It takes something special to give a voice to those who otherwise wouldn’t be heard . . .
To fight for the rights of the most marginalized in our society, the destitute and downtrodden, people too often ignored or overlooked, those in the greatest need.
It takes something special indeed or, perhaps more accurately, someone special; someone like John Joyce.
‘John who?’ you might ask, because there’s a good chance that his isn’t a familiar name. But make no mistake, John Joyce’s importance and achievement can never be questioned.
For those whose cause he championed and whose lives he changed, John Joyce is a ‘bona fide friend and hero’. Here at OM®, we don’t claim to have known John Joyce. But, having read a great deal about him in recent days, there’s no doubt that his passing has caused us great sadness.
John died last month, aged just 50, but before cancer cut his life short, he did immeasurable good and helped innumerable people. For a long time homeless in Providence, John beat the streets but never did he forgot all those he left behind . . .
On the contrary, he dedicated his life to their service, becoming a tireless advocate and activist, fighting for the rights of people long since stripped of the means to stand up and fight for themselves.
John, who spent countless cold nights huddled on the sidewalk outside Rhode Island Hospital, was instrumental in getting the Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights passed into law last summer. It ranked, alongside leaving his old life behind, amongst his greatest achievements.
The Bill that Governor Chafee signed in June strives to prevent discrimination against the homeless, something that John had experienced at first hand. It seeks to protect rights and ensure equal treatment, irrespective of housing and employment status. It demands that homeless people are treated like people – something that, to the shame of us all, cannot often be said to be the case.
‘I wish in this day and age that hatred and bigotry didn’t happen,’ John said in a recent speech. ‘But they do. On a daily basis.’
The fight against such things goes on but, thanks to John and his example, attitudes are starting to change.
‘In your memory, we will continue what you began,’ wrote one mourner in a poignant post on Facebook. ‘You gave the homeless a voice and their dignity.’
This got us thinking . . .
Homeless people need much – food, warmth, clothing and shelter – but, above all, homeless people need kindness and compassion and to be treated like human beings.
Bob Plain, the editor of RIFuture.org, was fortunate enough to have met John before he died and his tribute struck a certain chord with us all here at OM® . . .
‘His job, his mission in life, was to connect with the homeless people of Providence,’ Bob noted. ‘Just to connect with them. After food, water and warmth, connection is the most important human need. John figured if he couldn’t provide the first three, he could provide the fourth.
‘If a place like Heaven exists, I’d love to have been there when John Joyce checked in the other day. ‘We’ve reserved a special suite for you, Mr Joyce,’ St Peter would have said. ‘Your new neighbors, Gandhi and Mother Teresa, will show you the way’.’
John Joyce has left behind quite legacy, in the laws that he helped to introduce and in the rights that he helped to protect. But also in the example that he set and the attitudes that he has changed. Homeless or otherwise, we should all celebrate John Joyce, we should all think long and hard about his take on life and we should all use him as an inspiration.
‘There aren’t many people like John,’ said Jim Ryczek, a close friend, who continues to fight the fight in his role with the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. ‘We are all better for knowing him.’
Here at OM®, where reading about John and the issues that drove him has prompted us to think hard about certain things, we’d like to pay our respects to a special man who has taught us an invaluable lesson . . .