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“Hey Man, Take My Picture”

Booker

Atlanta, Georgia — For years, Booker had been a regular at the Eagle’s Nest Ministry in downtown Atlanta, about a block and a half from where Martin Luther King Jr. was born and is buried.  Eagle’s Nest started as a ministry to the homeless people like Booker, who are unnoticed, unloved and all-too-common on the bustling streets of the “City Too Busy to Hate.”

We only knew him as Booker ; we’re not even sure it was his real name. We didn’t know how old he was or where he came from. We heard that he had a sister and maybe a daughter, and we heard that he often slept in a basement storage room at nearby Grady Hospital because a sympathetic security guard would leave the door unlocked and look the other way.  Or he slept under the freeway bridge. Or on the street.

We were pretty sure why he was homeless.  He was what they call “cross addicted,” which means he was fighting – and losing — a two-front war against crack cocaine and alcohol.  Both are cheap and plentiful in the streets around Eagle’s Nest.

Booker loved Pastor Larry Arnold’s worship and praise services at Eagle’s Nest. When the music started, Booker would start to sway and dance. On days his mind was clear, he was engaging and fun. Booker was a good guy.

One day I showed up at the Nest and I had my camera. When that happens, some of the guys who don’t know me will disappear, afraid that they might be photographed. I’m told that it is a combination of shame and outstanding warrants.   But not Booker.  He struck a pose and said, “Hey, Man. Take my picture.”

I treasure that photograph of Booker. You can tell that life has beaten up and down, but his eyes, while worn, still have “the spark of the divine.”  He’s missing some of his top teeth, but still managed an engaging smile with the ones he had left.  He beamed when I showed him the photo in the back of the digital camera.  I found out later that it wasn’t so much the photo, but that someone had paid attention to him.

A print of Booker’s photo hangs in my all-too-proper corporate office in the headquarters of a major, multi-billion-dollar Atlanta company.   Booker was proud when he heard about that fact, and often bragged to people about it.  Pastor Larry and I promised Booker that if he’d get clean from the drugs and the booze, we’d take him to that corporate office and show him his picture.

Early one frigid winter morning, Pastor Larry called me to say that he had heard that Booker had frozen to death on the streets of Atlanta.  Apparently, they had started locking the basement door at Grady Hospital.

But we never could confirm the news. Then, the word on the streets was that Booker was still around – alive and maybe living with his sister. I asked Pastor Larry about him the other day, and he said he hadn’t heard anything about him in months. “I’m afraid,” said Larry, “that he has expired.”

I’m told Booker knew Jesus Christ as his Savior, and I’m counting on that fact. Booker is one of the people I want to see in Heaven.

I want to tell Booker that God used him to help teach me that every person, no matter their circumstances, is a priceless Child of God, created and highly valued by the Creator of the Universe.  Each person deserves honor, dignity and respect. Booker taught me to look for that spark of the divine in each person.

I also want to tell him that I wish I had taken him to my office and shown him his picture, hanging on the wall.