The TSP team has been working to assemble a collection of thematic materials on debt for the first iterations of our books from W.W. Norton. I mentioned this to Wing and asked if that theme called any particular images to mind. At first he couldn’t think of anything. Then he had me take a look at this picture from his “We are the Other” project.
The photo shows two men, Bobby and Reggie, according to the title, sitting in a kitchen. Save the fact that the men are of different races and the haunting self-consciousness of the unnamed man on the right, I didn’t immediately understand the significance of this image, let alone its relation to debt. One could see it as a photo of a neighborly chat, a family gathering, or a work break. But then Wing shared the story behind the image.
The kitchen is Bobby’s and his house is just down the street from Wing in South Minneapolis. One of nine children, Bobby has lived in the same house since his mother bought it in 1968. On February 17th, 2012, Bobby’s house was the center of a block party called the “Foreclosure Free Fest.” Turns out Bobby, a proud 57-year-old plasterer and former Marine, had fallen behind on his mortgage after a series of health problems. This picture was taken that evening.
The event drew 300 supporters throughout the night, with a line-up of well-known local musicians who performed in his small living room and on a stage in Bobby’s front lawn. Bobby didn’t know everyone who came that night, but one person he did know was Reggie. They grew up together in South Minneapolis and met in the 7th grade “We ran the neighborhood,” says Bobby. “We fought each other and fought everyone else. But that’s the way it was, you beat someone up. and they end up your best friend.”
With coverage from ABC News and the Huffington Post, as well as the support of his friends, neighbors, and those in the Occupy movement, Bobby was able to get the Bank of America to offer a mortgage modification that will allow him to keep his home. The support seems miraculous to Bobby: “It’s like I fell in the mud and can now come up for clean air all the time.”
Bobby is, of course, one of thousands, even millions of Americans struggling with debt and foreclosure—each one with a story, each one with some friends and neighbors and support, and yet each one with little media coverage that can lead to real help or assistance as they struggle to maintain the piece of the American Dream they thought they’d already achieved.