Our vendors: Lonnie Baker (Groundcover News, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA)

By Lonnie Baker, Groundcover News

My life began well and I’m confident that it will end well. I’m now ready to relate some of what happened in the middle.

My happy childhood life in Detroit was disrupted when my parents divorced. Though my father and I remained close, I started acting out and took advantage of lax supervision. By middle school, I was already in trouble with the law.

I moved from Detroit to Washtenaw County in 1983. I lived in Ypsilanti and worked as a rental agent in my first job here. Over the years, I also worked some unskilled labor jobs where I could learn on the job. After several years, my vision became impaired and I was diagnosed with a kind of macular degeneration known as Stargardt disease, which affects precision vision. That made it impossible for me to drive and barred me from some types of employment. I have refused to let it stop me, but it does limit my capabilities.

I used to read a lot. I used to go into the B. Dalton Bookstore and look around saying, “I read that and that and that…” That’s something I really miss. When my eyesight was good, I also wrote. At one point, I was writing three books at once. Reading helped my imagination, which is very good, and it helped me as a writer. But back then, I never completed anything. At this point of my life, I’m a big fan of completion.

In the 1980s, I had some substance abuse issues that persisted for years and some legal trouble, all of which is behind me now. I’ve been clean and sober for nearly three years. I started selling Groundcover News in 2012. I enjoyed the fact that the community embraced me despite everything else. I felt that I could do this well and, therefore, I put all my effort into it. I aim to make buying Groundcover News a pleasant experience that people will want to repeat.

Lonnie is on the streets of Ann Arbor in all weather. Selling Groundcover News is as much a ministry to him as it is a way to make money. (Credit: Peter Beyer)

I attribute much of my success in battling my troubles to being involved with Groundcover. They accepted me and gave me a chance to work. I was homeless for several years during my substance abuse and legal trouble period. Through the relationships I made at Groundcover, I was able to work through my problems.

Now I am on my third lease and have lived in my own apartment for two years. Living this life of selling the paper and interacting with people has developed a positive attitude within me. Ann Arbor cares about its community, a fact that has helped me with my transformation.

I met some very dear friends at St. Mary’s Student Parish, where I sell the paper on Sundays. Special relationships have been formed there, at the People’s Food Co-op on South University with the students, and at various other places around town and at Groundcover’s headquarters itself. It is very challenging to sell Groundcover News to students every day, but I embrace the challenge. I enjoy talking with them and hope we can both grow from our interactions. There are students I’ve met who I will probably be friends with for the rest of my life. I really value these relationships.

I get a lot of love from the parishioners at St. Mary’s. It was there that I met Peggy Lynch of Mercy House (MISSION). She opened her house to me for a substantial amount of time, which allowed me to get everything together so that I could go on to be successful.

My biggest strength is my spirituality. That is what, I believe, governs my total existence. All else is added to that. As an adult, I heard stories of David and Goliath and Daniel in the Lion’s Den and thought they were old folk tales. When I had legal troubles, I found out that these were Bible stories. I enjoyed reading the Bible, prayer life and the peace and tranquility that came over me when I was reading the Bible or praying.

From the lessons and instructions I have received during my spiritual journey, I have developed a very solid foundation that has led me to victories in my personal life – morally, ethically and physically. This is what motivates me. The philosophy I now live by has been rewarding: Never miss an opportunity to bless someone.

Blessing others assures me of my own blessings – it is a blessing to help someone and it feels good. The feedback I receive is positive and inspirational. In my life, the things I have been through have taught me to treat other people as I wish to be treated.

When I go into stores around town, they know me as the local newspaper man. I patronize businesses in the areas where I sell, and I enjoy doing so. They know I sell papers and they treat me like they would anyone else with any other job.

In December of 2014, the Ann Arbor Observer put me on the cover of their magazine. I felt honored and will always cherish it – my 15 minutes of fame.

I’ve met so many people through selling Groundcover who have encouraged me on my journey. It doesn’t matter who I was in the past. Today, I am a fun-loving, caring and spiritual man.