People who formerly experienced homelessness talk inspiration, moving forward

Thursday, March 28, 2019 - 10:20pm

Featured speaker Ken Leslie, shares his unique life story at Michigan Movement's Homelessness Here banquet in the Michigan League Thursday evening.

Featured speaker Ken Leslie, shares his unique life story at Michigan Movement's Homelessness Here banquet in the Michigan League Thursday evening. Buy this photo
Zachary Goldsmith/Daily

On Thursday evening, Michigan Movement hosted a banquet featuring speakers who had previously experienced homelessness but were able to surpass hardship and move forward. About 100 students and community members attended the event.

Michigan Movement began after Public Health senior Hussain Ali, co-founder of the organization, was offered a newspaper on the street by a homeless man.

“When I was just going to classes or going out to dinner with friends, I always would see people on the sides and corners of the street with Groundcover newspapers,” Ali said. “I looked into it, and found out … they were vendors selling these papers for an income, and these vendors actually were experiencing homelessness or poverty. That really inspired me to look into this problem in Ann Arbor.”

He proceeded to co-found Michigan Movement, a student organization committed to providing aid to individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty within the community.

LSA junior Nina Serr, co-director of operations, discussed how the event was intended to give students exposure to homelessness that often goes unnoticed. She noted that each speaker offered a source of inspiration: No matter how bleak something may seem, progression is always possible.

“All three of our speakers have previously experienced homelessness and they found a way to achieve economic security and give back to their community,” Serr said. “A lot of students come to Ann Arbor and they are in this bubble at the University … Think about the other people that live in this community: Ann Arbor is actually the eighth most economically divided city in the United States … This event will help to bridge that gap.”

The event featured talks from Lit Kurtz, Kevin Spangler and Ken Leslie. All three discussed their road to homelessness, their personal experiences and how they were able to break free from poverty’s grip.

Kurtz experienced homelessness after being let go from her job as a Detroit Public School teacher. She now works as a reporter and vendor for Groundcover News, owner of T-shirt company Sidewalk Musings and housing advocate.

“I encourage students to be original, and always have a sense of urgency,” she said. “I have found some causes don’t have that sense of urgency. But when you lose your home and you have nothing — no food to eat, there is a sense of urgency. Our lives are on the line. Always keep that in mind.”

In an interview with The Daily, Kurtz discussed what Groundcover News was, and how its mission to empower the homeless community sets it apart from other news organizations.

“The Groundcover News is a nonprofit organization,” she said. “They are in charge of the publishing, editing, all of that. It is a street paper, designed to help people living on the streets have a source of income, it also gives information you are not going to get in mainstream media because we are writing the content.”

Kevin Spangler was motivated to overcome addiction and homelessness after discovering he was about to become a father. After 15 years in and out of prison, he resolved he would make a change. Now, Spangler is the owner of Boober Tours, a pedicab business in Ann Arbor.

“I got out of jail with a new determination to take care of my son,” he said. “I saved up all of my money working four jobs — one of them was working for Groundcover News … saved up $4,700 to get my first pedicab, and now we have 20 cabs.”

LSA freshman Brandon Johnigan discussed how their decision to attend the event was motivated by working at Starbucks, where they encountered the homeless community on a daily basis.

“I work at Starbucks, and it’s right downtown, so I see a lot of people who are experiencing housing insecurity come in, and I try to do my best so I can equitably provide things when our community doesn’t provide enough resources,” they said. “Company policy states that anyone is a customer the second they walk in, regardless if they purchase something or not … Our store and my partners in specific are very good about what needs to be done and what resources we can provide for our community.”

The event concluded with a reflection by Ken Leslie, a comedian and Emmy award-winning producer who experienced homelessness after battling drug and alcohol addiction, on how each individual possesses the potential to do good for others, and invited the audience to make a change starting with themselves.

“It’s you that has the amazing power to save and change lives,” Leslie said. “All of you are called to something, and if you do whatever you feel called to do … you will have a balance and joy no one can ever take away.”