Photography and Story by Brenton Gieser
A few rows down on Del Seymour's iPhone camera roll is a short, grainy, awkward video selfie of him and Michelle Obama together at the White House. In the video, Del is holding the camera at a high enough angle to unintentionally yet rather artistically crop out the bottom half of his face, as the former first lady floats through the frame. Del hollers some muffled words towards Mrs. Obama and right on cue, she pivots, looks into the camera and throws up...deuces.
Typically, a former homeless addict, dealer, and pimp wouldn't be able to step foot in the White House let alone get within a few feet of the First Lady of the United States, however, the Mayor of the Tenderloin and his story is anything but typical. Late in 2016, Del temporarily ascended beyond his role as the people's Mayor of the Tenderloin, to the Mayor of San Francisco for three days. His task: to politick with our country's large city mayors, and the first lady herself. This honor and responsibility alone would be a defining success for nearly anyone, but for a man who spent nearly 20 years of his life, seemingly lifeless on the streets of the Tenderloin, this was simply a byproduct of his success.
Today, when the public acknowledges the man who Del Seymour has become, it generally involves being awestruck by the determination, will, and resolve it required to make such a monumental 180 degree turn. It includes celebrating the actualization of the man's brilliance which was lying dormant on the city streets for decades, only to now be in service of the city's poor. Although all the praise that comes Del's way is not hollow, it's often incomplete. To praise the result is to ignore the chronically tumultuous journey, as well as the people along the way that served the man who has now dedicated his life to serving others. There is no Del Seymour without Walter Hughes, the man who through donating a suit to Del became his road back to god and the mainstream world. There is no Del Seymour without Michael Blecker, the Executive Director of Swords to Plowshares who helped Del tap into meaningful work by allowing him to provide resources and opportunities to disadvantages veterans like himself. There is no Del Seymour, without the Tenderloin, and community often eager to celebrate stories of redemption; stories like Del's and stories like the ones he's helping create through his work today.