Book Review

Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore (with Lynn Vincent)

This 2006 book, a New York Times bestseller, is worth your time. It’s a solidly written “feel good” story that will appeal to many different readers, but especially to a Christian audience. The book documents the unlikely friendship that develops between an illiterate homeless black man in Texas and a white millionaire art dealer living the cosmopolitan life. The best part? It’s true.

The story opens with Denver describing the deprivation and virtual slavery he experienced as a plantation worker in Louisiana. And, no, this is not the 1800’s. In his own rhythmic and authentic style, he relates the horrific details of his childhood. As a boy, he watched his home burn to the ground, with his grandmother, the only person who really loved him, unable to escape the flames. As a teenager, he was viciously attacked by a group of young white men who, needless to say, went unpunished.  He summed up his life as an adult, imprisoned by poverty and prejudice, this way: “I worked them fields for nearly thirty years, like a slave, even though slavery had supposably ended when my grandma was just a little girl. I had a shack I didn’t own, two pairs of overalls I got on credit, a hog, and an outhouse. I worked them fields, plantin and plowin and pickin and givin all the cotton to the Man that owned the land, all without no paycheck. I didn’t even know what a paycheck was.” Denver’s stoic and poetic narration of his journey into crime and vagrancy is absolutely compelling in its naked truthfulness.

Ron Hall grows up in the south as well, a middle class white kid who climbs the ladder of prosperity and eventually achieves the American dream. He and his wife Deborah go through some tough times in their marriage, though. Ron has an affair with a young artist while he is on one of his art-dealing junkets, and he and Deborah struggle to hold their relationship together. A fierce Christian, Deborah commits to forgiveness and Ron re-commits to fidelity. They mature as a couple and grow in their Christian faith. Eventually they are led to volunteer at a Texas shelter for the homeless.

It’s here that they meet Denver, the hardened drifter, cemented in his own prejudices about white people. Deborah is determined that Ron befriend this proud and reserved old hobo, believing that God has a special purpose for him.

The friendship develops slowly. There are many layers of suspicion, doubt, and reluctance to peel away, but a grudging mutual respect emerges. Both men learn to set aside their differences. Deborah, the spark behind this unusual friendship, faces a different kind of challenge as she is diagnosed with cancer. Together the two men care for her until her death. As they say goodbye to this caring and selfless woman, they are no longer millionaire businessman and homeless street person, but brothers, bonded in their love for Deborah, for each other, and for the God they don’t always understand, but seek to serve.

Denver and Ron forge a unique partnership after Deborah’s passing – one that results in an expanded mission/shelter in Fort Worth and extended services for the street people of that city. Together they have become a force for social justice in Texas and a united voice of hope for the homeless throughout the nation. Their efforts have been lauded and supported by many, including the mayor of Fort Worth, the governor of Texas, and former First Lady Barbara Bush.

Even though he is now a senior citizen, Denver continues to unearth a multitude of abilities buried beneath his disadvantaged upbringing. He has become an artist, a public speaker, a writer, and a leader. In 2005, along with Ron Hall, he attended a presidential inaugural ball in Washington. That didn’t faze him, though. “I found out everybody’s different – the same kind of different as me. We’re all just regular folks walkin down the road God done set in front of us. The truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or something in between, this earth ain’t no final restin place. So in a way, we is all homeless – just workin our way toward home.”

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