'I feel like I won the lottery:' Oakland friends give 72-year-old homeless man a makeover

Oakland natives Leon Brown and Van Lee wanted to do something nice for someone and after brainstorming a bit, the pair – a preacher and a barber, respectively – gave a 72-year-old homeless man a makeover, complete with new clothes, haircut, dinner and $500 in cash. 

“I make uplifting videos,” said Brown, 25, who ministers at Solomon Temple Ministries International in Pittsburg. “But I don’t want to be a preacher who just speaks words inside a church. I wanted to do something more.” 

Recently, he and Lee, 26, both wondered aloud: What if we gave a homeless person a pick-me-up, showing kindness to a stranger in need?

On Monday, they cruised along International Boulevard and 98th Avenue in Oakland and found “Mr. Norman” walking around a homeless encampment. He stood out to them because he was wearing a Christmas hat, and his dog, Midnight, was alongside him in a Santa sweater.

Brown and Lee took videos of  their encounter, showing them inviting Mr. Norman out for a day of shopping and eating. They even gave Midnight a bath. Mr. Norman agreed to allow them to share the story far and wide, hoping to be of inspiration to others.

“Come get some food and bring your dog,” Brown said. “Don’t forget to lock your bike up.”

Mr. Norman cheerfully agreed to ride along with the friends, who took him to get a haircut at Clippers Pusher’s, where Lee gave him a trim, then to buy a new shirt and jeans, and finally out to a fish and chips place where the elderly man enjoyed a Styrofoam plate of catfish, prawns and vegetables.

“I feel like a won the lottery,” Mr. Norman said on the video. “You only see this on reality television.”

Afterward, Brown and Lee ponied up their own money, giving Mr. Norman $500. Brown recounted that Mr. Norman told them he was originally from New Orleans, has three children, is a Grandpa and after he got hooked up drugs, got evicted and lost everything. 

Mr. Norman told the friends that he wanted to get clean starting on New Year’s and was waiting for some sort of sign. The generosity of the friends was apparently what he was looking for. “I’m going to start now,” he told Brown and Lee. “You are my angels.”

Brown and Lee felt so good about giving that they don’t want it to stop. They hope to do at least one kind act a week, even if it’s not as extravagant as what they did for Mr. Norman. Brown bought some donuts and handed them out to some homeless people earlier this week as well.

“It felt amazing,” Brown said. “It made be count my blessings. It was good for my soul.” 

KTVU photographer Jorge Bustos contributed to this story.