David’s Legacy

A photo of David Denny at a Street Sense Media event in 2016. Photo by Ben Burgess, kstreetphotographydc.com

David E. Denny, a Street Sense Media poet and vendor since 2008, died in his home on May 1. He was 65. It is impossible to show all of the ways that he contributed to our community here. He trained hundreds of new Street Sense vendors, working in that role longer than any other staff member has served with the organization.

[Read more: “I never leave an interaction with [David] with anything other than a smile on my face,” said one customer.]

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A 2012 profile of David Denny. Video by Abby Evans

David was a prolific writer and a powerful speaker, performing at countless events with other SSM artists and reviewing the National Museum of African American History and Culture when it first opened. He spoke to the media and to school groups about homelessness. He helped present our journalism awards. But more than anything, as you’ll see and read here, he was a part of the family. David was kind and would go out of his way to help anyone. He could also light up any room with his larger-than-life personality. He cared deeply about this organization and its members.

[Read more: On the other side of the glass: One man’s journey from the street to a home]

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A 2018 documentary about David’s life and journey to housing. Produced by Jeff Gray

Ultimately, this was only a small portion of his legacy. David is survived by a daughter, two sons, grandchildren, six siblings, and many more family and friends. We miss him dearly.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Thursday, June 3, at the Church of the Epiphany (1317 G Street NW).  A light lunch reception will follow. If you plan to attend, please RSVP via Eventbrite to help us plan enough food for everyone.

RIP David Denny, you will be missed

By Jeffrey McNeil, Artist/Vendor

When I first heard about the death of longtime Street Sense vendor, poet, and contributor David Denny, the news hit me like a ton of bricks.

I remember first meeting David in Glover Park where we both stayed at a hypothermia shelter. He seemed to be different, even in dire circumstances he had a smile and positive energy. I never heard him complain about his situation or blame others for being homeless. He was a natural salesman and hustled for everything he received. 

I told him that Street Sense was a better way than panhandling and I trained him when he joined the team. But he was a salesman and found his home in Eastern Market. 

You couldn’t tell the story of Street Sense without David, for he may be the most influential in our growth and popularity. David volunteered, led, and mentored others. He was often the work supervisor for unloading the truck when the new issue was delivered and he trained new vendors every week — all while writing and performing poetry and sharing his story as a speaker. 

Photo showing open newspapers layered over each other and arranged in a very particular way. A vase of flowers sits on top of them.
A display of David’s published work that he arranged for a housewarming party in 2018 using his personal collection of Street Sense papers he had saved over the years. Photo by Colleen Cosgriff

David was a favorite of customers and readers. You could hear his booming voice, yelling “Street Sense” blocks away. He was proud of his poetry and made customers smile doing street poetry. He used Street Sense Media resources and social services. He had a good relationship with volunteers and staff. He wasn’t arrogant and proud and allowed people to help him find housing. 

David was everything I wasn’t: patient and cordial. He loved reading my columns even though he disagreed with them. He even received a response to one of his poems from Barack Obama. My best memory of David was the year Street Sense Media did a documentary about his poetry and finding an apartment and screened it at our annual gala. I remember how happy he was living in his new apartment. 

Even when I saw him walking with a cane, he would smile when reading my fishing articles, encouraging me to write more positive stories. I’m getting emotional because David was a significant part of Street Sense. His death — following on the heels of the loss of my longtime partner, Antoinette Wollack — has made me put life in perspective. 

While everyone talks about risks and vaccines, what people forget is that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for anyone. Nobody knows the time or hour when you get called up to reach the other side. 

I’m sure wherever David goes, he will keep them laughing with his sharp wit, poetry, and radiant smile. Rest in peace, my friend. You will be missed.

A copy of David’s Poem, “Commentary to a Black Man” displayed next to a response from then-president Barrack Obama.

Love for Denny

By Anthony Carney, Artist/Vendor

Denny trained me to sell the Street Sense paper. He passed away too soon. I don’t know how to express my love for him. We all got to go sometime. I’m writing because I have to have strength. Bless my brother, Denny. Spread love.

Two photos displayed side by side. Left: David Denny (wearing a pirate hat) and James Davis (wearing a suit) smiling together. Right: Phillip Black (wearing a Cat In the Hat hat) and David smiling together.
Snapshots from Street Sense Media holiday parties over the years. Left: James Davis and David Denny. Right: Phillip Black and David Denny.

Goodbye, David Denny

By Queenie Featherstone, Artist/Vendor

All over
Taken away
Here today, gone tomorrow

David was a favorite who many trusted. With tears and heavy hearts, we are all just disgusted. I’m not sure where you are David, I just hope you’re a piece of pie in that great big sky. So now I’ll just say, David Denny, good friends to you there were many. My memory of you will be plenty, you taught me SSM programs well. I’ll shout and tell David Denny was swell. Goodbye, my friend, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!!!

Photo showing three people posing together, one of whom is holding a Street Sense newspaper.
Scott Lovell, Eric Falquero, and David Denny visit the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016.

Dedication: Dear, DD

By Frederic John, Artist/Vendor

To my poet brother, an Iambic salute:

Here’s to “Baba” David Denny,
Feared by none / Loved by many.
His exultant presence filled a room—
Big bones shook rafters, (A rockin’ raver—
Tho never a bird of gloom!)
Sharing the rostrum,
He’n’me bumped heads in the aisle
[At the Poets’ Corner];
Yet any small conflict ultimately
Quashed in a mutual, Fraternal
Embrace and smile…
No verse rang from DD’s delivery
That had no consequence.
A sainted leader caught sight
Of David’s universal plaint
And reached out to that most profound
Jeremiad teller
To affirm his words — were a real Ring-beller!
Heaven above, I miss your face
And your wisdom: A true credit to the Race,
But wait, behind my shuttered eyes
Your mighty presence again I see —
An eternal love materialize.

David Denny backstage at the Howard Theater in 2018, just before performing his poetry. He always planned to write about what the experience meant to him, being invited to the historic stage of a venue he could not afford to attend in his youth (though he said you could still meet many of the performers in the community if you hung around U Street). Photo by Leila Drici

A beacon for others

By Carlton Johnson, Artist/Vendor

The future has lost out, another soldier has fallen. All our hearts are moved for David Denny, a.k.a. “Denny,” as we called him. The way he advocated for years to bring attention to the lives of brothers and sisters living on the streets. He was a light of our community. 

Photo of David seated on a stool with a dark backdrop behind him. He's laughing, wearing an Edgar Alan Poe sweatshirt and holding his cane.
“I am a poet” portrait by Nando Alvarez

Tears for David Denny

By Sybil Taylor, Artist/Vendor

You will be greatly missed and treasured always. I really enjoyed working with you: the good times and laughter we had at Street Sense; the tough times, together through pain; and just the joy of your smile. You were a great vendor to work with.

I count these tears of joy. You will be missed but you are in a better place where you are no longer hurting or suffering. You were the best at what you did. Love you always, David. You are missed.

One song to listen to as we remember David is, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by G.C. Cameron.

David performs his poem “Love.” Produced by Madeleine Cunningham

Issues |Community|Death

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