Sharing about her family as well as her thoughts on the political landscape seamlessly entered our conversation. “My brother is in the Army and my sisters work at the Capitol in Montgomery. I talked to my brother the other day because I seen it on the news that they were about to start another war and I got scared. I called him and I said, ‘Boy you ‘bout to gear up and go down to the station.’ He said, ‘now shut yo’ mouth’ and we I laughed. I told him to get suited and booted. He done been to Afghanistan, Iraq, and all of ‘em. When he’s gotta go he’s gotta go. I said that’s what y’all get for puttin’ Trump in office. You know that Kim Jong-Un, he got mad and said he gonna start another war. Trump is messin’ with North Korea and they gonna blow us up.”
When we inquired about Sonya’s journey to Wisconsin, she chronicled a story to explain why she moved to another part of the country, and how the local area now represents a place she calls home. “I was with a girlfriend of mine and she was from down south. One day we was in the house and a snake came under the door and she thought it was a stick. She poked at it and it stuck it’s tongue out. I said, ‘That is not no stick.’ We took off runnin’. She went and got her neighbor and he killed it for her. Then the next day she started packin’ up her stuff and her clothes, and I said I wanna go. I wanna go to Wisconsin. She said, ‘We gotta talk to your grandaddy.’ My grandaddy was livin’ at the time and I went down there [to talk to him]. He said, ‘Girl, you want to move to ‘Consin? That sounds like a long way.’ I said, ‘Grandaddy please let me go’ and he said, ‘You gonna come back and see ‘bout me?’ I said, ‘I’ll come back and see ‘bout you’ so he let me go. I've been up here ever since. He didn’t want to let me go, but he did. I've been up here for 35 years. I spent more time up here than I have with my own family back at home. I go home and visit. I go home in the summer. I don’t go home in the winter because it’s too cold. I got famil y in Chicago and it ain’t no joke. This place [Wisconsin], you can make it work if you try. If you try, this is a place where you can make it work if you put your best foot forward.”
Sonya delineated how she arrived at the point of homelessness and what her time on the streets entailed. “I’m not homeless right now. I’m in the hotel, but I was [homeless] for a while. I was in this apartment and then they jacked the rent up and I couldn’t pay it. They want more money than what you got. That’s why a lot of these people are homeless. You are in a college town and we just fall between the cracks. I don’t get thousands of dollars. They act like we in Hollywood or somethin’ and they want all this money for a little bitty crack in the wall. I got evictions on my record. That’s why they won’t give me no place. I have to have a cosigner. Some of these places ain’t worth fifty cents and these houses up here are old as Jack Daniels. They ought to let me stay in that sh*t for free. Put a little paint on it and they want $2,500. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. They want all this money and that’s why most everybody has packed up and left here. They give all the good places to the college kids. I hate to say it, but they do. They don’t do nothin’ but party and tear ‘em up. Their momma’s got all that money and pay for ‘em. Me and my boyfriend used to sleep over there on that ground. We used to be out here for some months on the ground, and we would sleep under the chair [points to bench]. We did that last year for a long, long time and we got tired of sleeping on the ground. We put our money together and got a hotel room. This cold ain’t no joke. This weather is bad and you got people that got Corona so that’s a double whammy. What I don’t understand is you got K-Mart empty, Shopko empty, and all these people that have moved from here. Why can’t you open up these buildings and let these people stay there? I’ve been out here when it’s zero degrees and freezin’.”
Now that Sonya is housed, days look different than her time in the park. She walked us through her typical day. “I get up and say, ‘Thank you Jesus for another day’ and I go on and eat my breakfast. I get on the bus and I come out here [to the park]. Either that or I go to town. Like tomorrow is payday. Tomorrow I am goin’ to get up and go to my favorite restaurant because I’m not cookin’ a biscuit. What makes me happy is eatin’ and steak and potatoes. Steak and potatoes is what I’m goin’ to get tomorrow. I ain’t cooking nothin’. I’m goin’ to sit at somebody else’s table and eat, then do a little shopping, pay my rent, and stay at home. I’ll put a little food in my ‘frigerator and watch me some TV and be at home.”
The message Sonya wanted to convey resembles one of reality, love, and faith. “I want people to help the homeless if they’re able. With this economy, the way it is, you could be next in line. You could be the next one sittin’ out here [in the park]. If I got two dollars, I give somebody one and they’ll remember. Always remember, your reward is not here on Earth, your reward is in Heaven. The good Lord watches everything that you do and when you die, you gonna have to answer to all these things. You don’t want Him to say, ‘I know you not [tryin’ to come to Heaven]. You remember that brother that was sittin’ in that park with nothin’ to eat, nothin’ to drink, and you had your money in your pocket? I blessed you with that and you didn’t give him nothin’ and you think you gonna sit up here next to me?’ That’s why when I see somebody that needs something and I got it, I give it to them. When I get paid tomorrow and somebody says I need somethin’ to eat, I will give them a little money and it ain’t up to me what they do with their money. I did my part by givin’ it to ‘em. That’s how my momma raised me. You could be in the same position. I was in the same position last year. You have to help ‘em and they have to help themselves. That's what the Bible says. People say, ‘You would give people your last dollar. Why do you always do that?’ I say, ‘Cause somebody gave me their last dollar.’ You have to return the favor. You ain’t gonna live forever and when you go and see Jesus and that judgement day comes, I don’t want Him to say, ‘I know you not comin’ up here [to Heaven].’ Pray that this world will be better, for a cure for this Coronavirus, and to get Trump out of office.”
Artist’s Note: Sonya is a glowing firecracker, filled with life, love, and spunk. We are here for every second of it. She reminds us to be thankful for what we have, care for those around us, and to not take life too seriously!