David Serota

I’ve been hustling all my life. I used to sell Newport cigarettes. I would buy them in Virginia and sell them in D.C. on the street for less than what the stores charged.

I’d take the subway to Virginia two to three times a day and buy Newports from different places like CVS, 7-Eleven and various gas stations. I was a regular. Usually you were supposed to buy only five cartons at a time, but I would get like 15 and put them in my storage bin at CubeSmart.

I was selling the Newports in Southeast and in the shelters where even the counselors were buying them. Black folks love Newports!

I was known as the Cigarette King. Another nickname was Gotti, because I was getting so much money on the streets. People wanted to be around me.

I was doing well selling cigarettes, but people in the shelter were stealing my cigarettes as well as everything I earned. I had six cellphones stolen. In addition to robbing me, people were laughing in my face and talking behind my back. I’ve been in the hospital twice.

I’ve also met a lot of good people on the streets. One night I was on the Metro’s Red Line and I overslept. I ended up at Shady Grove in Maryland and this white guy woke me. It was the last train and the end of the line. He asked where I wanted to go and he took the time to drive me all the way “home” to the streets of Tenleytown, where I slept by the entrance to the Metro. He was an angel in disguise.

One night at a church, where we all go to get a meal, I met another angel, a brother named Charles. Charles noticed me looking down and out and told me he made money selling Street Sense and that I could too.

I never knew you could make money from selling the homeless newspaper, and I wanted to turn my life around.

Now that I’m a Street Sense vendor, I’m making less money than when I was selling Newports. But I don’t have to worry about getting hit upside the head for money or about the police locking me up or giving me a ticket for selling cigarettes illegally.

I sometimes earn well over $100 a day selling the paper. I always make eye contact and ask “Can you help the homeless today?” Even when someone says no, I say, “Thank you and God bless you.”

Sometimes when I’m selling the paper, people pass by, pretending they are on the phone. I had one woman cuss me out, but I had to keep a smile on my face and go to the next person.

Others come out of CVS and hand me a ham and cheese sandwich or a bag of chips and a Coke.

Street Sense has given me a way out, and I’ve made a lot of good friends there. I look at it as my own business and I appreciate that. Plus, it’s legal. It takes me out of my old devious, illegal ways.

I’m starting to see clearly now and realize I have to stop drinking. I stopped smoking cigarettes, and I can do that with alcohol.

So, world, watch out, ‘cause here I come with loving smiles of success!