This is the seventh in a series of short portraits by Clay Jones. The stories of the men and women Jones has known and photographed over many years are told here in Jones’ words and aim to give a voice to the invisible.
Clay Jones: Roosevelt is mostly a town dweller. He went to Adelitta Cancryn and then Charlotte Amalie High School. He’s 49. When I asked him what he needed he said to get back to his Nubian culture. I then asked him if he could say something to the community, what would it be? “Help.” He added he would like to have clean clothes and a place to bathe.
Shaun A. Pennington: I think he used to have a place to clean up. He once told me that the people who were letting him shower at their apartment were away. It was summertime. Though he has been repeatedly driven away from the Emancipation Garden Post Office, where some folks suggest he is a nuisance, frankly I am always happy to see him there. He never fails to ask me if he can help carry packages and he does with great skill whenever he is there and I need him. He does not step on post office property anymore. He is careful about that. He does shout at people to be careful crossing the street, especially tourists. I suppose that can be disconcerting.
He often tells me stories about things he says have happened or are happening, but the tales are hard to decipher. Often when he asks me in his repetitive, sing-song way for money – almost like a barker – and I can’t comply for some reason, he simply accepts that.
Lately he has been disconcerted by someone who has moved into his territory. He calls him “some guy” and tells stories about him taking money from him. I can see how he would feel that way. Once, when someone said something disparaging about Roosevelt to me, all I could reply was, “Yes, it’s too bad we have nowhere for people suffering from mental illness to go.”
Despite his illness, he has been vigilant about wearing a mask since the COVID crisis. Honestly, I think of him as a friend with problems.
Editor’s note: Neither Jones, Pennington nor the Source suggest that everything Roosevelt has shared over the years is entirely accurate. What we hope is to introduce him as a person in our community who we now recognize.
Jones has not been paid for this project; instead he asks that donations be made to Alternative Art Alliance, which is the 501(c)(3) charitable entity associated with sevenminusseven.