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‘Same Kind of Different As Me’ casts light on homelessness

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I haven’t read many books that are billed as either spiritual or religious – most are too treacly for my tastes. But after several friends recommended “Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together” (Thomas Nelson, 2006) by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, I took a look and am glad I did. I found the nonfiction book to be better than many spiritual stories, as it is well told and delves deeply into the serious problem of homelessness in America.

The book chronicles the life of wealthy art dealer Hall, who volunteers at the local homeless shelter in Texas at the recommendation of his wife, Debbie. Hall is nervous about the type of people he will be serving but feels compelled to do so because of his deeply religious wife. While at the shelter, the Halls meet a large, angry black man, Moore, who is eventually persuaded to break out of his shell. They forge a strong friendship that proves vital to the lives of all three.

Hall derives great comfort and support from Moore and others in the shelter when doctors diagnose Debbie with cancer and she ultimately dies. The book alternates chapters between Hall’s story and Moore’s.

Far and away the most interesting part of the book involves Moore’s backstory. He grew up in Louisiana in the 1950s and 1960s, laboring on “the Man’s” cotton plantation. I had to look twice to make sure that the book really meant the 1960s and not the 1860s, because Moore was truly a slave to the system: “All I knowed was my life: For nearly thirty years, I sweated in the Louisiana sun, fightin off snakes, workin the earth till harvest, and pickin that cotton one boll at a time. … Never weighed in no cotton, never got no paycheck. … All them years I worked for them plantations, the Man didn’t tell me there was colored schools I coulda gone to, or that I coulda learned a trade. He didn’t tell me I coulda joined the army and worked my way up. … I didn’t know about World War II, the war in Korea or the one in Vietnam. And I didn’t know colored folks had been risin up all around Louisiana for years, demanding better treatment. … I was still livin by coal-oil lamp in a shotgun shack with no running water.”

Moore was not alone – there were many blacks in his area who lived this way and probably are little better off today. In fact, many may be worse off, because cotton farms have been mechanized, leaving fewer jobs than in Moore’s time.

While Moore’s life on the plantation is shocking, it is not the only troubling aspect of his story. He also details his life after running away from home and catching a train. With no education, his employment options were few, and he describes how he survived by taking menial jobs and begging.

Moore’s story is a touching reminder during the holiday season of the plight of the homeless. “Same Kind of Different as Me” would be a rewarding read for any book club.

Leslie Ashmore, a longtime Mountain View resident, belongs to two book clubs.

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