The woman was wearing a shirt that said: "Homeless. The fastest way of becoming a nobody."
Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 20, 2020. It has since been updated.
By 2020, Officer Michael Rivers had been with the Goldsboro Police Department in North Carolina for nine years. Over this time, he became quite familiar with the faces of the homeless in his community and could recognize them when he comes across them on the streets. However, one week, a face he'd never seen in the locality before caught his eye and something about her made him take a closer look. Dressed in a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt with a powerful statement written on it, the woman made eye contact with Rivers and returned his simple "hey" as he drove past her.
However, speaking to CNN, Rivers revealed that he couldn't stop thinking about the brief encounter. Something kept tugging at him to go back and speak to the woman who was wearing a t-shirt with the words "Homeless. The fastest way of becoming a nobody" written on it. The 29-year-old finally decided that he'd go back to the spot he'd seen her during his lunch break. "God put it on my heart to get her lunch," said Rivers. "So I turned around and I asked her, 'Hey, did you eat today?' And she said, 'No.'"
Rivers grabbed pepperoni and cheese pizzas from a nearby pizza shop and sat down next to her on the grass and the two spent the next 45 minutes sharing one of the most memorable conversations he's ever had. The pizza they shared was great, he said, but the conversation was better. Spending his lunch break exchanging life stories with the homeless woman, who he said identified herself as Michelle, made him realize that he shared something in common with her. River learned that Michelle has a 12-year-old daughter who is battling liver disease and was in foster care.
Michelle also told him about her 23-year-old son. Her husband, also homeless, stood across the street from them as the two conversed. When Michelle and Rivers parted ways after their lunch, the police officer couldn't help but muse over society's similar perceptions of him and his new friend. Often shunned by society, homeless individuals are blamed for bringing the situation upon themselves. Rivers realized how society has a somewhat similar view of police officers, focusing on just the "bad apples" and painting all law enforcement officers in a negative light.
But "homeless people are just people who are down on their luck," Rivers said. "It can happen to anybody." As for himself, he revealed that he didn't set out to be a police officer because he wanted to ruin a person's day. "I come to work and my method is, 'Who can I bless today? Who can I make smile?'" Rivers said. "I'm not the one that wants to take somebody's father or mother away and put them in jail."
Rivers and Michelle's brief meeting was captured in a photo by a passerby, whose husband, Chris Barnes, shared the image on Facebook, writing: "Cassie was out on her lunch break and observed Goldsboro’s Finest enjoying lunch with a homeless person. Law enforcement does so much for our community, with a lot of it going unnoticed. We see you Goldsboro P.D. Keep up the good work." Ironically, responses to the post vouched for Rivers' comments about society's perception of police officers. "One thing I need to say about this, don’t give the Goldsboro police department credit for what one officer did, his heart led him to this woman, not his uniform," wrote Facebook user Austin Wallace.
Meanwhile, another user Donna Clark wrote: "Officers get such bad press all the time but many are good, caring men just like this young man. God bless sir." The photo eventually reached the eyes of Police Chief Michael West, who applauded Rivers for his good deed, saying: "The circumstances around our job are often an unpleasant call to service, but this picture just shows we're human like anyone else and any chance we get to serve the community and help people, we take that chance. I'm very fortunate to have Officer Rivers in our department."