Today is a warmer one than the last few, but it's still a little chilly for bare feet. Kenny White missed that memo. Seated on the sidewalk in front of Lincoln Park, the nineteen-year-old occupation security guard is shoeless, smiley and currently located less than three blocks from the college where he earned so much debt he became homeless.
The irony does not escape him.
Not too long ago, Kenny occupied the Art Institute of Colorado, only a brief walk away from where he now lives on the sidewalk near the corner of Colfax on Broadway. "The weirdest part is that even though my friends all go to school right across the street, none of them has ever seen me here," White says. The former photography major spent one year in college before more than $20,000 in debt crippled his academic future and ruined his credit score. He has spent most of the time since then looking for jobs that don't require degrees.
"I learned that the bureaucracy of college can be a huge scam," White says. "It's insane how much you have to pay for knowledge, and in the end it was so much that I could no longer afford to pursue it. I know I'm at least $20,000 in debt, but it could be as much as $30,000: I'm afraid to look."
Until his decision to move to Occupy Denver, White lived with his aunt and a thirteen-year-old brother named Michael. When his college costs caught up to him and he wasn't able to find a job, his aunt could no longer afford to raise both White and his brother. White's mother lives in a recovery facility after suffering from a stroke, and he doesn't know his father.
White began occupying in an official capacity three weeks ago, and today he represents a number inside the larger statistic of its homeless population. "A lot of the reasons related to why I became homeless are the same things Occupy Denver is fighting for," White says. "Honestly, the first day I came down, I ran into this man over here meditating right now" -- he points to another occupier -- "and we started talking. It was the conversation that convinced me."
White and a handful of others spent three hours discussing religion and psychedelics that first day, and he's come back ever since. For the past week, White has lived in the occupation's first official neighborhood, a satellite area dubbed where a group of fifteen or so people who call themselves the Family of Love sleep across the street from the rest.
"I love the sense of community here, and sometimes I feel like it's our most important quality at Occupy Denver," he says. "I like the tribal system, and I honestly think if the whole word was little communities like this, we'd get more meaning out of our lives."
While half of his job at Occupy Denver depends upon protecting the people there, his biggest worry is that they will instead be ignored. "People don't think we're going to get anything done and that we're just wasting our time here," White says. "We're in the growing pains right now. This is just baby steps. A revolution isn't won in two months."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver protesters want their dog-and-leader to meet with Governor Hickenlooper."
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