Ron Pulliam has been attending our weekly Wednesday meals on and off for the past 6 years. He’s also a regular participant in our “chair yoga” program.
Ron’s trim, athletic build and thoughtful demeanor make him appear younger than his 57 years — which he credits to his devotion to martial arts. He’s studied Japanese karate for nearly a decade at a local dojo and has reached the brown belt level.
Meeting him for the first time, you might also be surprised to learn that Ron has spent much of the last 30 years of his life homeless.
“I try to help other people. One person helping another, is what makes the world better off.”
Ron’s story is one of not enough ups and lots of downs. The sixth of 12 children, he left school and home on Chicago’s South Side after the 10th grade. He spent the ensuing years “hustling merchandise” on the L trains, resulting in numerous run-ins with the police and jail time. Often times the only place he had to sleep was on a bus or in a hospital emergency room.
During a calmer period in his life, he married and had three sons, two of whom have lifelong disabilities. The family didn’t stay together, and Ron drifted again to the streets. By this time, he felt he had lost everything.
“I didn’t have an ID, or a birth certificate, or a social security card. It’s like I didn’t exist.”
Things began to change for Ron when he met a man on the L who ran a dojo. The man offered him a place to stay in return for keeping the dojo clean. Ron performed general maintenance while taking the classes there, and soon devoted his life to the practice of martial arts. He even became good enough to teach other students.
During this time, Ron also found help through a local non-profit to get a copy of his birth certificate and apply for a state ID. The next step, he says, was to get a job.
Through the help of The Chicago Help Initiative’s jobs program, Ron signed up with a temp agency and found work with a factory in Forest Park, where he now works the early morning shift, requiring him to wake up at 1 am and navigate public transportation to punch the clock by 3:45 am and put in a 12-hour day. Ron services the machines for better than minimum wage, but the hours aren’t regular. Still, he’s grateful for the work and the paycheck. Now living temporarily with his niece, Ron is hoping to save enough to get a place of his own and transition to a permanent job.
Ron has also referred several other men who attend our meals to apply for open positions at the factory, and two are now working there on a temporary basis as well.
“I try to help other people,” says Ron. “I want what everyone wants — respect, love, and opportunity. The guys who got the jobs, they wanted to pay me. I said, ‘hey, as long as you’re working you’re paying me back.’
“One person helping another, is what makes the world better off. That’s my pay.”