Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together, by Ron Hall & Denver Moore
What an amazing, tender and engaging book!! This true story, outlined by the extended title, is a glimpse into an era of labor trafficking in the United States that is, thankfully, almost extinct in its more abusive forms here: sharecropping. Denver grew up in this setting, and worked the better part of his life under the constraints of “slavery by another name.” He didn’t recognize it as such, and perhaps the beneficiaries of his labor didn’t define it that way either, but sharecropping is what evolved after the Civil War in many areas of the United States. While a quick review of the term shows it can be beneficial to both land owners and farmers, this was most definitely not the case in Denver’s case.
The early pages of the book explore partisan sharecropping as the baseline of Denver’s life. But in his thirties, Denver makes a break! He runs away from the land, the life he knows, the company store (with accumulated debt) and the bossman. This second era of his life is defined by poverty, frustration and homelessness. As a five year old, working in the cotton fields, education was never an option – leaving him as an illiterate adult, and at a serious disadvantage in life beyond “working the land.” In his frustration and anger, he commits a felony, really, an act of desperation rather than aggression, which lands him in prison.
Ron Hall, and his wife Deborah, meet Denver while volunteering at a homeless shelter in Fort Worth, Texas. Denver is out of prison at this point, angry, isolated and dispossessed. Deborah, the visionary, whose idea it was to volunteer at the shelter (despite Ron’s misgivings) sends Ron in pursuit of Denver. This is where the meat of the story unfolds into a delightful banquet of understanding, compassion and as a friendship blossoms between these two men.
Oh, did I mention that Ron happens to be a very wealthy, successful international art dealer whose grandfather’s farm was worked by sharecroppers? Yes… That is an important detail as both men must work through their own inaccurate paradigms and expectations as the relationship evolves.
There is a sad aspect to the story though… Deborah is diagnosed with cancer. Her struggles with this illness, which eventually takes her life, is the backdrop for the deepening connection between Denver and Ron.
This book offers salient insight for what we are doing at Hepzibah House. It provides a compassionate perspective of poverty, through the lens of Denver’s life. Proverbs 13:23 gives critical information regarding poverty: A poor person’s farm may produce much food, but injustice sweeps it all away (NLT). Denver’s poverty was not about lack of motivation or effort. It was much more a function of the injustice he experienced and expectations he embraced as a result. These are often critical factors in the lives of the women we serve – and must be addressed in the process of restoration.