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With all the negative news and Deborah Downer stories and depressing stuff that characterizes the modern day, I woke up this morning and have been transfixed by the developing story of Ted Williams, a homeless man originally from Bedstuy, Brooklyn, New York who'd been estranged in Columbus, Ohio since 1993, homeless due to drug and alcohol problems...until 48 hours ago.  This is THE story of 2011, folks.

This story is a heartfelt ode to the human spirit, to the indefatigable desire to help others, and to the notion that miracles--whether brought about by God or just by us (as I'm prone to believe)--can happen.

This is the story about the Man with the Golden Voice.

Ted Williams is 53 years old.  He has 7 children and a 92-year old mother.  As a teenager, Ted encountered a DJ who told him that, "Radio is defined as theater of mind."  That is, successful radio hosts oftentimes look nothing like what they sound like--and it is precisely their sound, their voice, that gives wings to their on-air personalities.  So Ted set out to conquer his own slice of the world, receiving vocal training in school, and pursuing--by his own admission--a career as a successful radio host.  But like with most human stories, an unforeseen obstacle appeared: in Ted's case, a battle with alcohol and drugs.

Up until the late 80s, Ted was a "functioning alcoholic", a heavy drinker who still managed to hold on to his job.  But in the early 90s, his life took a turn for the worse, and he ended up estranged from his New York City home and his family, homeless on the streets of Columbus, Ohio.  Despite run-ins with the law (petty theft and forgery/fraud) to sustain himself during these years, and despite the acerbic hold over his life that snorting cocaine and smoking crack had taken, Ted eventually got clean; by his own report, he's been two and a half years sober.  Nevertheless, Ted has spent his days by the side of Columbus interstate peddling for change, a sight all of us are sadly familiar with.  But what happened next is nothing short of an ostensible miracle, or, more accurately, a tipping point of social forces nearly unimaginable before the advent of Youtube and social networking.

Ted is extra-ordinary.  Specifically, he has an extraordinary voice. A golden voice.  Here's the sign he'd been holding up throughout the Holidays:

I have a god given gift of voice, I'm an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times.  Please!  Any help will be greatfully appreciated :).  Thank you and God Bless U/Happy Holidays

People would pull up next to Ted to give him change and listen to his silky, friendly, radio-compelling announcer voice.  However, a reporter (Doral Chenoweth III) with the Columbus Dispatch who had seen Ted on his route to work on several occasions and seen Ted's sign, set out to take things a step further: document Ted's amazing hidden talent, and help Ted find a job.  He interviewed Ted on the side of the highway, and his video ended up in the hands of a Youtube user by the name of ritchey, who posted it to his own Youtube account in addition with comments intended to help Ted land a job (ritchey also helped coordinate efforts to communicate those opportunities with Ted).  These small acts of heroism led to one of the most overnight-viral Youtube videos I've seen, with 11 million views in a mere 48 hours:



A great guy with a compelling story and a valuable talent meets a do-it-yourself hero with a camera, whose video is posted by an ordinary citizen with access to modern social tools.  Forces documented in the phenomenal book "Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations" take root, and in 48 hours, a homeless man goes from peddling in Ohio to a national burgeoning folk legend with appearances on The Today Show and job offers from Kraft, The Cleveland Cavaliers, ESPN, and many others.  

Here's this morning's appearance on The Today Show.  

Homeless man with golden voice ‘thankful to be here’

To just see and hear and feel the humanity in this man--not just the poignancy of the overall story but also the realism in his personal story--is absolutely riveting.  He misses his mom, who's 92 years old and hasn't seen him in years.  He tears up when he remembers the people that have helped along the way with shelter and encouragement.  He thanks others outside himself (both God, which I don't believe in, as well as people, who I do believe in) for his recent successes.  He's humble; he's sincere; he's eloquent and stunningly human.

I searched the diaries and stories for anything on Ted Williams and was very surprised to find nothing, so I hope we can use the amazing story-within-the-story here, which is two-fold, as a way to dialogue in the comments about the fascinating larger issues at play.  The two stories-within-the-story are:

1.  Homeless people are not much different from ourselves

As Ted himself mentions in the Today Show interview, everyone has a story, so homeless people ought not to be judged by their covers; they should also be given to from the heart and without ulterior judgment.  Can't we all relate to that?

Ted also embodies something else we can relate to: ordinary hopes and dreams.  When asked what he would like to accomplish within the next 5 years, Ted answers that he hopes to be closer to his family and kids, to own his own apartment, and to be a Program Director of a show.  These are the kinds of goals we all have.  

What do you think: are there ways to help more people like Ted--indeed, all homeless people--find a second chance of their own and move forward with their lives?

2.  Change doesn't happen on its own.  We have to effect it

Here's what Doral had to say as part of his final update to the Youtube viewers that made this story what it is:

UPDATE-FINAL: Well everyone. You can give yourselves and Ted a high-five. He's being given offers hand-over-fist over the air. He'll be set for life.

My request to all. Whenever you run across a story such as this, don't assume it'll take a life of its own, on its own. It won't. It can't. There are too many other stories that drown out the one before it.

You need to spend time to get that story and its word out to many. If you care, you'll do it.

What's poignant about this is that Doral very clearly (and correctly) lays out the view that real change happens when people do rather thank thinkfully wish; when people work (together) for something happening rather than assume things will happen.  This is precisely what he did--he documented something that mattered to him; he asked others for help in disseminating it; and he set about trying to help a man he knew little about, all with a little bit of will, a little bit of luck, and a whole lot of the use of social networks and the internet to, as Clay Shirky would say, organize "without an organization".  And he's a hero for it.  As a result, he and his approach are a case study we should all analyze, something that can transfer to other areas, both political and personal.

What do you think: what can we learn from this story about the new modern power we collectively have to bring about previously unheard-of results in previously unthought-of amounts of time?  How can use these new tools to organize around rather than (snark) just write diaries about the issues important to us?

In closing, this story is a heartfelt ode to the human spirit, to the indefatigable desire to help others, and to the notion that miracles--whether brought about by God or just by us (as I'm prone to believe)--can happen.

I hope you'll join one another in spirited dialogue below! :)

Holy moly obligatory Rec huzzah!  Been here for a long time; first time; succinctly glad for let's USE THIS OPPORTUNITY as a vehicle to huddle and discuss the LARGER ISSUES at play:

  1.  Homelessness (a blight on our national and global history)
  1.  Meritocracy as an illusion (how to help people who put in a fair fight actually win)
  1.  How to end homelessness (via grassroots, media, policy, politics, etc)
  1.  How we can organize without an organization by using dKos and other as-of-yet-not-thought-of platforms to do more than just talk, and also act, towards an achievable result.


(and of course, don't forget to celebrate this good story too because, as we dKos frequenters know all too well, there's plenty else to cry boehner about)

Update 2

Hey guys, it seems the original (well, there's actually a lot on Youtube), err, the video that went viral (12 million views) got yanked due to copywhat?  Glad Ted got a job out of it, though! :)

I think, from Youtube user ritchie's comment below, that ritchey is not the same person as the journalist (Doral Chenoweth III of the Columbia Dispatch) who shot the footage.  If so, it's quite sad that the youtube video got deleted...since ritchey is actually the one who seems to have helped piece together the viral outpour to land Ted a job.  While no one person can claim sole proprietorship over this success story, if you'd read the original video's comments section, it was obvious that ritchey was using the video, and the many job-related comments therein, to help weave a coordinated successful outcome for Ted.  Then again, I don't know the whole story since it's all unfolding rather rapidly, but I hope this guy ritchie undestands how much his particular video has changed the course of today's media cycle, helped bring on a larger conversation about homelessness, and specifically helped change Ted Williams's destiny.

From ritchey:

Thanks for all your comments. My only guess is that this might have been the Columbus Dispatch requesting it be removed; since it is their news video.

Never knew that a news video would not be public domain, especially coming from a subscription free web-site. Doesn't the Fair Use Act somehow protect this type of use?

All in all, Ted got a job(s) and is no longer on the street. Monetary gain was never my motive. My motive was to see Ted get employed.

Institutional rules won the day, but it's exactly the kind of grassroots-level "we don't need permission to effect change" attitude that ritchey took that really made this as big as it is.  Let's take note of that.  

Originally posted to therehastobeaway on Thu Jan 06, 2011 at 08:02 AM PST.

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