On a two-block walk from 5th to 7th street, Carla B. greets six people along the way and hugs three of them. She’s extremely enthusiastic and outgoing. When she was told she could be this issue’s Vendor Spotlight, she broke into a happy dance. Having struggled with mental health, addiction and abuse on top of homelessness, Carla says dancing and singing, combined with her faith, help her “bounce through life.” She feels she’s in a good place now and is ready to build up her customer base where she sells: mornings in Donelson and afternoons in Bellevue.
Tell me about how you first became a vendor for The Contributor.
In 2010 I ran into a friend, he was selling The Contributor. He was telling me about it and I was like, ‘well I have a job.’ A couple of weeks later I got ran over by a car. So I went back to him and said: ‘How do I get in with this newspaper?’ He brought me down and showed me how to get The Contributor. So that was my job because I was disabled. I couldn’t work. The Contributor gave me a way to make money when I was not able to have a full time job.
You’ve written a number of pieces for The Contributor. Have you always enjoyed writing?
When I was 5 years old I won my first poem contest at the library, and it’s always been my dream to be a published author. And I never thought that I could make it because I don’t have an education. But thanks to The Contributor, I have. This is so big for me.
What has your housing situation been like over these years and what is it like now?
Right now I am camping. It’s nothing to do with The Contributor or anything like that, the reason I’m homeless. I’m bipolar schizophrenic and I’ve spent most of this last year in the hospital. I had a home, I had it all, and the guy I was with broke up with me and I came back here. Since November of last year I’ve been in and out of the hospital and I don’t have a place to live, but I’m trying. I’m so glad The Contributor is helping with Section 8 now.
Something you talked about when you introduced yourself is how you love to sing and dance.
I love to dance. I was a cheerleader when I was a kid. I come from a long line of dancing. And thank God my daughter, she’s a dancer. She’s got my genes. She has been a cheerleader and a dancer all of her life … My mom taught me how to dance and I taught her how to dance.
That’s how all y’all know me, a little dancer. That’s how I get my customers and stuff because they see me happy and they want to get to know me because I’m always on my corner dancing.
I know I can’t sing. I know y’all have been lying to me, but I love it. I’m sitting at Church Street Park on my birthday and I started singing my song, and this preacher come up to me and said, "will you sing that again for me?" And he videotaped me by the library on my birthday and it’s on the internet.
That’s me. I’ve had such a hard life, I’ve learned how to bounce through stuff. And if I’m singing and I’m happy then people won’t know that there’s something wrong with me.
You wrote a Christian song that was published in The Contributor a while back. Does faith play a role in your life?
Not just my daughter’s name is Faith, my mom’s name is Faith. So I feel like my parents gave me faith the day I was born. I’m a Christian, and I walk by faith, not by sight. Faith is a very big deal in my life ... I didn’t know the meaning of it growing up, but I know now. I know that as long as I believe in him and put him first, everything is going to be OK. And I know He’s the one who gave me that song. That song means a lot to me. You can’t imagine how many people have heard that song. All the bus drivers heard it.
What kind of interactions do you like to have with people who buy the paper from you?
I like my customers to know my name and I know their name. I love talking to them and their kids and their dogs. Me and Ms. Liz, she used to volunteer [at The Contributor], and in 2010, I was coming up here to get papers, and she said ‘Hi Carla! can I take a picture of you?’ I said, ‘why would you want to take a picture of me?’ and she said, ‘because you show the joy of being a vendor.’ And she’s been my customer ever since. I can leave and come back and she’s always there. I’ve had some really amazing customers. I miss them. I miss my old customers in Bellevue. I’m very friendly. I’m a waver, I love to wave. Everybody, once they get to know you, they care about you, like you start caring about them.
Is there anything else that you want to add?
I just want everybody to know how The Contributor can change everybody’s lives and make their dreams come true. I’ll leave on that note.