Originally from Bowling Green, Ky., Theresa moved to Nashville as a 21-year-old with the hopes of pursuing a higher education at Fisk University. Raised in a predominantly white neighborhood, Theresa made the decision to come to Nashville to experience life at one of the nation’s top historically black colleges.
“I first came here in 1986, but an ex-boyfriend knocked on the door; it was downhill from there!” Because of personal problems, Theresa was never able to finish college. Instead, she entered the workforce. But if you know Theresa, you know that her belief that everything happens for a reason is strong. In the coming months, the same ex-boyfriend saved her from a fire. “I have mad respect for him even today. Maybe there was a reason he followed me down to Nashville.”
For the next several years, Theresa was working small jobs around the city. She began to understand that her personal fulfillment required no formal education — Theresa never finished her degree, but what was discovered was her true passion in mentoring others through spiritual activism.
In 2005, Theresa became homeless for the first time after her elderly landlord became a victim of predatory lending and was unable to maintain her current home.
“I had to go into a financial responsibility program at the Salvation Army. That was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.” The two-year program required Theresa to keep a close eye on her money. “You had to show your bank statements and every purchase you made.” Upon completion, Theresa’s money management skills were forever changed. After a while, she was able to secure long-term housing that would last until her lifestyle no longer supported her desires.
In 2012, Theresa became homeless once again. Theresa stepped out on her faith and walked away from a job. “I knew God had something more for me. I was trying to reinvent myself. I was just trying what the elders already told me I was called for. I didn’t know that at the time, but they did.” Soon after quitting her job, she found herself unable to make ends meet and ended up losing her apartment. Although Theresa has been homeless ever since, she says she is blessed to be homeless in such a generous city as Nashville.
“You don’t ever have to be outdoors and you don’t ever have to be hungry because this is such a hospitable city. It’s been that way since I moved here in ‘86.”
Shortly after becoming homeless, Theresa began selling The Contributor as a supplement to her other jobs. Within the past two years, Theresa’s faith has intervened again. She quit her other jobs and is now relying on her paper sales as her only source of income. She says the thing that sets selling papers apart from other work is being able to talk to and encourage others. “That’s what I exist for — to encourage people.”
Theresa’s personal interests include religion and ancient African history. “I feel like a lot of the things that have been suppressed in history our young people need to know.” One of Theresa’s passions lies in connecting youth to their elders. “I want to reach back over the Civil Rights era generation and bring them the knowledge of the World War II generation. It’s about honesty, but with compassion.”
With the new year approaching, Theresa hopes to transition away from selling papers and pursue her calling as an entrepreneurial activist. Although she loves getting to know her customers, she says her true calling is greater. “I love being able to sit there and talk to people and encourage them for as long as I’m able to do it.” She is also working on publishing a black history newsletter, in which she will share her thoughts of inspiration. For Theresa, faith has been her guiding light. “I haven’t looked back. Since I’ve taken that attitude and listened to motivational speakers everyday, things have slowly gotten better for me. It’s slow, but it’s getting better.”