Darrell Wrenn was voted one of our Vendors of the Year. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he moved to Seattle from Philadelphia in 2014. Darrell’s usual post is at the Issaquah PCC. He says, “Besides PCC having the best hot bar on the West Coast, the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life have been here.”
In his free time, Darrell enjoys music, reading and watching politically inspired news and TV series.
Darrell is a gifted speaker, full of positive energy, who looks to connect with and inspire people at every turn. Selling Real Change is not just a job, but a mission for him. It is Darrell’s goal to change people’s mindsets around homelessness. Darrell spoke with Real Change about his life and mission. The following interview is edited for clarity.
Are there any moments while selling Real Change that have left an impression?
Lots of people love the paper. A lot of people did not know about the paper, so I had to explain to them what the paper was all about. What I do is I let them know about Real Change being a nonprofit for 26 years, helping the homeless and bringing solutions. People have been receptive. A lot of people will say no to it, yeah, but that is the nature of the beast. I would say 99 percent of my experiences have been positive.
You mentioned that it is your mission to sell Real Change. What kind of change would you like to see?
That is a great question. The change I would like to see, among many, is I’d like to see people’s mindset and spirit change towards how they view homelessness. Because then not only will you see homeless people get treated not only better, but we can really sit down and have a collective, concrete solution not only to end homelessness but also [to] help correct a lot of other injustices and ills in society.
It is because of the mindset of the people — they view homeless people a certain way. They see them as less than. They see being homeless as something they can never experience, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Look at the wildfires that are happening now. Unfortunately, a lot of people are losing their homes. It could happen at a moment’s notice; that is just life. God has a way of doing things to get people to see.
Homelessness can hit at a moment’s notice. My thing is: Tables can always turn. I don’t care who you are or how much money you make; tables always turn. It could be financial; it could be health-wise; it could be mental health. It could be anything.
Also, we have to realize that we are all connected. We are one hand with separate fingers — but all together as a fist, we can solve anything, knock down anything, when we come together collectively.
How do you keep faith in the philosophy that there is hope in helping one another, especially when there is so much that can weigh down on a person these days?
There is a lot going on. We have a lot of weight on us. We have a lot unfolding before us every day. The thing that keeps me going is my faith and belief in God. My confidence in God. Seeing how he has worked for me in my life and, when I was homeless, bringing me out of homelessness. I never took my hand, mindset and spirit out of God. So, do I believe things will get better? Absolutely. But we must go through this.
Because what is happening is America is a beautiful table adorned with jewels, and one of the legs is damaged. There is homelessness — the leg that is damaged also has health injustice, social injustice, criminal injustice, economic injustice. That is [the] damaged leg that America keeps ignoring. And when they do address it, they put a band aid on it or duct tape on it, and now you see the table is starting to lean to the right a little bit, and then the jewels don’t look as good.
We have to hold onto God and we have to hold onto each other. We have to keep encouraging each other. You can’t always control what happens on the outside of you, but you can control what happens in your mind. We got the power. Even if we are going through a storm or whatever, just keep believing positive within yourself. Do not let the ills of the world pour in you. It’s always nothing but a storm; it always passes. It is all temporary.
Tell us about your journey. How did you come to Real Change, and where are you now?
I moved here in 2014 from Philadelphia. Before then, I used to be a state officer. I worked in the judiciary branch back in 1999, worked in law enforcement, worked in the juvenile courts. Did that for about seven years.
I had childhood trauma. For years, I ignored that. I went to college at Northwest Missouri State, did four years of college on a basketball scholarship. I majored in mass communications.
I bring all that up because you can never outwork trauma. I have been putting that on the back burner for years, thinking I’d work it out over time. I had a great career. It had to take me to come out here to Seattle and to become homeless. It started in Philadelphia, as far as me addressing it, knowing that when something was going on that I had to put in the ... front of my mind.
I appreciate Seattle and all of King County and the state of Washington, because [this place] allowed me when I became homeless [to] live at the Union Gospel Mission in Seattle. I really had a chance to strip down and address the trauma from that.
Being a strong Black man, I thought I could work through it. But when you are dealing with trauma like that, you have got to address it.
Also, I was homeless, but I was well accomplished. I had a lot of success, played four years of college basketball, majored in communications, don’t have a criminal background, did all the right things…but there was that mental trauma there.
Everybody got stuff; everybody got baggage. If you are a state officer working in three branches of government – I was one of those people. God had to strip me down. That is how I became homeless.
My situation was economics: I got evicted, but my eviction happened because of my mental trauma. When you go through mental trauma like that, it affects your decision making.
Am I in a great place now? Absolutely I am! I have always been a great place, but I’ve had that trauma constricting me.
The healing process can be challenging, and sometimes it is hard to even make that choice. How did you do it?
Here is the thing about healing: Healing means you have got to strip yourself and healing means you have to let certain people go who have become toxic in your life. But God showed me they were no longer healthy for me.
Most people say they want to heal, but they don’t want to do the things fully necessary to heal, meaning you may need to let some people go to walk alone. But you are never by yourself because God is with you. It is a process and it is not easy. It’s not the external things you have to deal with; it’s the internal things. You’ve got to process.
If I want to have success and prosperity, I am going to allow new people who will be like family to me to enter in.
I’ve met people at Real Change — Tim Harris, a lot of my customers — I met people who are going to be lifelong friends. Some of them are like family to me. I couldn’t have gotten to that point had I not fully embraced the conditions. A lot of people want to heal, but they don’t want to deal with the conditions.
How do you feel about where you are now?
I’ve made space for new relationships, new friends — I’m still making new friends. I’m at a place where I can relearn, but just be open to new experiences in a very positive way. Selling the Real Change paper has really helped me. It has provided me with a great income, a great product — and I am happy to be a part of that. And more so: being able to make a difference in life and making a positive impact.
I want people to read this paper [who] are going through something. I want to help them. I want them to read my article. I hope my story helps them and really helps them as far as the healing process. I had to embrace the conditions that came on with healing, and I am at a great place right now. I am at a peaceful place. That is why I am able to speak the way I do and post on my Facebook page — because I have been through it.
Darrell has plans for a podcast and more “mass” communications. Currently he posts his thoughts and shares his wisdom on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Find him @DarrellWrenn.
Kamna Shastri is a staff reporter covering narrative and investigative stories for Real Change. She has a background in community journalism. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KShastri2
Read more in the Sept. 23-29, 2020 issue.