Reporter wins journalism award but remains homeless

Philadelphia’s street newspaper, One Step Away, has just won a journalism award from the International Network of Street Papers.

The paper was awarded a prize for a story it published last year about famed boxer Matthew Saad Muhammed. It recounts Muhammed’s journey from an orphanage to light heavyweight champion of the world to living in a homeless shelter.

Muhammed was on top of the world in 1980 when he had a spectacular fourth round knockout over Lottie Mwale, retaining his world light heavyweight crown. But last year, Muhammed ended up at a Philadelphia homeless shelter, the same place as Jose Espinosa.

“He’s a Philadelphia icon who came down on his luck,” said Espinosa. “I guess we’re both being in the area of being homeless, he felt a camraderie and I felt a camraderie. You’re in here. You have the same breakfast as he has. There’s no difference.”

Espinosa wrote the profile of Muhammed’s journey, from heavyweight champion to homeless shelter resident. The riches to rags story gained attention.

“You might have stories that, let’s say, mainstream media may not cover. I covered it first. It was later covered by the Daily News and the Inquirer,” said Espinosa.

Weeks after the story broke, Muhammed received job offers and financial assistance. He moved out of the shelter where Espinosa remains.

Espinosa said it was hard at first. “I said to myself, ‘I’ve been here almost two years … why am I still here?’ I don’t know. I ask that question many times. ‘Why do I deserve this?’ “

Espinosa and co-writer Kevin Roberts have been given the 2011 International Street Paper Award. Their story beat out many other submissions from around the world. Roberts, who is also the paper’s editor, says he hopes the article will be a stepping stone for Espinosa as it was for Muhammed.

“My great hope is that this kind of award, which is a huge honor, will really be a great motivator and set him up with a chance to be successful,” said Roberts.

Meanwhile, Muhammed has become involved in homelessness outreach.

“What I think is really good ending to the story is he’s now working with us a spokesperson for our anti-homelessness campaign and calling it ‘Knock out homeless with Matthew Saad Muhammed,’ ” Roberts said.

 

Read Espinosa’s story, “Fighting Back.”

 

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