"It's good to know my voice is heard," said Mark Bell, the homeless poet, after he held a copy of his first book in his hands. He never expected to see his mountains of writings, which he did for pure enjoyment, published into a book. This journey into becoming a published author began from a simple act of kindness, that inspired another act of kindness, that inspired a story that inspired more kindness that eventually became this book which may change the course of Bell's life for the better.
Here's the back story behind Mark Bell and myself, the photojournalist who he first reached out to. Last winter I was photographing the Book of Dreams, The Sacramento Bee's annual holiday giving program. One of our stories was about Friendship Park at Loaves & Fishes, which provides services to the homeless in Sacramento. They had requested an industrial sized coffee maker to serve their guests hot coffee in the morning. I was there to photograph and write the story, and later, to photograph the delivery of the coffee maker. Bell, a quiet unassuming homeless man, stood silently by, watching as the coffee maker was joyously received. He was so moved by the scene that he wrote a poem of thanks to the Book of Dreams. He slipped this poem to me and asked me to read it later. When I read it I was shocked. His writing was so moving that I knew we had to publish the poem. Not only did we publish his poem but we did a feature story on his life and his writings a couple weeks later, written by Carlos Alcala.
Our readers are amazing. When we put out a good story they almost always respond with offers of help. Sure enough a group of editors, designers and donors made themselves available to Bell, and helped him publish his first book, using a self-publishing machine at the public library. Another reader donated to him a used laptop. Bell seized the opportunity and worked hard. He had his first book published less than two months after the story ran. He is now working on his second and third books.
I'm grateful to work in a job where I can help give a voice to wonderful and interesting people such as Mark Bell, who are often overlooked. But this would not have happened if he hadn't made the first step, had the courage to reach out to a working reporter to simply say thank you. The snowball effect of good deeds that followed gives me hope. Your voice is heard now, Mark Bell. Thanks for speaking up.
Here's a link to the stories, photos and videos about Mark Bell: Mark Bell The Homeless Poet