Being homeless, living on the streets of Chicago, Ronald Davis would say, “I’m just trying to survive.” For him, life was about survival. But, tragically, as he lived, so he died, being homeless.
Ronald was often mocked by people who passed by him on the street. They would often say, “Get a job, bum!” He would often reply, “I’m not a bum. I’m a human being.” He would also cry from the humiliation of being called “a bum!”
He wanted to be treated with respect. In wanting that, his humanity was “welling up from within him.” In other words, he knew intuitively and immediately that he was a person. No one had to tell him that; nor did he need a dictionary to define the words “respect” “human being” and “person.”
Like Ronald, without little or any reflection at all, most human beings know the same truth about their humanity. He just knew, at the very core of his being, the meaning of “human dignity.” He knew it from experience, that is, the many indignities he suffered from being homeless. He knew that it was not right to treat any human being as though he or she were a thing, an object.
Ronald was absolutely right in protesting the indignities he suffered from being homeless! He was right, too, for standing up for his humanity, defending his right to be treated as a human being. That was precisely the point of protesters in the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968, when they wore a placard which said,” I AM A MAN.” Ronald was a man, a human being. As such,
he was a subject, not an object; someone, not something; somebody, not a nobody; a “who,” not a “what.” In other words, Ronald was a person.
He was right, then, in insisting that he should be treated with respect, because he possessed the human dignity of the imago Dei, the “image of God.” As a person, Ronald’s worth was non-repeatable and non-replaceable. No price tag could ever be placed on his value, because it was inestimable, infinite in worth, springing from his Creator.
Ronald’s death is truly an American tragedy! Homelessness — the fact that any human being is without adequate food, clothing and shelter — is still difficult to fathom in the United States of America, which still remains one of the most wealthy countries in the world.
The time is always right to do what is right, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr. It is time to stop making money the measure of all things, to stop placing profits over persons and to stop treating homeless persons as discardable things. It is time to place a human face, the face of Ronald Davis — a man possessing the dignity of a person — on homelessness, humanizing the problem, so that it can be addressed anew by concerned, committed and compassionate human beings.
Mr. Davis, I hope that I shall have the honor of meeting you in the next life. You mattered! Your life on earth mattered! Now, may you find the peace that so often eluded you in this world. Rest in peace!
You may learn more about Ronald Davis at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Of9lDMJ3TY