The first time Rashad Dickerson and Jasmine Africawala spoke, it was on the telephone. Dickerson called Africawala — a community-engagement administrator at the Dallas Public Library — about GED testing, and she asked where he worked.
“I’m just a homeless guy that’s passing out resources,” he said.
Months later, Dickerson asks Africawala about that encounter.
“If you had saw me, and you had known my circumstances, would you have had that meeting with me?”
“My circumstances” stands in for “homelessness,” and that question pops up in the first five minutes of the first episode of Street View, a new podcast produced by the library and hosted by Dickerson. (You can find it at streetviewpodcast.com.)
Before listening, it would be easy to dismiss Street View as merely a mouthpiece for the library’s Homeless Engagement Initiative. But Dickerson’s opening question is halting. The series will be anything but bland.
“It’s something that Martin Luther King Jr. said: ‘I could go on to live to 96, but if at the age of 36, when I did not stand up for what I believed, I died then,’ ” Dickerson tells me.
Recorded underneath the downtown library, Dickerson probes library, police, and religious officials, serving as a sounding board for his community and a conduit for change. It’s also a vehicle to share his story, and he’s not without his faults.
Dickerson, 26, was arrested in 2004 for breaking into cars in his native New Orleans and served time for a 2008 sex offense, one that’s landed him on Texas’ sex offender registry. His mother was killed early in his life, and his father went to jail when he was 6. They were reunited there following Hurricane Katrina; his father would toss him cigarettes over the fence.
Between tapings, Dickerson takes college classes, then makes his way to a one-bedroom, four-roommate house in West Dallas. But he’s leaving soon. “Their behavior’s not something I want to keep,” he says of his roommates. Before this, he lived on a concrete slab.
Dickerson is magnetic and measured with his words. In lesser hands, the podcast could devolve into cliché, but Dickerson’s control—not to mention encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible and MLK—is what keeps it original.
The evangelical has his own preachers, too. A friend, Jason, walks the line at the Stewpot playing the podcast aloud from his phone, and listeners are coming from all over the United States.
“To be able to share my whole entire story, no matter how ugly or jaded or jagged it is,” Dickerson says, “and other individuals are willing to share their story—just a tad bit—there is a positive energy, a healing, to people giving up and giving themselves the opportunity to speak.”