I was born in 1939. December the 9th. My mother was a victim of rape and she had me when she was 14 years old. And so at 14, she couldn’t very well take care of her boy, or nobody else. And so I went through adoption and really lost track of my immediate family. I drifted through the country as a young man, DC, coming up the line and I landed in New Jersey. Of all the things I thought I would have a dislike for my mother, I wanted to know why she gave me up for adoption. She had help in that decision — my grandmother. But why? I thought she was the worst person in the world. You know what it’s like to see kids with their biological parents and you sitting up there, knowing that this is something that happened, but you can’t figure out what it is? It does something psychologically to you. [Decades later] my mother found me and took me down to her house, where a man was sitting on her porch. It was her pastor. She said to him, “what I want you to do is tell my son what we’ve been doing all these years.” And the Reverend said, “Son, we pray for you every Sunday, because your mother made a commitment. [That if God] would send her son back, she would serve him the rest of her life.” She had done a pretty good job of that, a beautiful woman in the community, a beautiful woman in the church. My mother and I grew to be the best of friends. She lived for 79 years, [but] she never mentioned the word father to me. I never asked her. That was her secret.


She saw me lose a business and was telling me the whole time I was doing it, “you’re heading down the wrong road.” I didn’t think she knew what she was talking about. I lost it all during the time of crack cocaine. When I came to New York City, I was poor and everything but hungry. I got on the A train and started riding the A train because it was the longest running train across the city. And it was nice and warm. And so in 1987 when I was sleeping on that subway train, a lady came on and she woke me up. I didn’t like that too well. Why would you wake a homeless man up, sleeping on a train? She said to me, “what in the world is a man like you doing on a train sleeping? You don’t seem to be that kind of fella.” She reached in her wallet and gave me a card and a few dollars. And she said if you go to this place [the Bowery Mission], I believe your condition will change.”


The journey here was really a story of resurrection from death to life. Going through the Mission was not easy. You had to listen, you had rules and regulations. I guess I broke them all. Let me tell you something. You can find no fault with the Bowery Mission. It's the first place that's been helping the least, the lost and the hungry for over 150 years. Sometimes, personalities can interfere with the work of the Bowery. But the Bowery is china. Can't touch it, in my book. If you're looking for something and can't find it here, don't go nowhere else. When I got here, there was sign if you look up on the wall on the back by the door. And it said, "there is no place like this place. This must be the place." I could show you pictures of success, people who went through here raggedy as a can of crap. And they have become very successful. They've been to college. Because there were people here when I came through that was concerned about you, not about themselves.


We all can fall flat sometimes. A friend of mine said to me the other day, he said "James. I'm seeing these people having all this trouble, but I can't laugh. Because one day I could be in the same state that they are." See these are things I look for people to say. I’m no better than anybody sitting down there today. I don't care what I got on. I don't care how good my cologne is. I ain't no better. I'm no better. I'm no better, man. Don't condemn everything. See the good in things. See the good in people. And if they're lacking good, walk with them and show them what goodness is all about. Change begins with the heart of a man. So a man thinketh, so he is. So if you got people thinking that they are nobody. They're worthless. That's what you're gonna get. You gonna reap just what you sow. My favorite quote is this one, "you never look down on a human being, whether it's a woman, man or child unless you're trying to lift them up." I live by that. Talk is cheap. Wherever I go, I want to represent what I talk about. We've got to have people who have principles and a living example to help people.