself. Recently, he wrote a letter to me in which he said he was tired of being a fraud. He wanted to be free so that he could dedicate his life to helping others. I guess the Street Life finally got the best of Melvin. Being institutionalized for almost half his life has taken its toll.
It seems he has finally hit bottom, he is ready to move and the only direction he can go is up. I hope you all pray for him in his attempt to finally deal with the “Street Life” and master its trials and tribulations. In this age of self-empowerment and personal responsibility Buzzy, through his many hills and valleys is a shining example to be heralded thoughout the community and beyond. We wish him luck and hope he may have the persistence to withstand the many battles that lay ahead.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published March 1997-April 1997 Issue 20