An Underdog’s Approach

James Shearer
Spare Change News

The other day a student who was doing a project on Spare Change asked me why I do what I do? Meaning helping the homeless, and why I’m so dedicated to it? And what led me to sticking with Spare Change?

Even though I was vocal about how it wouldn’t work, I didn’t really have an answer for her. And the one I came up with wasn’t really working for me.

Now, as I begin my final month as board president, I believe I know the reason.

Most of my life I’ve always felt like an underdog. Oh, I’m quite sure I didn’t know that way back when, it takes years of therapy to draw it out. But I know that I never seemed to measure up, while this can have an adverse affect on some, I used that feeling to motivate me.

In elementary school in Kentucky, I was smaller than most of the kids my age, and so naturally I was made fun of, a lot of kids didn’t want to hang out with me except for kids who were considered outcasts like me. So I guess you can say I set out to have better grades than everyone. I had to read better, spell better, do math better.

My early report cards served as bragging rights for my parents and grandparents. When I moved to New York it was much the same way, I also never really accepted being bullied either. Even winning a citywide reading contest in 4th grade seemed like an uphill battle—though if you listened to my reading teachers it was in the bag.

With high school came sports, and naturally I was too short for just about everything. I didn’t care, I went out for and made the football team, all four years. Same with basketball and baseball.

People say I was so driven that I had a Napoleon complex (let me go on the record and say I never had hopes of conquering the world). I also began to write at this time, which was successful. But somewhere along the way my underdog complex became arrogance and I began to use it for all the wrong reasons.

Plus I became more and more frustrated as it seemed that the harder I worked, the more obstacles I had to overcome. School and hard work went out the window, oh it surfaced here and there while I was homeless, determined to get off the street and turn my life around, but each time giving way to my overconfident and cocky attitude.

But it wasn’t until my late 20’s that that old underdog side of me began to stir again. Spare Change was not the first attempt by me and my friends to get off the streets. We had come up with many other ideas to make money, all legal, and all failed, which led to my naysay attitude when the whole idea of creating a newspaper came about.

We kept running into obstacles, homelessness, people saying we couldn’t do it, threats (yes threats) you name it, but we kept fighting, we were underdogs and we were fighting for underdogs, and we just had to keep going. No running away for me this time, it was sink or swim. We decided to swim; today I don’t feel like an underdog (well, most of the time I don’t). But I still fight for them, every single day and that, my friends, will never change.

JAMES SHEARER is a co-founder and board president of Spare Change News.



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