When CNN first reported about Shawn Pleasants, a former Yale graduate with an economics degree and previous experiencing working on Wall Street and in Hollywood, it generated mass sympathy.
The Black businessman, who was a high school valedictorian and built a successful career for himself, shocked readers at the news of his decline. Pleasants, who had suffered a series of misfortunes, found himself out on the streets, addicted to methamphetamine and living in a tend in Los Angeles’s Koreatown for the past ten years.
CNN’s coverage of California’s homeless crisis put a spotlight on Pleasants, a 52-year-old man who had been suffering for years.
His life, it seems, has turned around thanks to the generosity of a former Yale classmate who saw his story.
Kim Hersmanis a Black attorney who studied at Yale around the same time that Pleasants did, came across the CNN profile and knew she had to help.”I started reading it — and just tears,” Hershman told CNN in a piece about Pleasants that was published today. In her interview with the news organization, Hershman admitted that she had not known Pleasants very well during their time at the Ivy League university. “When we were at Yale in the ’80s, there were very few Black students there,” Hershman told CNN. “Things are very different now. But I know that for whatever he achieved, something changed, and he didn’t have the support that, maybe, I had.”
When Hershman, who lives just miles from Pleasants’ encampment in Koreatown, first read his story she knew she wanted to help.
Hershman reached out to her network of Yale alumni on a Facebook page for former Black Yale students and asked for their advice and support so that she could help Pleasants. According to CNN, the day after CNN featured their story about Pleasants, Hershman headed to Koreatown to find him with two other Yale alumni and her partner. “I was a little nervous because I was, like, ‘Where am I going? I’m a 5-foot-1 female,'” she told CNN. After asking around, Hershman was told by a homeless person that she could find him “around the corner.
Wearing a Yale hat, Hershman found Pleasants and took a seat beside him on a sidewalk and took his hand.
Pleasants told CNN that he knew who he was as soon as he saw her. “I had seen her, maybe, seven or eight times at school,” he told the news site. After speaking for some time, Hershman asked Pleasants how she could help. “My big thing was: ‘What do you want? And based on what you want, I’m going to do whatever I can to help you,'” she told CNN.
Pleasants told Hershman that his biggest desire was “to make a difference.”
“I’m in this situation, and there has to be a reason for it all, and I want to help others,” Pleasants told CNN. That day, the two talked about Pleasants’ vision for a homeless resource center. There he hoped that he could help the homeless by offering them access to showers, mailboxes, and charging phones. Hershman told him that she wouldn’t make him processes but would do all she could to help him to get back onto his feet, as long as he went into a drug rehabilitation program.
Despite having rejected previous offers from family members in the past, Pleasants agreed under the condition that he could bring his husband
“When she wants to do something, she does it, by golly. She’s an angel,” Pleasants told CNN.
Hershman ultimately moved Pleasants into a guest house located on what CNN described as a “posh LA estate.” There, Pleasants has access to pools, basketball and his own kitchen that Hershman stocked with food. Since his move, Pleasants has been checked into a rehab facility in Los Angeles and his husband is scheduled to under go heart surgery.
Hershman has paid $10,000 for Pleasants rehab stay and has said that she is ready to pay for more if he needs it. She has also helped set Pleastants up with a more permanent housing situation that will use a federally subsidized Section 8 voucher.
“We’re people with a myriad of different circumstances. There are people from all cultures, countries, age groups and professions,” Pleasants told CNN of the homeless people he knows. “Not everyone can pay $2,000 a month for a studio,” he said. People who used to help homeless residents, he said, ended up sitting beside “us” on the streets. Pleasants also wants to call attention to the lack of facilities just to “clean your clothes.” Here’s hoping Pleasants and his partner are able to recover fully and develop a new life together. There’s no doubt our world could use more generous people like Hershman.