Obama writes to homeless poet on 'Commentary to a Black Man'

Fri May 23, 2014 6:06pm EDT
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By Alina Selyukh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Most mornings, David Denny ambles around a Metro stop in downtown Washington D.C., in the signature neon-yellow vest of a vendor selling Street Sense, a newspaper largely written and sold by the local homeless.

But this week's mornings were not like any other: Denny's name was on the front page of the latest issue of Street Sense. He had received a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama.

Fifteen years ago, Denny wrote a poem he called "Commentary to a Black Man," a rumination on race, poverty and the drug trade that contained a haunting plea to his fellow black men:

"We are the patriarchs of this fallen tribe, We bit the carrot, we took the bribe," he wrote. "This is a commentary we must all face, of the devastation we have caused our own race."

The poem's original draft, written over several years, survived among the letters Denny sent to his daughter from prison in Colorado, he said. Almost two decades later, in August 2013, it was published in Street Sense, where Denny had become a regular contributor and vendor after years of street life.

"I wanted people to stop trying to justify making money from selling drugs," Denny, now 58, told Reuters after reciting the poem in his deep, booming voice.

"I wanted them to stop rationalizing and justifying how they poison our own community... I wrote it because I lived that life," added Denny, who said he was now living on the back porch of someone he knew in the city.

One of Denny's regular customers, area resident Vicki Eastvold, told him she found his poem so powerful, she was going to send a letter to Obama to share it. Nine months later, to Denny's awe, a response from the White House arrived at Street Sense's offices.   Continued...

U.S. President Barack Obama listens while making personnel announcements in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington May 23, 2014.    REUTERS/Larry Downing