Staying StreetWise with Louis Hale

Frani O’Toole

           For its 125th anniversary, Latin celebrates the idea of community; Louis Hale, one of our schools newest members, offers us a new, expanded definition of community. As both a Latin traffic guard and a StreetWise vendor, Louis’s community is with Near North locals, StreetWise, Latin, and others. To each group, Louis adds his own charisma and personality, something I was fortune enough to experience during our interview last Thursday.

        I met with Louis in front of Potash, where he goes to sell StreetWise after directing Latin traffic. Just after we started, Louis stopped the interview to return a woman’s shopping cart for her. Five minutes later, we had to pause again so he could talk to a woman whose dog he had been watching in front of Potash. There were many of these interruptions– interruptions that revealed as much about Louis’s kind character as the interview itself did. “I think it’s a good thing that I be here,” Louis says, “and that I don’t let the stigma bother me.” Here, Louis touches on the kind of prejudice some StreetWise vendors encounter; even though the organization’s purpose is for its “vendors to have a hand-up not a hand-out,” there still exists a certain “stigma.” Nonetheless, Louis is determined to “not worry about what other people think and say, but to stay focused on the long term and the whole picture.” So far, that strategy has worked phenomenally. He moved in the area about six years ago, following a suggestion from “just a guy off the street.” When he arrived, however, there was already another vendor working at the location. “The vendor had another job on top of StreetWise” Louis says, “but he would let me work it. He finally got his job stabilized, and then he let me have it. That’s what basically I would do, when I’m ready to do it.” In hoping to become a mentor for future vendors, Louis exemplifies the purpose of StreetWise. He has used it to its full advantage — as a stepping stone, a gateway into the community, a chance to develop relationships. Maybe that’s why StreetWise is already planning to feature him in a cover article.

        It all started in front of Potash. The day he scheduled his first interview with Latin.  Louis says “Mr. Dunn came to the door and some voice in my head just told me to ask for the job, and I listened.” After that, Louis started communicating with his Latin customers, all of them eager to write recommendations on his behalf. “The people in the community rallied around me, as far as references,” Louis says, “Mr. Dunn was flooded with e-mails.” This “rallying” is an example of how powerful Latin’s voice can be, and the potential it has to change people’s lives. That said, it takes a special kind of person to arouse this kind of support. As one parent wrote in her recommendation to Mr. Dunn, Louis just has “the character and integrity to do whatever it takes.”

        What else about Louis and his character? A Chicago-native, Louis has lived in the city most of his life. He spent two years in the navy, stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. He’s a self-described “history fanatic,” who is particularly knowledgable about the area around Latin. He sometimes goes to Moody church services, went to the Chicago History Museum for Mother’s day, and is a graduate of Second City. While many students appreciate the neighborhood for its many lunch options, Louis takes advantage of all the area has to offer. He’s so involved, in fact, that he “has aspirations of giving history tours as maybe a tour guide in the neighborhood.”

        At this moment, however, Louis is devoted to Latin. While us students can take Latin for granted, Louis deeply values the opportunities Latin has given him: he says, “The job is building my character, changing me […] it has really made me into a better person.” And vice versa.