By Layla Shahmohammadi, The Contributor
While other work may come and go, vendor Randolph B. rests secure in the knowledge that he can always sell The Contributor to his faithful and supportive customers. Seventeen years ago, Randolph left Richmond, Virginia, to take on a welding job in Denver. However, when the A-frame broke off his truck in Nashville, Randolph decided to cut his trip short and make Nashville his home.
“When I came to Nashville, I didn’t have any money or nothing, but the community embraced me. Nashville is the most God-loving city I’ve seen in my entire life,” Randolph says. During his first 10 years in Nashville, Randolph found work as a self-employed painter. “I did very high-end work for customers like Dierks Bentley and Sheryl Crow,” Randolph tells me. However, during the winter months, it was more difficult for Randolph to find painting jobs. Looking for something to sustain him through the winter season, Randolph took a friend’s advice and started to consider selling copies of The Contributor.
Soon after getting involved with the organization, he stopped painting and started selling the paper full-time in the Hermitage district. His clientele shifted drastically, but Randolph says his customers were the reason he sold – and still sells – The Contributor. “It is so nice that they just accept me for who I am,” Randolph says.
More recently, Randolph has been working for Rock City Mechanical, a heat and air company in Nashville. Randolph’s current work site is the James Robertson Hotel. Within a few months, he will start construction on the new jail in the downtown area. “This is the first tax-paying job I’ve had in three years,” Randolph admits. In the spring of 2017, Randolph met Paul Joseph from RCM and, after telling him his qualifications, filled out an application for the company. “At 55, I’m getting old. With this job, I have health insurance and I am secure,” Randolph beams.
For a couple of years, Randolph lived in permanent housing with his girlfriend. About two and a half months ago, however, she passed away and he became homeless again. Now, Randolph is living in a boarding house in Brentwood with his own room and a shared kitchen and bathroom. While Randolph has maintained his mechanical job and a steady income for a few months now, he continues to sell The Contributor, assuring his customers that, “I will sell till I die.” Even after working a full day with Rock City Mechanical, Randolph spends his late afternoons and weekends selling the paper. Before starting his new job, Randolph depended on his customers in Hermitage just to get by. “I made a good living selling the paper,” he says. And, even though he’s not selling as often, Randolph says, “I’m going to keep my badge because I love my customers.” In return, his customers have shown him a lot of love, too.
“When I got this new job, two ladies found out that I needed new tools and they gave me enough money to buy them,” Randolph tells me. His customers have always been very supportive, with some regularly giving him $100 bills. Randolph explains the key to his success as a vendor by saying that, “I’m always waving and smiling, making eye-contact with every driver in every car and getting to know my customers and what they do.” Like many vendors, Randolph is grateful for the relationships The Contributor has brought him. He promises that, although he’s not selling every day anymore, he will always keep his vendor map: “You never know when work’s going to run out.”
In addition to continuing to sell The Contributor, in the next five years Randolph hopes to own a boat that he can steer and use to fish on the Cumberland River. Currently, Randolph fishes from the I-65 Bridge and downtown. “That’s the one thing I do the best!” he chuckles. Randolph invites anybody who wants to go fishing, including his customers, to join him. He also has a message for his customers: “God bless you all and may your weeks be great – and your weekends even better!”