Photo of Angie reading poetry in front of a microphone.
Bryan Bello

“I wasn’t supposed to be at Street Sense.”

This is how Angie Whitehurst chooses to explain why her story is not a very interesting one to share. Conversely, this is exactly why it is.

A native Washingtonian, Whitehurst has watched the District evolve since her birth in 1952. Now 62, she reflects on the city’s growth slowly, carefully choosing each word in order to get every detail correct. She eventually chooses to describe the city of her childhood as a “slow, sleepy, happy town.” As she grew older though, she noticed the segregation. She describes segregated stores, where blacks were only allowed to buy clothes at certain hours, but not allowed to return them, and segregated schools, where blacks were offered an education that was separate and sometimes inferior to the schooling offered to white students.

However, Whitehurst did not receive subpar schooling. She was never supposed to be at Street Sense, remember? She says she went to good public schools- some black, some primarily white, and eventually graduated from Connecticut College. How did she end up where she was never supposed to be? Family demands and serious health problems including fibromyalgia and a stroke all challenged her stability.

Prior to becoming a Street Sense vendor, Whitehurst bought papers from vendors on the street. One day, she recalls fondly, she picked up a paper at the McPherson Square Metro station and decided to read the section regarding how to become a vendor. Soon enough, she was attending an introductory training session for new vendors. Whitehurst admits it took her three tries to actually complete the training. Why? “Murphy’s Law” is how Whitehurst chooses to explain that she was continually pulled away by family needs, medical appointments and other demands. Eventually, however, she earned her vendor’s badge and now sells papers with the same quiet determination that has helped her in other areas of her life.

When asked what Whitehurst most wants people to know about her, she responds that she doesn’t “really want anyone to know anything” about her. Laughing, she explains that although she tends to be a private, shy person, she recognizes the importance of sharing her story to help others. Her life motto? “Do no harm” are the words Whitehurst tries to live by. She tries to help and encourage her friends, offer them a kind word, a smile or a joke because, “humor keeps people from falling into deep-seated depression.”

Whitehurst describes herself as a “self-employed unemployable person,” a kind of freelancer. Her main passion is writing poetry, which she first learned of at a young age from a decorated World War II veteran. She recalls him reciting to her the poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer. Whitehurst smiles as she recites the opening lines:

“I think that I shall never see
a poem lovely as a tree.”

The jury is still out: is there a poem as lovely as a tree? If there is, Whitehurst just may have written it.