Michael Dotts nearly died a few years ago. “I come from East St. Louis. I was in a lot of gang activities. They almost killed me. I was asking God, ‘This is the rest of my life?’ He told me to come to Seattle.”
But in Seattle, “I still had that attitude and addictions, and I started making a lot of mistakes. [Now] I’m trying to transition myself to family man, church. Real Change has helped a whole lot. Just seeing how other people are. I’m from a place that’s chaotic; now I see mommas and dads and the kids, smiling, happy; black, white, Hispanic, Asians, Africans, these people are actually living with each other and not fighting.”
That doesn’t mean it’s been easy selling Real Change. “A man walked up to me [using the n-word]: ‘I don’t like you in front of my store.’”
Michael was on probation; he couldn’t afford to get in trouble. He started yelling, “Have a good day!”
“I wanted to punch him. But I didn’t. That’s the old me. I just yelled, ‘God bless!’ Trying to force that demon he got away from me.”
In another incident, Michael went to sell papers in Magnolia. The manager came out. “What you doing on my sidewalk?”
“‘I thought this was public sidewalk. Everybody walking down it.’”
The manager told Michael he had to sell down at the corner.
“‘Sir, I can’t sell papers over there.’”
“He starts yelling, puts his hands in my face. ‘I’m calling the police right now. My customers don’t want to look at your kind.’”
Michael phoned Real Change. They confirmed he was on a public sidewalk. He told the whole story to the police, who offered to take him somewhere else to sell papers. “I didn’t want to get in his car because black people was dying in the hands of police.”
After that incident, the manager was “posting signs saying, ‘Don’t buy from the Real Change guy.’” Real Change staff suspected he was racist, but the manager did the same thing to a white vendor.
But Michael likes Seattle. “Things I was taught don’t apply here. Out there, we don’t talk to white people, white people don’t talk to us. ‘Don’t go to St. Louis. You drive out there, behave. Because they’re pulling you over.’”
“I’m in a friendly mood now. Positive attitude. People just been nice to me. All I can think about is selling papers, as many of them as I possibly can. I’ve got my completions for probation, Alcoholics Anonymous classes, getting all my tickets and fines paid off, and community service done.” He’s getting Section 8 housing in a few months; he plans to marry his girlfriend once he has a place of his own. He’s got a car and hopes to go to truck driving school. With five kids in East St. Louis and two more here, he wants a decent life: “I’ll be 40 in three years. I’m trying to get my own.”