By Sheila Read, Justice & Peace Specialist

Michael HollowayOne of the best conversations I’ve had in a long time was with a man named Michael Holloway. I met Michael at a 4th of July party when I approached his picnic table with a smile and warm greeting. The greeting was meant for my husband, who was sitting behind Michael. But it was Michael who responded first.

The conversation started on the subject of softball (Michael was wearing a softball T-shirt), and ranged from food to church to movies to poetry and sleeping under the stars. Michael had plenty of time to talk, as he was waiting for the line for hotdogs, chips and watermelon to get shorter.

We both were attending the 6th annual Interdependence Day Cookout thrown by Love Wins Ministries at the new Oak City Outreach Center, which now serves three meals a day on weekends in downtown Raleigh. Love Wins, founded by Rev. Hugh Hollowell seven years ago, is a ministry to people experiencing homelessness. Unlike most ministries to people who are homeless, however, Love Wins’ main focus is not on sharing food or offering shelter but on building relationships. From the beginning, Hugh has emphasized that the opposite of homelessness is community.

Something about the conversation with Michael made me realize at a deeper level than I ever had before that we all are brothers and sisters. The talk flowed naturally, and we had surprising things in common – like a love of words and a shared appreciation for nature. Michael moved to Raleigh in 2010 to be near his 13-year-old son, who lives with his ex-wife in a southern suburb of Raleigh and plays basketball constantly, dreaming of attending college on a basketball scholarship.

Michael didn’t mention – nor did I ask – how he came to be sleeping outside in a park. One recent night he heard a scuffling in the leaves behind him and was delighted to see a beaver. He said sometimes the stars seem close enough to touch.

Michael said he grew up in a rough area of Miami, four blocks from the beach. He began writing poetry at an early age. In his neighborhood, people could not afford greeting cards for birthdays or anniversaries or holidays. When he was 11, his friends began asking him to write cards for them. Soon his parents’ friends recognized his gift for words and requested he create cards for them, too. One day, his mom sat him down and said, “You know, it couldn’t hurt if you charged a quarter or 50 cents for the cards.”

He recited to me a poem he wrote in honor of Maggie, a Love Wins staff member. As I wrote it down, he looked over my shoulder, making sure I got the words right as well as the line breaks and stanzas.

To Those That Give

Some give us what we want.
Some give us what we need,
like the clothes we are wearing
or the shoes on our feet.

Some might take us to church
because they have that type of heart.
Some might give us a job
so we can have a new start.

Some might give us their phone number
so we don’t feel alone.
Some might give us a bus ticket
so we can get back home.

I’m not thinking about what you drive
or where you might even live.
I just want to say thank you
to those that give.

by Michael Holloway