The Beautiful Struggle of Poetic Justice


Eduardo Perme

(Pictured: Justice “DOAP” Butler) HCC student, poet and activist Justice Butler shares her struggle from homelessness to HCC.

Jimmieka Mills, Editor in Chief

“Out of all the things I thought I would be, homeless was not one of them.”

Poet, activist and Houston Community College student, Justice Butler aka DOAP has experienced many challenges in her life, but becoming homeless was a considerable low.

Things weren’t always bad, she worked at a Verizon Wireless call center doing Technical support for 7 years before the call center closed and she found herself without an occupation or housing.

“For a month I slept in the back of my friend’s truck, until it was involved in an accident. From that point I was staying wherever I could.”

Her situation would teach her a valuable lesson about the way society views those experiencing homelessness “What I learned from living on the street is that all homeless people are put in one category. You’ve got people with alcohol issues, drug issues, mental issues, physical disabilities, people who are military veterans that shouldn’t be out there but you don’t know any of that because you’re putting them all in one category.  I lost my job I don’t know anything about this life. I’m standing here talking to people whose lives have been nothing like mine. I admit that I thought like that before I found myself homeless. Their struggles had always been struggles. My story was totally different. I had come from the working world.”

After her grandmother’s passing Justice began taking courses at San Antonio college as a way to deal with her loss but quickly found that the trauma was too great and dropped out.

“I didn’t even realize I was going through major depression. My friends would say, ‘You have a great smile!’ and I would ask them, ‘Have you ever heard that song, tears of a clown?’ I’m smiling on the outside but inside I’m so down.’

Although she felt down on the inside, on the outside things were looking up. She had returned to college this time, at University of Houston Downtown, and started working in the profession she loved “I spent so much time at KTSU that I learned how to work the boards and eventually was given an hour to play music. Within a short period of time that hour slot increased to Monday, Wednesday and Friday and when they offered me a receptionist position I took it.”

However, when Justice found out she would have to be a college senior in order to work the boards as a student at U of H, she chose to leave the University refusing to go to school for a skill she had learned hands on in a field she was already working in.

Her show began to take off, immediately gaining popularity for its unique drops which helped her to conceal her true identity while on the air, “I was really shy and never wanted the attention that people would give on-air personalities so I created the Flight captain. When the show would come on it’d say, ‘The flight captain is ready please board at gate 909’ and then you’d hear the plane taking off. At the end of the show it would say ‘Your flight has ended thanks for flying the urban waves.”

Despite her success she continued to feel alone, and consumed with the memory of the loss of her number one supporter.

“I felt like I was just walking this earth, like a zombie, and I just had to get away from Houston because the memories were so heavy. This is where my grandmother raised me all my life and I thought she was going to be there to watch not only my graduation but also watch me become successful.”

The memories of her grandmother ran far deeper than Houston; her grandmother had been Selma Wells, the first African American and first female appointed to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and her legacy in Texas history ran deep.

“I went to LA and became Justice. I didn’t want to keep my grandmother’s name because I felt I would be living in her shadows and every time I was called Selma I was reminded of her.”

While in LA she continued to find success in radio and as a comedy promoter which helped to keep her relatively sane, but her mental and emotional scars began to creep back in.

“I wasn’t ok I was suicidal, I wanted to kill myself. I didn’t have the heart to inflict the pain of a bullet or poisoning instead I starved myself. I took muscle relaxers mixed with wine coolers and went out driving one evening and side swiped 3 cars came home and parked my car in the garage. I probably shouldn’t have made it but God wasn’t ready for me.”

She would eventually find herself in Miami helping as a supervisor with the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts before returning to Houston. Her steady income and system of supporters through her position at Verizon Wireless along with her faith would help her readjust mentally.

She had all but given up on God after her grandmother’s death, even beginning to practice Buddhism during her time in Los Angeles. But through her experience with homelessness it would be God that she would give the credit for getting her through.

“There was a part in the bible where everybody had a purpose, and I used to be so sad and would say ‘What does God have for me?’ Through homelessness I realized God placed me here to be a messenger.”

It was through learning her own purpose that she found a way to truly cope with her grandmother’s loss. It wouldn’t be by trying to forget, but, by doing everything she could to make sure her grandmothers memory would live forever through her own actions.

“I said to myself, ‘She is here, she’s just not here in the flesh but she is here. I feel her spirit all the time, so what else can I do to make things good?’ Well, she instilled a lot of great things in me and these things were hereditary, they were a part of her. She is where I get my extra giving heart from—so I’m going to keep her memory alive by the great things she instilled in me, keeping those alive by embodying that.”

After initially being against a suggestion by a fellow homeless man to hold a sign in order to get spare change, she embraced the idea as a way to send messages that would personalize her struggle for the passing motorists.

“I wanted to do something different I didn’t want to just hold a sign that said help me I’m homeless, I figured if I’m standing out here you know I’m homeless. My signs would say, ‘Just a smile can make my day’, ‘Never thought I would be this low, anything helps’ or ‘Need an Earth Angel.’ That way when people would read it they’d be like wow, she used to be in my position. Sometimes at a stop light they’d want to know my story and I’d share a little bit.”

Her creative signs made her familiar with the passing motorist, members of the local community as well as police officers in the area. “I remember giving to the homeless when I was working and I was struggling, so, I would make origami birds to give out to them [motorist]. They are all going through something as well, we’re all struggling “

Justice documented her entire struggle throughout homelessness on her Instagram page where followers got to experience her journey.

“I remember posting, ‘I slept with the angels last night’ and people thought it was something poetic, in fact I actually slept outside and the angels protected me. I slept at bus stops and slept on a park bench jumping up every few minutes because I was afraid of being attacked.”

She began to build bonds among the homeless community and vowed that no matter how long or short her tenure through homelessness would be, she would come back for them.

“I made a promise when I was out there holding that sign. Those people out there became like my family.”

A few chance encounters with old friends would set her on her path to once again return to college and secure housing.

“One of my old friends ran into me holding my sign and after telling her what had been going on with me, she encouraged me to enroll at HCC. I credit that with saving me from a dark place.”

With the encouragement of her friend she applied for her FAFSA, was awarded financial aid and officially enrolled at HCC.

“I had friends but I didn’t let them know what was going on with me. In fact, I had one friend who stayed down the street from where I had been holding my sign and I knew it would only be a matter of time before she saw me and one day she did. She offered to allow me to move in with her but I refused until I felt like I would be able to pay her rent.”

Justice continued to hold her signs until she was able to save up $600 to pay her friend rent and then she moved in.

“I had always told them while we were out there homeless, ‘I’m going to back to school and then I’m coming back to get y’all.’ It was an urgency, so as soon as I got into school, I wanted to start doing things.”

Even after she found stable housing she would still go out with her sign, this time, as a show of appreciation to the motorist who had found it in their hearts to stop to chat, honk in support, or spare what they could monetarily.

“On Christmas day I went out with a sign that said:

‘Because of you I’m not homeless. “A” student, thank you for believing, bless you.’ I wanted to let people know, this is what your money did to help me, these are the results”

One day while she was holding one of her thank you signs she was approached by a motorist with a story that would open her eyes to the true impact she had been making on others.

“Before she turned she gave me $20.  I said, ‘No ma’am I’m here just to thank you guys.’ She said, ‘No you changed my son’s life!’

The woman’s son had followed Doap on social media and interviewed her for a school assignment. “She said, ‘You just don’t know who you inspire and touch.’

That was really touching to me, I almost cried.” Recalls Butler.

Justice’s dream is to continue to spread her message of positive promotions and serving through her own musical genre called Music Poetry, which incorporates, poetry with a mix of other genres—for now her music is categorized as either world or alternative—her social media platforms which boasts over 42,000 followers on Twitter alone and through the non-profit she is working to start which will support and employ the homeless. “I feel like the homeless would know the struggle better than anyone else. I feel they will be more passionate and willing to make change happen.”

She also hopes to start a bicycle shop that will also employ the homeless.

She even sees herself running for council one day. After shedding light on a broken water line – that had been a neighborhood nuisance for over one year—through social media, she was able to get the problem resolved within a matter of days. “That was my prized moment to let me know that I could make a difference. I feel like I can call myself an activist”

Her high ambitions and eagerness to give back have not caused her to forget her struggles, instead she has chosen to keep them as experiences from which she has been able to learn and grow.

“What God wanted me to learn was how to say, let me do this and then I’ll take care of you. let me do this first, take care of me and my best friend in the mirror and then, I got y’all. Now I’m still good and I can afford to help y’all too.”

For now, her goals are much more modest. Her most recent initiative has been to start the Nerd Gang movement. “It stands for Natural Educated Real Diplomatic. Those are all words to stand by.”

The Communications major who has always considered herself a Nerd in the traditional sense has started a movement that redefines the word. “To be Natural, that’s who you really are, Educated, is yearning for knowledge, being Real with people and real with yourself and being Diplomatic using your mind more and fighting in a diplomatic way.”

The leader of the Nerd Gang says that school remains her primary focus, “Right now my goal is to make straight A’s this term.”

Justice credits her struggles with increasing her worth as an individual.

“Through those experiences it’s learning and I can say I’ve learned that it makes you a better person and it makes you better to serve.”

Justice believes that her visual diary on social media is not just a testament to her struggles as well as success but also serves as a form of empowerment to her followers.

“I said, ‘I’m going to be involved in everything because I’m on a mission.’ I made a promise to be something because I’m representing my people out there who are homeless. I’m representing regular people and I’m showing y’all my blueprint. There is no way you can say you can’t do it because you’re looking daily at what I’m doing. I don’t want to tell you what I’m doing I want you to be a part of it.  You are all on this journey with me.”

To follow Justice’s journey, make sure to follow her on Instagram @doap22, Twitter @diaryofapoet and Facebook: DoapAddict