Carldell Pearson was a humble man dedicated to trying to live a good life in spite of hitting some rough patches along the way due to drug addiction — his demon. Carldell demonstrated what perseverance could do in changing his life for the better utilizing the services Tulsa offered to support him. In doing so, he got clean, got a home and a job, and brought joy to countless lives. He showed how, with the help of others and social services, the human spirit can defeat many of life’s obstacles.
We met Carldell in 2013. My husband, Jack, and I had just moved downtown into our new, warm apartment. Carldell was the first neighbor we got to know; he was living outside our apartment, on the bench. It was winter. We introduced ourselves to each other, and a remarkable friendship ignited; a friendship built on trust, honesty, humor, reliability and commitment.
While living on the bench, Carldell volunteered at Iron Gate, attended 12-step meetings and therapeutically read countless library books and his Bible.
Jack and I were new to interfacing with homeless people and sought the counsel of long-time friend Mike Brose from Mental Health Association Oklahoma, who talked about the importance of building trust with Carldell. Fortunately, he accepted our friendship and guidance to help him get an apartment through the A Way Home for Tulsa initiative. I’ll never forget his response, “Becky, what I need is a job!” His strong work ethic was evident.
Carldell was moved by the generosity of so many friends in the community who contributed furniture, housewares and financial resources to outfit his apartment. My granddaughter, Bea, and I went to visit him, and he excitedly offered her a popsicle from his very own freezer and showed us his closet, where every article of clothing was neatly pressed and hung, color-coded; each hanger one inch apart. He was proud of his home.
Carldell was my anchor when I lost my brother, Billy, to addiction, taking me under his wing and helping me understand the disease and the hard work recovery requires — every minute of every day. He was, as Carldell would say, “my brother of another color.” Truth is, we adopted each other.
The Tulsa World offered him a job where, over time, this handsome black man met a beautiful, shy Burmese woman, Zen. After weeks of flirting, Carldell finally persuaded Zen to go out. The community once again stepped forward, providing the happy couple a lovely wedding.
He went on to work at AAON, where he was excited to drive a forklift. He’d work hard during the day and was the adventurous chef at home, often bragging about his delicious homemade cooking, smacking his lips and humming that “Mmmm good!” sound as he described it. He loved his family and was dedicated to doing everything he could for them.
Carldell never forgot the bench that had been his home and would often refer to it — about how far his life had come since those days. Memories of the bench would help keep him centered and forever humble. His hard work and focus led to a clean life for six years. He stayed the course until a few months ago, when his will and body weakened. We’d have honest conversations about where his head was, about his demons returning. He was slipping through our fingers. I think he just got tired, just like my other brother did.
Carldell was honest and authentic. He was always supportive of me sharing his story and, while addiction briefly returned in his final season of life, he would be encouraging me to be honest about his challenges in the end. So I am.
But here’s how I will remember him. I’ll remember his commitment and how he helped others in their recovery. I’ll remember his beautiful smile and the sound of his belly laugh. His love for life and family, and his love of God. His ability to give whatever he had to whomever needed it. Even in the end, as an organ donor, giving life to two people.
Carldell was successful in loving others, lifting them up and bringing joy into so many lives. That’s what he did for me.
Becky Frank is partner, chair and CEO of Schnake Turnbo Frank.