“I’ve led an interesting life.”
Kenneth “Kenny” Bridgeman has indeed had a very interesting life. He was born on a reservation in Alabama, as a part of the Creek Indian tribe. He had a big family growing up as one of eight siblings. Sadly, a car crash killed some of his family members and altered the course of his life. After the accident, what remained of his family became scattered, and Kenny found himself in and out of boys homes or else staying with relatives. Kenny found himself drifting a lot from place to place as a youth. At 14, while living with his grandmother,
he started working in a mill. He fondly remembers coming home late every night to his grandmother, who would wait up for him and talk with him until the early hours of the morning. His grandmother was also trained as a traditional medicine-woman, and in turn taught him.
Eventually, he was brought to New Orleans in 1960 and was living at the Milne Boy’s Home. He stayed in New Orleans until the draft during the Vietnam War forced him to relocate to Atlanta for basic training. Instead of joining the Army during the draft, Kenny instead volunteered to join the marines, and stayed in the military for eight years. When he finally left the service, he had achieved the rank of Gunnery Sergeant. After volunteering for every training he could, he eventually saw combat and somehow survived.
“I’ve been shot, stabbed, set on fire, and blown up twice- but I’m still here. A lot of my friends from then aren’t”.
However, Kenny is also grateful for the experiences he was able to have while in the service. He had lost most of his family by the time he joined the marines, and therefore did not have anyone to visit during leave- so instead he traveled. In his lifetime, he has seen at least 27 different countries, and he loves learning about other cultures. Thanks to his experiences and his own determination, he can speak Creek Indian, Ojibwe (Chippewa Indian), Apache, French, and Spanish!
After the war, Kenny was not told of resources or help available to veterans, and so he taught himself skills to try and make an honest living. Over the years, his remaining siblings had mostly turned to more unscrupulous methods, but Kenny wanted a different path for himself. “I learned how to be a painter and I learned how to be a carpenter… I don’t cheat, lie, or steal.” Eventually, he became a licensed contractor.
Sadly, Kenny’s troubles were not over- he has outlived two wives and one of his two biological children. He became father to the three children of his second wife, but following her death they drifted apart. Now, all that he has left is his son, one brother, and a niece and nephew.
Before losing his second wife, Kenny owned and worked land with her. However, after her loss, he became depressed and could no longer keep up the work by himself. Eventually he found himself drifting back to the streets of New Orleans.
After returning to New Orleans, Kenny was homeless for eight years. During that time, he spent a lot of his days at the Rebuild Center. Kenny even remembers when the Rebuild Center was first opened. He is very grateful for the services given to him by staff and volunteers at the Rebuild Center. “This place has always been a godsend for people who are poor…They really help a lot of people”. Finally, two years ago, Hope Center and the VA helped him get housed. He says that it is all thanks to his Case Manager that he was finally able to get proper housing.
Now, Kenny works side jobs when he can, and has been searching for more steady work. He helps out with repairs every now and then at the Center too. He spends a lot of his time reading every book he can get his hands on. He is comfortable, and does his best to repay kindness to others. He has been known to open his heart and home to those in more need. In fact, just recently, he met a young woman with mental disabilities on the street who was lost and confused. Kenny offered her “supper and a shower” and brought her to the Rebuild Center. He helped her contact her father and made sure that she had a way home.
Kenny has certainly led a colorful life, but he has never forgotten his roots. He keeps his hair long, following the Indian tradition of only cutting his hair when he is mourning. He has not cut his hair in 17 years, since he lost his second wife. He smiles as he remembers the love and kindness he’s experienced over the years through the different channels of life.
“You’ve got to have a sense of humor in this life. It’s better to laugh than to cry.”
Kenny has had some rough times, and experienced some terrible losses. Still, he perseveres. He has learned that life goes on, and he keeps moving forward.
“When you don’t give up and quit, things will eventually change for you.”
Kevin is a guest of the Rebuild Center who is currently waiting to be placed into a permanent supportive housing program. Here are his responses to the question “What gives you strength and encouragement to carry on?”
“I have realized that the past struggles that I have experienced are not put there to hurt me – but to show me who I can be as a person and to learn from those struggles. Also, I
realized that nothing remains the same in life and that it is important – in the midst of struggle – to carry on to the next phase of my life.
I have a strong motivation to carry on. I know that if I don’t give up and quit, things will eventually change for me.
I believe that there are 4 steps to creating positive change I want to see in my life:
- Placing myself around positive persons
- Winning the trust of these positive persons
- Opportunity will come your way through associating with positive persons
- After opportunity, then progress will begin. Where there is progress, there is hope.”
Want to read more stories of courage from HTC guests? Click here to go to the archive.