In Nashville, there is a lot of star-gazing. “Let me tell you who I saw at the grocery store…” If you come to Nashville, the one person I suggest you look for is Tasha French-Lemley. I met her at a men’s study group. She came in and sat down in a chair, kicked off her shoes, crossed her legs beneath her, and told us her story. Here is what I remember.
Tasha moved to Nashville after graduating from college with her degree in graphic design. Since she had no experience in the field, no one would hire her. She took the only job she could find working at Kinkos, making copies, and crying daily that her life had fallen so far below her expectations.
On her way to work, she passed a homeless man regularly on a public bench by the sidewalk. She thought, ‘If I passed the same person every day at a Starbucks, I would speak to them. I should speak to this man.’
She thought of what to say to him, so different from herself, and even rehearsed in front of a mirror questions she might ask. They spoke regularly. From their conversations, she became curious about homelessness. She read Grand Central Winter by formerly homeless Lee Stringer who edited a New York street newspaper. She thought, ‘What the homeless in Nashville need is a homeless newspaper. Somebody ought to start one.’ Then she said, “I realized, ‘Damn it! That somebody is me.’”
She started The Contributor with articles written by and about homelessness and sold by homeless or formerly homeless people on the streets of Nashville and surrounding communities. In 2012 The Contributor funneled more than $2 million to homeless vendors in Nashville.
The beauty of Tasha’s approach was that it started with one person crossing the distance and speaking to another. And today, throughout Nashville, The Contributor enables thousands of interactions daily between vendors and patrons. It also gives homeless people a voice in articles and art in the newspaper. The message, like the Zander’s family table is yesterday’s post, is that you have something to contribute in art and service. You can make Nashville a better place to live. At the end of the day, all those involved with the paper, from writers, to publishers, to vendors can face the question, “What did you contribute today?” and with dignity answer, “A lot.” We can all contribute. We can ll be Contributors.
To find out more about The Contributor, ask your local vendor in Nashville or go to http://thecontributor.org/