What a Homeless Man Taught Me About Slavery

His clothes were ragged and his face unkept. A certain darkness enveloped him, as if a heavy weight rested upon his shoulders. His black skin blended perfectly with his dark clothes making him almost unrecognizable against the backdrop of night. His name was Anthony Isley King.

He spoke to me with a depth that most of my daily conversations lack. He talked of brokenness and pain openly, not fearfully hiding behind the facade that so many are eager to display. Yet his willingness to share his story didn’t beg for attention, it revealed a very real struggle that drew me into the battle.

I wasn’t sure why, but something moved me to talk with this man. I attempted to remove the prejudices that lingered within my mind. I wanted to approach this man in his humanity, not in his homelessness. As I drew closer, he looked me in the eyes and spoke:

“Hey, brother, how are you?” The poignant smell of alcohol lingered on his breath, yet he spoke softly and plainly.

“I’m doing well. And you?” My response was strategically open-ended. I was ready to listen.

It was a story I wasn’t prepared to hear.

Broke and Broken

Anthony began pouring out his story without expectation.

His pain started at an early age. After losing his mother and his brother, just a few short months apart, he confessed to a lifetime battle with depression where he searched for comfort in alcohol and drugs. This left his body ravaged, resulting in numerous medical issues which stripped him of the limited financial resources that were available.

My heart hurt—a heavy kind of helpless guilt. I didn’t know how I could possibly help this man or provide any type of insight, so I just kept listening.

When I asked him where he lived, he replied, “I live in the graveyard because the dead can’t hurt me anymore.” To this day, I don’t know if he was telling the truth, but I shutter when I consider the reality.

He brought up faith long before I did and he spoke about the Almighty with a reverent anger. He was mad at God, but he hadn’t lost hope. He was knowledgable, raw, and unfiltered.

As he spoke, it felt like a weight was being lifted off of his shoulders and I could see light begin to radiate from inside him. Then, something happened. He uttered the words:

“Satan is out there.”

It was a hopeless admittance of defeat, a reminder of the temptation he was unable to escape. Immediately, it was like a light was switched off.

A Slave to Habit

As soon as that happened, he asked me for money. “A man just don’t feel right without a penny in his pocket, you know?”

I reached in my pocket and grabbed a penny and said, “I have a penny. I have dollars too…”

Before I could finish, he cut me off, “Man, I just need a little drink.” His demanding tone was now backed with aggression.

“I don’t think that will help you, Anthony. Let’s go get some coffee and talk some more.” I was trying to rekindle the light I once saw.

“What the hell, man? I know all about Jesus, I need money.”

It was in that moment, I saw an anger in his eyes that frightened me. I’m not proud of it, but I fled. He cursed and yelled at me as I crossed the street.

That is the first and only conversation I had ever had with this man, yet fourteen months later, I still find myself thinking about Anthony Isley King.

The Freedom of Captivity

Harriet Tubman, the great abolitionist and humanitarian, once said:

“In my life, I freed over a thousand slaves. I would have freed a thousand more if they actually knew they were slaves.”

Her words speak a deep truth about our human condition. We hate captivity, but we are terrified of freedom. In my conversation with Anthony, I saw this truth brought to life more so than ever before.

Anthony was a slave.

He longed for freedom, yet he was fearful of changing the ways he had always known. And lest you think I’m heartless and judgmental, this conversation brought to life my own slavery. I am a slave as well. I am a slave to my prejudices, a slave to my own comfort.

To some degree, we are all slaves to something. We’re chained by the need to be liked or praised. We’re chained by habits that slowly strip us of hope. We’re chained by a lifestyle that an ever-increasing income can’t satisfy. We’re chained by obedience that leaves us unable to show grace.

Today, I challenge you with a bold question: What are you a slave to?

As Harriet Tubman said, the first step is the realization that we are in bondage. That is the first step to living fully and freely.

It’s time to refuse the shroud of slavery in your life.

As the Psalmist said, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.”

You and I were born to be free.


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About the Author

headshot-footerMatt Ham is dedicated to guiding others toward rich living. His own experiences have led him to the understanding and freedom of a rich life, and through his RICH Principles he helps folks uncover true richness, identifying real treasure and discovering true joy and contentment.

His first book, Redefine Rich, is a journey of uncovering a deeper, more fulfilling life by shifting your perspective. It is available in both Kindle and paperback on Amazon: here

You can order a limited hardback version of the book at www.redefinerich.com

To contact Matt, visit www.mattham.com/speaking

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6 Responses to What a Homeless Man Taught Me About Slavery

  1. Charles Johnston March 18, 2015 at 5:25 am #

    Incredible post Matt, ever since my wife began working with the homeless both at a mission and on her own, my eyes have been opened. I have had similar conversations with many on the street. I used to flee like you did. Now I see them more as people and as God’s children. I stay, if more would just stay and show them they matter. Maybe one day you can be like my wife who is taking her homeless friend to church today. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. David Mike March 18, 2015 at 7:14 am #

    “We are cursed to see both freedom in captivity and captivity in freedom.” Truth will set us free from bondage. Such a powerful post.

  3. Sheila Edeliant March 18, 2015 at 6:44 pm #

    Powerful. Sometimes it is hard to know what to do in the moment. My prayer is that we all, as God’s children, will become more and more aware of His voice and leading in reaching out to others. Even in these very difficult encounters. He stands ready to set us all free, but we must choose.

    If only “they actually knew they were slaves.” Wow.

  4. Janelle Keith March 18, 2015 at 11:42 pm #

    Nice blog, thank you for writing. It’s one thing to know freedom, it’s another to live free!


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