a photo of the President Obama
Whitehouse.gov/Pete Souza

When Street Sense vendor David Denny wrote his poem “Commentary to a Black Man” in 1999, he never imagined the first African-American President of the United States would read it in 2014.

Denny started working with Street Sense in 2010, which allowed him to publish his poetry and make valuable connections. “Street Sense literally saved my life because I was out there and I was doing all the wrong things. Street Sense gives you a sense of accomplishment… you’re part of something. It gives you a voice,” Denny said when asked about the organization.

Last summer, Ms. Vicki Eastvold, a regular Street Sense reader and Denny’s biggest fan, saw something in Denny’s “voice” that needed to be shared. Eastvold facilitated what Denny calls his largest accomplishment by sending “Commentary to a Black Man” to the office of the President of the United States after it was published in the August 14, 2013 edition.

The poem, which addresses African American identity and perception, stirs its readers’ emotions.

“It’s a very powerful poem, and a couple of people react negatively,” Denny remarks. “They say, ‘why are you airing our dirty laundry in the paper?’ But most responses are positive.” President Barack Obama’s surely was.

The presidential letter, which arrived at the Street Sense office nine months after Eastvold sent Denny’s poem, was a big surprise.

“One morning,” Denny explained,  “we were unloading the truck [with the new issues of the paper] and Brandon [Caudill the vendor manager] said, ‘David, you have mail from the White House!’”

In his letter to Denny, the President reflected upon the poet’s depictions of the African-American community, writing, “we need to change the statistics for young men and boys of color – not just for their sake, but for the sake of America’s future.”

Denny’s poem might help bring awareness to the change that must occur.

Apart from the delight he found in being among the tiny handful of correspondents who actually receive a written response from the President of the United States, Denny has found added excitement in the friendly competition the letter fostered in the Street Sense office.

“I’m the only one at Street Sense who has mail from the White House. We’re always trying to top one another. Can anyone top this now? That’s my challenge,” he said with a laugh.

Four months after his customer Vicki Eastvold sent the letter on behalf of Denny, she changed jobs. She no longer passes him on her way to work, and he hasn’t had the opportunity to tell her the news.

Letter to Street Sense David Denny from President Barack Obama