The art of the story
„The Pope and I“
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No one is born a racist. The brutal police action that led to the death of the African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis (USA) at the end of May 2020 triggered protests against racism worldwide. Thousands also took to the streets in Hamburg under the slogan “Black Lives Matter” on 6 June that year.
Eugene was there. The 50-year-old is one of the few black people among the Hinz&Kunzt sellers. Born in Nigeria, he joined Hinz&Kunzt at the end of 2016. He also experiences marginalisation on Hamburg’s streets repeatedly: ” Unfortunately, you can find the character traits of the police officers in Minneapolis everywhere in the world,” says Eugene in English, his native language, with which he feels more confident in conversation. “I’ve travelled a lot, lived in different countries, and I have to say, ‘Racism is a global problem.'”
That is why he welcomes the budding protests. They give him hope. “Nobody is born a racist,” says Eugene. “You bring a black baby and a white baby together, and they will play and laugh. It’s society and its classifications that make people hate and reject each other.”
Very often, those who are already marginalised suffer the most. Eugene knows what he is talking about: four years ago, he lived in the Pik As emergency shelter. And then his life came to a turning point: The devout Christian had the chance to accept an invitation from the Pope to visit Rome in 2016, along with some 100 other homeless people from Hamburg. On the way, he met Hinz&Kunzt social worker Stephan Karrenbauer, who later arranged a place for him in the Hinz&Kunzt winter emergency programme.
A real new beginning for Eugene. The once-successful businessman had fallen deeply. He first came to Europe almost ten years ago to earn money in the clothing industry.
Initially, things went well. He had his own boutique in Athens. But at the height of the Greek financial crisis in the mid-2010s, Eugene ran into financial difficulties and had to give up his business. Like many others, he sought his fortune in Germany. But he found no work, became ill on top of that and ended up as an asylum seeker with no real prospects.
It was only when he travelled to Rome that his life took a turn for the better. After the Hinz&Kunzt winter emergency programme ended, he even found a flat and a way out of homelessness.
While his life changed incredibly quickly, he has no illusions about society. “Racism didn’t happen overnight,” says Eugene. “The problem developed over generations. It will take a long time to get racism out of people’s minds.” Nevertheless, Eugene remains optimistic in the face of the protests: “When I look around now and see what is happening, I have to say: ‘The journey has begun’.”
Eugene sells Hinz&Kunzt in front of the supermarket Rewe in Max-Brauer-Allee.
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Text: Jonas Füllner
Foto: Mauricio Bustamante