Without a Home Story - Tony B Conscious

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NOTE: This page is a daughter page of: Without a home stories

IMPORTANT REDIRECT: These articles now all live on www.withoutahome.net - please visit there instead !
.... and buy our "Homeless on Haight book" !

To say Tony B Conscious is unique and vibrant feels like an understatement. Even his name is larger than life and Tony himself, nicknamed "The Ghetto Van-Go", is somewhat of an icon on Haight Street. An icon for art, for hope, for friendliness and positivity, even in the face of adversity. San Francisco itself has burned down more than once - hence the icon of a Phoenix - and similarly, Tony has moved and reinvented himself several times. Almost every day of the week, you can find Tony at the eastern end of Haight street, setting up his huge collection of art on the street next to an empty lot. Tony is a tall proud black man, who always dresses colorfully to the point that it's not obvious at all if he's homeless or not. But every day he spends hours packing and unpacking his art from his van onto the sidewalk, and for many hours a day he's out there in the sun complimenting and spreading positivity to everyone who walked past. Tony has this booming voice that never wavers as he wishes people a happy day, and spreads positive poetic messages. He never asks people to buy his art directly, but if they stop and look he will happily sell you any piece for whatever price you want. Many of the friendlier locals here will talk back to Tony and build a relationship over time, even if it's just a hello.

When I first told Tony that I wanted to interview him, he was game, but also told me there was no chance he could leave his art out and go to a cafe with me for lunch. I offered to help unpack his many (at least a hundred by my estimates) art pieces, but he said it was his therapy, and I laughed at that. A week later I realized if I wanted to interview Tony it couldn't be sitting down, I would have to stand and use my camera to film him. Tony can talk pretty fast too, so it would be foolish of me to try scribbling notes onto paper. Tony was the first person I've ever filmed in an interview and I have to say it was fun! Several times people walked past they would give Tony a fist bump, or showed interest in buying a painting. Several people know Tony by name and were curious about the interview. One of my questions he actually gave the answer in an incredible three minute rap! I was blown away.


Tony's Story

Thu, April 22, 2023:

Born: 1969 (54 years old) in Seattle.

About: Tony has had several chapters in his life. His first life was in Seattle - his nickname "Romeo" because he was a hip-hop rapper, breakdancer and ladies man. Next he moved to Hollywood and became an actor that featured in Fresh Prince and several other roles. Chapter 3, he moved to Atlanta to do music and spoken word as part of the neo soul movement. Chapter 4 he moved back to LA to do street art, and he did this for a good twenty years. He also took pictures of other artists around and wrote bios and published it into a book - "Life's a Beach and Then you Die", which you can find on Amazon. This is actually one of several books he wrote. Then as Venice beach became denitrified, he moved to the Bay. He started hanging out at Berkley and became the number one artist on Telegraph. He was especially excited when he was painted onto a telegraph box. Then covid hit... and that's when he came to Haigh-Ashbury to sell his artworks. Tony says he's here because he loves the history of Haight street with art and music. He says it reminds him of Venice beach, a mix of history and capitalism of people trying to make money without necessarily giving back the vibration.

When tony talks he brims with energy. He is a constant generator of playful words, breaking into song at the drop of a hat and turns words into acronyms. He truly brings the LOVE (Living On Vibrational Energy) (the title of one of his albums) the ART (Always Resonating Truth), MC (Mostly Conscious, Major Communication) MUSIC (Metaphysically Universal Sounds Interpreting Consciences). His street art is as colorful as Tony, featuring everything from the original Black Panthers to The Beatles, various Animals, Lennon and a bunch of black icons. Tony's great at talking to everyone. If you're interested in his art, he'll set you up with a good deal. When he's not selling paintings and making friends he's making new paintings. During out interviews, one lovely lady walked past that once gave Tony a big "down payment" on a painting, but never picked one out, so Tony keeps reminding her. On a street where almost no-one makes eye contact, let along talk to you, Tony will say hello to everyone, and there's something incredible about that. His goal of living on Haight isn't just to sell paintings, he wants to build bridges. He wants to set a positive example, and - like me - is one of the few people who actually picks up litter instead of just complaining about it. Helping save the planet through conscious art and conscious action. A rare breed.

Tony's relatives sound every bit as colorful and musical as he is. His grandparents were jazz greats who helped start the Seattle jazz scene. Tony's mum was a hippy and his dad was a member of the original black panthers. Having grown up in Australia, I was embarrassed to admit I didn't know what the black panthers were, so he showed me a painting and explained that they started the "free lunch program", and were an original group to stand up against violence towards blacks, even when that meant picking up guns to defend themselves. Many of them were killed, but fortunately Tony's dad in Seattle survived. Tony had a fascinating childhood and he credits his confidence and musical passion to his grandmother. He used to hang out at "Pizza and Pipes" where his grandmother played gigs in her jazz band and encouraged Tony to sing. He reminisces about Seattle when it was largely black, there was only one Starbucks (the first one) and he once dated one of the daughters of the Nordstrom family. Once upon a time it was known as one of the most liberal and multicultural cities in the states, but over time it got denitrified and white.

During our interview, more and more people who knew Tony stopped by to chat. We discussed the empty parking lot, and the many dysfunctional aspects of San Francisco and around the world. Tony has traveled to Australia, and noticed that black people there have been discriminated against too. In addition to his rap lyrics, Tony can really floor you with his knowledge and worldliness, for anyone who actually stops to listen.

What is the hardest lesson you learned on the streets: This is where Tony broke into rap, and I've transcribed the entire thing here: "This is my hardest lesson, everything and everybody is not always a blessing. And everything and everybody will keep you guessing. But you gotta make sure you're not stressing. So I never ever stress. I must confess. Not everybody who says no, really means no. And not everybody who says yes, is trying to give you something that you really need. And a lot of people they really don't read. And though people smile at you, they don't want you to succeed. This you gotta believe, but what you can see, you can achieve.. but you're goin' have to roll up your sleeves, you're going to have to get dirty, you're going to have to stay up late and get up real early. You're going to have to take your time, and you're going to have to use your mind. And some people you're going to have to ignore, because they refuse to see that we are at war. Some people are going to turn a blind eye, and even act shy, and other people are going to see you and instead of saying hi, they are going to go behind your back and lie. This is freestyle style off the head fella, I'm gonna do a cappella, but I'm trying to say rhymes in context.

Some people, they wanna see you get burned. And some people are not going to wanna see anybody like you illuminating unapologetically, why - because it makes them insecure, because they are so dirty they hate to see things that are pure. But one thing I've learned is that as long as you stay connected you will endure. You will continue to grow, and the universe will allow you to go where you're supposed to go. Just stay in the flow, and just let yourself know that you're doing the right thing. Listen to your intuition, and keep your glow. Don't ever dim your light. And always be ready to keep up the fight. And that's all you need. And do it at a very slow speed. Don't go too fast, because you don't want to just BOOM and crash. You want to really last. And the dumbest question is the one never asked. Ask yourself the question. What did I learn today, what was the lesson? And once you do that, then every day you'll grow and that's a fact. Look at me and look at where I'm at. People love me because I'm a real cat. Out here on the corner, making it warmer. Hot like a sauna. Some people, in order to create they gotta use alcohol and marijuana, that's cuz then done burn their third eye out. I don't need any of that and look where my third eye is about. I do it very articulately, and that's what I learned the most. Tony B. Peace!"

Something you are proud of: When Tony was on Venice beach he had a son, Heru. Tony bursts with pride on this topic and calls Heru his best piece of art. A masterpiece. He's good looking like his pop, but Tony doesn't know if he can make him Hip Hop. He's currently living in Ohio, but Tony is hoping they'll be back together someday.

What tips might you offer someone newly homeless: Tony is always great with advice, but in addition to advice Tony loves to keep a bunch of extra clothes in his car to give newly homeless people who might not have anything. Even during the interview someone walks past who was parched, and so he offered a water bottle. His van isn't just for storing all his art, it's full of everything you might need.

What are your aspirations: Tony wants to own a place, but he's the first to admit how incredibly difficult it is. He makes decent money from art, but it's never enough. Tony lives in his van and he makes all of his money from art.. and if he wants to cover health care, car expenses, insurance and everything else... it would take far more than $5000 a month to also cover a home. That's the cost of living in the city he wants to contribute to. To live in San Francisco comfortably, $100000 a year is not enough. One of the tour bus drivers happened to stop by and Tony said - that's my girl Erica on the bus! She overheard Tony and shouted out "that's my brother like there, Tony right there, the badass artist in this town, you tell them how it is!". Tony's voice is usually booming but there was a moment after I left to grab us sandwiches when he went suddenly quiet. He'd had a wonderful talk with someone else, and reflected on the fact that not everyone realizes he's homeless because he takes pride in dressing up and being positive. He had amazing reflections on deciding each day to wake up positive, because the second you decide the world is against you, you can die on these streets. Tony stays clean, and works hard. He hustles harder than anyone I've ever seen. I for one really hope he makes whatever breakthrough it takes to get a home one day, and see his son... but until that day and after that day, he is a beacon of hope for spreading joy. If Haight street ever loses Tony B, it will be a very sad day for the city. You can walk the entire length of Haight street, and the one thing you can count on is for Tony to try lifting your mood by saying hello in his big boom box voice. It isn't just about making sales for Tony, he genuinely wants people to know there are some out there trying to spread love.

Tony's Videos

Tony was the first person I interviewed for the Homeless on Haight Book who I asked to videotape, and I'm so glad I did.... please watch and "Like" the videos!

Tony on camera - with a rap at 10:16 minutes in.

More About Tony