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Leo Rhodes column: remembering the brief lives of some extraordinary children

 Street Roots (USA) 11 March 2019

Leo Rhodes is a vendor and member of the Board of Directors for Street Roots in Portland, Ore. He writes a regular column for the street paper. (868 Words) - By Leo Rhodes


Bang, bang, bang … That was a sound that people heard at a gathering for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona.

Some people got shot, a few mortally wounded.

President Obama spoke at the memorial service. One particular person he talked about was an 11-year-old girl named Christina Taylor Green. President Obama said, "she showed an Sppreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age, and would remind her mother, 'we are so blessed. We have the best life.' And she'd pay those blessings back by participating in a charity that helped children who were less fortunate."

President Obama also said, "imagine … just becoming aware of our democracy, just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship … glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future…"

I was in a McDonalds on 5th and Main St. when I saw this. Such a tragedy, the whole thing, but Christina in particular.

This reminded me of another youth. His name was Brendan Foster. Brendan was also eleven years old, and suffering from leukemia. Brendan and his mom, drove by a parking lot with a lot of tents, in the U-District (University of Washington),. Brendan asked his mom about the tents. His mom told him that people lived in the tents and they were homeless. They were looking at Nickelsville, a shantytown in Seattle, WA. Brendan thought about this then said, "We should give them something,." His answer was to give us sandwiches, half peanut butter and jelly, the other half ham. "Cause somebody might be allergic to peanut butter," was Brendan's logic.

I started to think about other interactions with the youths. I wrote earlier about some youths drinking around me while I was trying to sleep on a park bench. And the youths that gave me a rude awakening by hitting me on the side of the head, twice, while I was sleeping. An also the hurtful, painful things they've said. When we were going to start Tent City 4, in the suburbs of Seattle, WA. Some kids were holding signs saying, "We're scared for our life." "Homeless people go home." These are just some of the negative stuff.

Now for the positive. I met a philanthropist and the his kids. The older the kids got, the more interest they had in homelessness, I thought this was great.

Living in Seattle's Tent City 4, a hot meal was given every night. Some of the people that prepared and served the meal were young adults. After the meal I would give them a tour through the camp. I would always start by thanking them for their interest in homeless. "Cause you're our future," I would tell them, "If we don't get a hold of you now, we don't have a future."

Selling Street Roots here in the Hollywood area, at the Whole Foods and Panera Cares on 43rd and Sandy, teenagers stop by and buy a paper. Some of them even know my name. Then there's the family with kids. One father told me that his daughter says, "There's Leo. Stop. We have to give him something," as they're driving by. Other parents ask their children to give me a dollar for a paper. Sometimes they refuse; other times its no problem they give me the dollar for the paper.

I've had kids approach me cautiously, eyes wide open, looking very scared. I bend down to get eye level, and smile real big. Then say, "Thank you," as I hand them a paper. Nervous as they are, sometimes they hand me a dollar and try to leave without the paper.

If they're not scared or nervous, I like to tell them, "Good day, sir or madam. In this issue we have a fine selection for your reading enjoyment." I usually get a smile. Other times they just stand there looking at me until the parent says, "come on, let's go."

At the farmers market here in Hollywood, there are a few kids who like to give me fruit and vegetables. One time a lady and her daughters bought a paper, then they went into Whole Foods to shop. When they came out, the mother said, "she wants to give you something." I smiled at the mother, then bent down to make eye contact with the little girl. She approached me with her little arm out, hand closed. She opened her hand then a penny dropped into my hand. Smiling at the little girl, I said thank you. She smiled shyly then went to her mom. The whole time the mom kept saying, "She insisted on giving you that." I watched as the mother and little girl went down the street, the little girl skipping.

Oh, if you want to see Brendan Foster, go to, in the search box type, "a boy's last wish, Brendan Foster." Then after you watch that, go to "Brendan Foster died Friday 11/28/08."


Originally published by Street Roots ©

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