An Update from Nashville's Street Paper: "The Contributor"

Grateful today to share a "Farewell from the Contributor Editor" from our friend Andrew Krinks, who is leaving his post at The Contributor to pursue Ph.D. work in theology. One of the great joys of teaching is watching the manner in which theological seeds spring up unto a harvest much greater than the teacher can imagine or engender or manufacture. Andrew Krinks sat in the back of my basement classroom years ago, his face pondering, wondering, questioning, struggling, realizing. He would give the teacher the finest compliment a student can give a teacher -- to ask to discuss lectures and questions outside of class -- and we would walk and talk, both his heart and intellect full of much goodness and honesty and wonder. He's already done much good work; and we all look forward to this next season of his life. Thank you Andrew.  -- LCC Way back in November 2008, I joined the small, all-volunteer staff of a newspaper sold by a handful of homeless and formerly homeless folks in downtown Nashville. Hired as an editorial intern a year after its founding—the organization’s first paid staff member—at a modest $150 a month, whenever someone asked me back in those days what I did for work, I would say, “I copy edit this street newspaper called The Contributor. Have you ever seen those people selling newspapers downtown?” To which my conversation partners would inevitably respond, “Nope. Never heard of it.”

How things change...

In the early days, back when about 30 vendors distributed a few thousand copies a month, I worked one day a week in our little corner office at the Downtown Presbyterian Church selling newspapers to vendors, transcribing hand-written submissions, writing stories, addressing and mailing subscriptions at the post office, occasionally training new vendors and whatever else needed doing at any given time. As someone with a then emerging interest in the strange and unimaginable phenomenon that was (and is) homelessness in my own city, and with a few years’ worth of decent writing and editing experience, it seemed like a good fit. But “a good fit” doesn’t quite capture what I have experienced these past five years.

When I joined the staff of The Contributor in 2008, the paper was just a tiny seedling, lovingly and imaginatively planted by my friend Tasha, with the help of a small group of crucial and committed volunteers. Today, almost five years later, I am grateful to sit in the shadow of a beautiful, towering tree, its trunk wider than I can reach my arms around, its branches, leaves and blossoms spreading in more directions than I can count. It is, quite simply, a beauty to behold. I did not call this tree into being, but I did water its roots and its soil, prune a few of its branches and toil toward its health along the way. The amazing thing is, in so doing, my own roots have deepened and spread far beyond what I could have imagined back in 2008.

Which is why it is with a strange mixture of sadness and anticipation that I approach August 9, my last day as editor of The Contributor.

In my role as editor, I’ve fumbled along, learning as I go the craft of facilitating the birth of each new issue—this one my 75th—pieced together from the jarring, creative and inspiring stories of people who know what it means to be invisible, unheard and unknown in our communities. As for my abilities, I am not the best editor there ever was—far from it—but I am quite proud of the publication our vendors sell today. I may be biased, but I think we have a pretty good thing going—a publication, and an operation, that stands out in Nashville.

There is little question, however, that The Contributor is what it is today largely because of our vendors. Without the tenacity and tirelessness of many of our earliest, trailblazing vendors, we wouldn’t be here at all. Our vendors—people whose life experiences are as colorful as they are baffling, whose hope and humor despite lifetimes of struggle boggles the mind—have shaped this organization and its publication immeasurably.

But beyond the life of the organization, it is important for me to say that vendors of this newspaper have molded my own personal existence in ways I can only begin to articulate and cannot possibly forget after I step down. Like many people who believe it is their duty to go out and help people who seem to need help, I have discovered that healing, wholeness and justice do not move in one direction only—from the beneficent to the needy. On the contrary, the vendors who make and have made a living selling this newspaper have altered the way I see my place in the world, the way I understand poverty, injustice and suffering, the way I understand myself, and even the way I understand God. I am a different person than I was five years ago, largely because I’ve spent hours, days, weeks, years listening to the stories of people who carry the weight of the world—listening, too, as vendors call out and wave to me on the street downtown. Odd as it may seem to say, in having heard my name so called on the street so many times, I have learned who I am.

But—lest I inch too near romanticizing what is an often fragmentary and always unfinished work and community—let me not fail to mention that a few vendors (they know who they are!) have made me want to pull my hair out on more than a few occasions. And yet, a strange mutual respect and sense of humor often persists, like a deeply rooted tree in a windstorm that will not be moved.

It is with great, great pleasure, finally, that I introduce to you The Contributor’s new editor, Skip Anderson, who comes to The Contributor with decades of experience in quality, mindful and attentive journalism. We are excited for this new era in the life of the organization and publication, and anticipate all that may come next. You'll hear more from him soon.

As for me, I am grateful to be staying in Nashville, with some continued involvement in the organization. First, and the reason for my departure, I will begin doctoral work in religion and ethics at Vanderbilt University starting in late August, with the ultimate goal of becoming an educator. I am aware of the privilege such an education is, and so I am grateful for the opportunity and intend to use it well. Beyond school, I will serve on our newly rotated Board of Directors for a period of time, and I plan to assist in the development of an Editorial Advisory Council that will help to provide important and diverse community perspective and feedback for the editorial staff.

Though this is, in one sense, a farewell, there is also a sense in which The Contributor—its founders, staff, vendors, customers and readers—cannot but remain with me wherever I may go. At a paper release meeting earlier in the summer, I announced my departure to about 200 vendors—a day initially full of nervousness and later full of joy and moving affirmations from many vendors. Afterward, I spent some time with a vendor named Bobbie, one of the sweetest, most inspiring people I know. She was sitting in a pew removed from the rest of the room bustling with vendors when I approached her, a small oxygen tube beneath her nose, and, somehow, a weathered but resolute sense of hope in her eyes. We talked about life, about fear of death, about holding on and keeping faith, about what it feels like when strangers look away from her and other vendors on the street, about how God loves people like her even if passersby don’t.

Before we parted ways, Bobbie left me with a charge I will not soon forget. “When you go and study your religion,” she said, looking me in the eye, “remember these people.”

I will, Bobbie. I will.

Andrew Krinks Editor The Contributor