WASHINGTON May 23 Most mornings, David Denny
ambles around a Metro stop in downtown Washington D.C., in the
signature neon-yellow vest of a vendor selling Street Sense, a
newspaper largely written and sold by the local homeless.
But this week's mornings were not like any other: Denny's
name was on the front page of the latest issue of Street Sense.
He had received a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama.
Fifteen years ago, Denny wrote a poem he called "Commentary
to a Black Man," a rumination on race, poverty and the drug
trade that contained a haunting plea to his fellow black men:
"We are the patriarchs of this fallen tribe, We bit the
carrot, we took the bribe," he wrote. "This is a commentary we
must all face, of the devastation we have caused our own race."
The poem's original draft, written over several years,
survived among the letters Denny sent to his daughter from
prison in Colorado, he said. Almost two decades later, in August
2013, it was published in Street Sense, where Denny had become a
regular contributor and vendor after years of street life.
"I wanted people to stop trying to justify making money from
selling drugs," Denny, now 58, told Reuters after reciting the
poem in his deep, booming voice.
"I wanted them to stop rationalizing and justifying how they
poison our own community... I wrote it because I lived that
life," added Denny, who said he was now living on the back porch
of someone he knew in the city.
One of Denny's regular customers, area resident Vicki
Eastvold, told him she found his poem so powerful, she was going
to send a letter to Obama to share it. Nine months later, to
Denny's awe, a response from the White House arrived at Street
"We need to change the statistics for young men and boys of
color - not just for their sake, but for the sake of America's
future," Obama wrote in a signed letter dated March 4.
"If we help those young men become well-educated,
hardworking, good citizens, they will contribute to the growth
and prosperity of this country," Obama wrote. "We will start a
different cycle... I have great hope we can change the
Obama, the first African-American U.S. president, has made
addressing income inequality a key theme in his second term, and
in February launched a personal appeal to improve opportunities
for boys from minority groups.
The White House on Friday confirmed the president had sent
the letter but did not further elaborate on why he chose to
What did Denny think of Obama's response to his poem?
"He says so much in this one paragraph, it's amazing," Denny
said, holding up page seven of the latest Street Sense to read
Obama's letter out loud.
"He really read my poem... He gave the antidote right here."
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh, editing by Ros Krasny and Andrew