Culture | March 18th, 2020
Wanderer Of The City: Homeless Artist Shares His Story
By: Cirsten Jones
Among the several homeless centers within the Big Bend region, The Kearney Center provides emergency shelter, basic necessities, and medical assistance services on a 24-hour basis. Since its founding in 2015, the center has sheltered the wandering souls of the city. Thousands of miles away from home, James Stevons’ journey has now drawn him to the steps of the shelter.
One missed bus trip back home landed him on the streets of Tallahassee and a new chapter of his story began.
In 1979, Stevons was traveling from Miami with his Army comrades in hopes to become a part of the Governor’s Mansion security task detail team. As buses were delayed due to a previous accident, all terminals leading out were halted. After the terminals reopened, Stevons’ team left him without notice, and his plan ended quite abruptly.
However, in the glint of fate, the awry plan led him to the love of his life.
After spending years on a spiritual journey with his newfound love, soon turned wife, exploring different cities, states, and churches, his life felt finally stable for a while. Her passing led to the ending of his spiritual journey and the beginning of his trot down a narrow path.
Clinging to the lasting memories of his wife, he began working at homeless shelters and joined the National Coalition for the Homeless as an advocate.
Stevons’ health began to decline as he battled with diabetes, lung problems, and deteriorating bones that caused him his unemployment. With strict dietary restrictions due to his health, money thinned out. Although he served 32 years as a U.S. Army soldier, no amount of missions could have given Stevons the proper survival guide lesson to living on the streets that he received June 14, 2019.
“I stayed on the streets for almost a week,” Stevons said. “Until this young lady brought me here to the Kearney Center.”
As a child, Stevons learned Krio, the native tongue of Sierra Leone, as his first language. Growing up, his linguistic barrier was a hardship he had to battle, so his love of drawing blossomed as a means of self-expression.
“I had to draw my feelings because I had a problem learning English,” Stevons said. “To refrain from speaking my native tongue, I started drawing what I felt.”
After eight months and 13 days housed at The Kearney Center, his adolescent knack of drawing had finally resurfaced. Reminiscing of his wife, his art has become his road to serenity.
Most of all, through his artistic expression, he is uncovering the layers of who he is and he confesses that he remains “an angry black man.” With memories of being discharged from the Army on disorderly conduct for shooting his squad captain on the basis of self-respect still lingering, Stevons has realized that he guards himself immensely.
“I always keep a defense up,” Stevens said. “My defense is never down,” he said. “I’m on the edge, I am afraid of myself.”
Although Stevons presents a very forthright personality, the feeling of wanting to be wanted peeks through. For him, to be seen is to be heard and that is a feeling he longed for on the bleak roads of Tallahassee.
“I feel like an outcast,” Stevons said. “I have no one here to talk to.”
58-year-old, West Virginia native, Jules B, also living at the center chimes in on Stevons’ perspective on the unfairness the term “homeless” holds.
“I’m homeless but I shouldn’t be,” B said. “Yet, I look at the Kearney Center as a hand up and not a handout. It’s a situation that I know is not going to be permanent.”
For Jules B, to be labeled homeless is to be excluded from human compassion. The word home exudes a feeling of warmth that involves financial, emotional, and mental security, so being homeless feels as if all of that is frigidly stripped away from you.
Supervisor Keith Bythewood mentions the warmth The Kearney Center brings to every individual that steps foot into the building.
“Giving them that automatic comfort to know that they were not here to judge,” Bythewood said. “That’s our number one thing.”
Support is always needed, and The Kearney Center always has an open door.
Stevons has become the epitome of what it means to transform a twisted turn of events into a masterpiece. Expressing his life through his art, Stevon is on a personal venture filled with harmonious blend of undeniable strength and gratitude. One missed bus wasn’t the end of his story, but the start of a new one.