By Joshua Albert
I have an office in the Mantua area of Philadelphia, just off Lancaster Avenue, that I use daily. I quite often would see a man, very likely homeless – or houseless, some might say – as I went to and from my work space. In his early to mid-fifties, he was always in the same spot, laid out on the sidewalk, most of the time half awake and asking me for a cigarette, or sometimes just saying: “You aight.”
It was apparent that he had some sort of alcohol or drug problem. I never saw him wearing shoes, because his feet were bloated by gout. Even at night, when I would sometimes leave my office to head home at 3am, he would be in the exact same spot. Asleep, loudly snoring.
A few days ago, when walking to my office, I noticed a small, makeshift memorial set up in that spot. At the time I didn’t think much of it, until yesterday. Walking past it, I noticed that the memorial had grown.
I didn’t know the man’s name. I had never spoken to him. But this community knew him. They cared about him. He was theirs, and they his.
His name was Tyrone Johnson, and this is how his community is memorializing – and dignifying – him: