Ron Hall never intended to be a best-selling author, let alone a tireless advocate for the homeless or best friends with a man from the mean streets of Fort Worth. Although devastated by the loss of his wife, Deborah, to cancer in 2001, Hall was comfortable – and wealthy – with his life as a successful art dealer.
However, since the summer of 2006, Hall and Denver Moore, the man made famous in their best-selling book, “Same Kind of Different as Me,” have criss-crossed the nation, telling their miraculous story over 500 times in 200 cities and raising over $32 million for homeless shelters.
The duo’s set to release their second book, “What Difference Do It Make?” on Tuesday, Sept. 29.
The book offers updates on Ron and Denver’s lives, some back stories that were not included in the fist book and inspirational accounts from people who read “Same Kind of Different as Me,” and were motivated to “make a difference” in the lives of the homeless in their own communities.
When asked if he and Moore were going to tour in support of the new book, Hall was quick with a response.
“I hope not.”
Until recently, most of the proceeds from the sale of “Same Kind of Different as Me” have been used to fund projects for the homeless, including the Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth.
“The past three years have absolutely sent me to the poor house with my art,” Hall said during a telephone interview from the Dallas home he now shares with Moore. “We’ve funded our mission in Fort Worth and so I’m going to start taking some royalties.”
Moore, who did take some proceeds from the first book, has also become a popular painter.
“Denver has made a good deal of money from his art and book royalties,” Hall explained. There are eight color plates of Moore’s colorful work in the new book. “But he has not been affected by the money. He still wears clothes from the mission and the only purchases I know he’s made are a 14 karat gold cross, a used Toyota, a $30 wrist watch he threw away because he couldn’t read it, and two suits to wear to the White House.”
If Hall had his way, there would have never been a second book.
“In May, I was ready to ditch the whole project,” Hall said. “I really thought I could just post them online. It was a hard thing to write. But our readers wanted to hear our stories and then, all of a sudden, the project started coming together.”
Hall struggled with two aspects of the new book: trying to figure out which ones to tell proved daunting, and finding the perfect format for the updates, the anecdotes and the new stories.
“It was hard to pull all those angles together and it not be just a group of short stories,” he said.
The book’s co-author, Lynn Vincent, and its publishers overcame the formatting hurdle.
The result is a seamless blend of Hall’s story of his difficult relationship with his alcoholic father, Denver’s story of a brutal and complicated life on the streets, along with new voices recounting their efforts to make a difference in the lives of the homeless.
“We’ve received thousands and thousands of e-mails telling us about how our readers were out there changing one life at a time,” Hall explained. “And, we received hundreds of e-mails asking for updates from Denver and me and for new stories.”
Hall and Moore selected some of the most moving stories and forwarded them to their editor, but one of Hall’s favorites didn’t make the cut.
“The one that touched me – that didn’t make it to the book – was about Kathy Izard, the Charlotte, N.C., housewife who called and asked us to speak at her church.
“I said no,” Hall remembers. “We don’t come and speak at churches. We only do fund raisers for the homeless.”
Izard’s reply was, “We don’t have any homeless in Charlotte, N.C.”
Hall responded, “But, Kathy, just look around you. You have homeless people. If you want to do a fund raiser for them, call me.”
Izard replied, “So that’s the only way you’re coming to Charlotte? Okay, I’ll do a fund raiser.”
Hall wasn’t finished resisting.
“I said, No. No. No. No. We have to raise at least $250,000.”
“What?” Izard said.
“I said, at least $250,000.”
“Let me get back to you, Izard said.
Hall said the next thing he knew, Izard had called a couple of her friends, rented the largest ballroom in the city, organized the largest fund raiser in Charlotte’s history and the first one ever for the homeless.
There’s more to the Charlotte story, according to Hall.
“Denver challenged Kathy during our visit,” he explained. “She drove him around the city. He told her that he wanted to see where ‘the poor people were and I want to see where they spend the night.’”
Izard answered Moore, saying, “Well, Denver, we don’t have a place. If we build one, will you come back?”
“Yes, ma’m,” was Moore’s reply.
“They raised $500,000 that night,” Hall beamed. “Within a year and a half, they had raised a million and a half. Their final total is somewhere around $4 million. They’re about to start construction on the first ever homeless shelter in Charlotte, N.C.”
Along with raising money for a new shelter, Izard is now the full time director of the project.
“Here’s a woman who was inspired by ‘Same Kind of Different as Me’ who is really making a difference in her community,” Hall said. “I love her enthusiasm for what she’s doing and the way she is now loving the people who were so unloved by her city – and she didn’t even think they were out there.”
In addition to inspirational stories, “What Difference Do It Make?” also offers updates on the authors’ lives, including a comprehensive look at Hall’s life with an alcoholic father.
“Daddy started out a comical, fun-loving man who retired from Coca-Cola after forty-odd years of service. But somewhere during my childhood, he crawled into a whiskey bottle and didn’t come out till I was grown,” Hall writes at the beginning of Chapter 3.
The rocky between father and son extended to Hall’s wife and their decision to adopt two children.
“He was so against Deborah and me adopting. He got mad and wouldn’t talk to me for a long time. He never called them. He never came to see them. But they loved him in spite of him being who he was, and I found a way to love him.”
Before he died, Hall’s father acknowledged his pride in his son’s accomplishments.
“He wouldn’t read the book,” Hall said, “But before he died, he told a friend, ‘My boy is a writer like that John Grisham.’ It all ended well.”
Moore also recounts memories of his childhood as a sharecropper in Northern Louisiana, some so brutal they will make you weep.
“Aunt Etha and Uncle James didn’t have single book in their shotgun shack ‘cept the Bible. I didn’t know how to read it, though, ‘cause at that time colored children couldn’t go to school. I had heard of some colored children gettin some schoolin in some other places, but on my plantation in Red River Parish, we stayed home and worked in the fields.”
“I worked [without pay] all the way till the 1960s...Then one day when I was grown, I realized I wadn’t never gon’ get ahead. I wasn’t never gon’ be able to pay the Man back what I owed. So I hopped on a freight train that come runnin through the country and wound up in Fort Worth, Texas. Even though I hadn’t ever been outta Red River Parish, I’d heard there was plenty a’ work in the cities. But once I got there, I found out there wad'nt too many folks willin to hire a colored fella who couldn’t read, couldn’t write, and couldn’t figure.”
Not all of Moore’s stories are sad, however. His voice brightens when telling of a trip to the George W. Bush White House to meet the President’s mother, one of Moore’s biggest fans.
Former First Lady Barbara Bush invited Moore to be part of a literacy celebration after finding out Moore had learned to read and write.
“I thought Lupe Murchinson’s house was big, but I hadn’t never seen nothin like that place where the president and his wife live,” Moore says at the beginning of Chapter 19. ... I felt like I had to be dreaming now. Here was the president of the United States, treatin me, a poor homeless man off the street, like I was some important person. I don’t even remember what I said back to him. ... Ain’t nothin that can do something like that but love. The love Miss Debbie had for the homeless carried me all the way to the White House. And while the president still had ahold a’ my hand, God reminded me of that scripture where He says, ‘Through Me, all things are possible.’”
“Miss Debbie” was Hall’s late wife, who had a vision about a “great man who changes the city.” When Debbie and Ron first visited the Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth, Debbie realized the wise man was Moore. She forged a friendship with the homeless man and asked her husband to promise to do the same.
“I didn’t give up because I made that promise to Debbie,” Hall said. “But I had no instant gratification. It’s taken years to see progress with Denver. Years.”
“I don’t recommend just anyone go out and pick up a homeless man and think they’re going to rehabilitate them. You can keep them dry and their bellies full, but you don’t change any lives until you love ‘em. It is love and a relationship that changes lives.”
Debbie’s love for Moore extended beyond the grave and was the reason he quit drinking himself into a stupor every night.
“I didn’t write about it [Moore’s drinking] because our editors asked me not to,” Hall explained. “They didn’t want me to shatter this wonderful vision of Denver.”
The truth is for the first six months after Moore moved into Hall’s house, “I would find him on the kitchen floor, dead drunk, every morning.”
“That’s why I taught him to paint,” Hall said. “I told him, ‘Denver, we need to change your life. You have gifts you don’t know about and your gift is not drinking.’ He didn’t read. He didn’t write. It’s a long process, but the main thing was to get him to quit drinking.”
Occupying Moore’s mind was the first step.
Miss Debbie took care of the rest.
According to Hall, his dead wife came to Moore in a vision one night when he was “sitting in my pickup in the driveway because I wouldn’t let him drink in the house. He’d drink all night out there.”
One night, Miss Debbie appeared to Moore, saying, “Denver, you promised me before I went to heaven that you were going to pick up my torch and carry it. You’ve been living with Ron for six months and you’ve done nothing but sit on your butt and get drunk. It’s time for you to pick up the torch and keep your promise.”
The next morning, Moore was sitting at the breakfast table, stone sober.
Although his drinking binges have slowed, Moore is currently facing health issues.
“He’s had some problems with his lungs after years of heavy smoking,” Hall explained. “He’s been smoking since he was 5. He’s 71. He’s still smoking. He’s dropping weight. He can’t breathe and he’s coughing a lot.”
In addition to breathing problems, Hall says Moore is also having some problems with his memory.
“The last time we were at a speaking engagement [in July], he got up and in five minutes said the same thing three times. When it was over, he couldn’t remember what he said,” Hall recalls.
Moore and Hall will face these challenges together, just as they faced Hall’s serious financial losses last year.
“I was a victim of fraud,” he explained. “It was like one of the Madoff schemes. It wiped me out.”
When Moore learned of Hall’s loss, he said, “Mr. Ron, you ain’t broke. Cuz’ every penny I’ve got you can have.”
“What kind of difference do it make?” It makes all the difference in the world. Just ask Ron Hall and Denver Moore – and the lives that have been affected by their story of acceptance, promises kept and an unconditional love that reaches all the way from Miss Debbie’s new home in heaven and back.
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