Never Giving Up On Giving Back
I have a big issue with loneliness. Which is why–when I was five years old and I came to New York City for the first time–seeing homeless people had an enormous impact on me.
I was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, which I’ve always described as Depressionville, USA. In some of my song lyrics, I like to point out that all the trees in the area are weeping willows—so even the trees are sad. You walk down the streets and the only things open are the local strip clubs and some delis and stuff like that. It’s not a happy place. But my mother got us out of there when I was very young and we spent a summer in Cape Cod. There she fell in love with this gentleman named Brian and moved us to New York City.
Soon as I get here, I instantly became obsessed with New York, and being a New Yorker. It was also when I began noticing homeless people. You know, as a kid sometimes things have a much bigger impact on you. That had a huge impact on me. I saw them and I just felt incredibly bad for somebody who had to live on the street or didn’t have anyone.
My mom and I eventually moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn. To keep things afloat and pay the rent, my mother had to work all the time. I was an only child, so she had to trust me to handle myself on my own and not get into any mischief. I would go to school in the morning and she’d still be sleeping, and by the time I got home she’d have gone to work. I’d see her on the weekends, but even then she’d sometimes take a double shift so she could make extra money. So I never saw my mother and I was alone all the time, fending for myself.
As for my father, well…he was a bad guy. Drug dealer. Drug addict. Kind of a desperado type. He was living in Miami during this time and my mom sent me down to him for a couple of summers. I got into some very tough situations with him. He always put me in bad environments. I was literally involved in drug deals. Crazy stuff. He was in Miami to collect shipments of cocaine from wherever and then smuggle them back to Massachusetts. He would supply Springfield with drugs. It was insane. They say a lot of people join the military because they are trying to find the family they don’t have, and I think that’s exactly what I did. Because right after high school, I joined the Marine Corps.
I served four years in the Marine Corps, deployed all over the world: South America, Africa, the Middle East…but when I came home, and was kind of a lost puppy again. Not really sure what I was doing. Didn’t have a job. But I’ve always really loved music. So I started rapping. I started writing poetry at first, then I started rapping. And I started liking it so much that I began going to the corner where all the rappers would hang out. I started getting good. I thought, I like this, I’m getting good at this, maybe I should take this somewhere. It became a positive outlet for me coming out of the military, having a lot of frustration and anger inside. Music helped me stay focused on something. Eventually, Michael Dustin Youree and I formed the band PushMethod.
When you have a voice, you have a choice. Stand by and say nothing, or stand up and speak out. Homelessness in NYC is at levels equal to that of the Great Depression. THIS SUNDAY you can do your part and party by bringing a warm hoodie to MetLife stadium. 5pm – Bud Light Beer Garden. Be a part. Join the movement. #HaveMyHoodie
Boom! We had a band. We started recording music. Started doing shows in New York City. After three or four years of doing that, we kind of asked ourselves, OK, what are we really doing? Are we really going after a record deal? Is our music making any type of a difference? Is it making people think? What are we doing with our music? When I asked myself that question, I found myself thinking about New York City. How much I loved it, and how much I wanted to help it in some way. I also remembered the empathy I felt for homeless people and their loneliness and lack of connection. How can we use music to turn it into action to help these people? And that was the birth of Hoodies for the Homeless. Michael and I together with Monica Barbuti put the concept together.
The idea started at a place called The Hoodie Shop on the Lower East Side, in 2015. We did a show and asked people to donate a hoodie as their ticket in. I was working as an A/V technician with the advertising agency Havas, and the CFO liked the idea so much he decided he’d donate $50 for every hoodie we collected. Without much promotion, over 500 people came to that first show. He ended up writing me a $10,000 check. I took that money that set up another event, at the Brooklyn Bowl. That night, we collected over 2,500 hoodies.
We knew we had something here.
From there, we teamed up Eric Rojas, CEO at Leijas, an exciting new agency focused on brands that are determined to leave a dent in pop culture, became an LLC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and we just grew from there. We’ve done more events in the city, as well as a European tour where we tested the waters in cities like London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris, and others. We did shows and donated to local homeless shelters in those areas. We were able to fund that thanks to a partnership with the New York Giants.
This past December 10th, the Giants hosted Hoodies for the Homeless Day at MetLife Stadium, and we collected thousands of hoodies. We’re still really tight with them, and this year we’re going to be doing something even bigger at one of the games. But we took all of the hoodies we collected that day, and we opened up a pop up shop for a week on Hudson Street—which we called For the Greater Hood. We reached out to all the New York City shelters and we told them about it and let them know that it was a place where the homeless could come and shop for free. Hundreds of homeless people came to the location, leaving with bags and bags of clothes for themselves and clothes they could give to friends and family or what have you. During the middle of it, another homeless organization got wind of it and sent over more than 300 pairs of new sneakers for us to give out as well. It was an incredibly humbling situation.
So much #HoodiesForTheHomeless goodness yesterday at MetLife Stadium. Tons of hoodies. Tons of fun. That’s the way we roll. And it’s a big week! Cold Yoga with @deandreyoga and @reefpointyoga on Wednesday at @citylinedfw. And then a BIG gift to our at risk family of NYC – the pop-up shop – #ForTheGreaterHood.
We developed a relationship with Live Nation and Founders Entertainment, who created the Governor’s Ball, and became an official part of Governor’s Ball and the Meadows Festival—setting up booths and encouraging people to bring hoodies to donate. We’ll be doing our own event in June that’s going to be a fund raiser with a group called Overthrow. Overthrow is a really awesome boxing gym, and they do a lot of events where some of their fighters spar for donations.
We continue to broaden our reach and cultivate new connections. Two of the biggest companies in the cannabis industry—The Growbiz and General Hydroponics—recently brought PushMethod out to San Francisco where we played a show and gathered up over 1,000 hoodies—which went to help area shelters and those affected by the wildfires that hit Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties last year.
As for the future, my dream is to one day have Hoodies for the Homeless be its own music festival. Music is where it all started and music will always be a part of this. I’m also working on a device called The Good Hood, which will have technology built into it designed to help aid in survival on city streets, whether you’re homeless or just someone whose hustle depends on being on the street. We are looking at the next level, and we will continue to grow this idea so long as people keep responding to it and we see tangible impact on the people we’re here to help.
Tavis Eaton is a musician and founder of Hoodies for the Homeless. For more information on Hoodies for the Homeless events and initiatives, check out the PushMethod official site.