Not All Heroes Wear Capes

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By Gabriela Medina
CNN HERO OF THE YEAR and Long Beach resident Shirley Raines wears a smile through her pain on Los Angeles’ skid row.

Growing up, we have read and watched television series on superheroes and have learned to love these fictional characters, that we have probably imagined living in a world with these so-called protagonists. Although we may not see people running around in a pair of tights and a cape, there are heroes living among us.

Heroes like Long Beach resident Shirley Raines do not wear a cape; she actually prefers her signature hoop earrings and a stunning pair of eyelashes to look great, while doing great things.

Her nonprofit organization, “Beauty 2 the Streetz,” has grown immensely since 2017, thanks to people on social media platforms like Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, who have fully funded her expenses. Along with these supporters, she has a team of 25 volunteers, including members of the Fighters of the World MC club, who help her.

In early December of last year, Raines had an interview with NBC, where she discussed how her act of providing food, clothing, hygiene, hair and makeup to the homeless community on Los Angeles’ Skid Row and how it has impacted her life.

She had lost her first son, Demetrius, in her 20s and, unlike most mothers, she had to bury him five days from his third birthday due to a tragic accident. As time went on, she never stopped crying and weeping for her loss. Her twin sister, Sheila, encouraged her to try and make sense of her life and her purpose following all the pain she had been experiencing. Sometime thereafter, her ex (Demetrius’ father) had passed from cancer. Although Raines has five living children, she continues to suffer from panic anxiety disorder when reminded of her beloved family.

“It’s been a journey with a lot of loss. Losing a lot of people in life and I want to make sense of my pain. Why am I here? Why am I the survivor when everyone around me is gone? What’s my purpose?

“One thing that kept my head above water during my turmoil was the ability to control small things in my life, like makeup, my hair color, how big my earrings are going to be and how long my eyelashes are going to be,” Raines said.

“On my quest to find myself someone suggested me to feed the homeless. I did and the homeless were just enamored. They loved my hair, my makeup, my earrings and I thought I can help you get this if this is what you need. I can definitely help you do this and that’s kinda how Beauty 2 the Streetz was born.”

Along with nine other candidates who were nominated as suitable representatives for the 15th Annual CNN Heroes All-Star Tribute on Dec. 12, 2021, Raines was a nominee who won the award for her unremarkable generosity. It is the kindness in Raines’ heart that allowed her to win. She won because she saw herself having a connection to the community-that shared her pain. Forming Beauty 2 the Streetz has changed her life, but it has not allowed her to forget her past.

Raines said, “I am coming to the realization that when you have great losses in your life, great tragedy in your life, you might not be the same anymore. I’m not healed, but it has allowed me to talk to people in the community who are broken just like me and let them know that it’s okay not to be okay. That’s what I’ve learned…”

After receiving the award, Raines explained that she is not a superhero, but a person who knows what pain is and can relate to others. She forms relationships with members of this community because she knows that they just need attention. Whether it be a meal, hygienic assistance, or even a hug, she believes that “broken people are still very much useful.”

“I would love to be a hero if I was doing hero stuff. Feeding people, clothing people, loving people, being there for people, is not hero mentality, it’s human mentality. I get where that title comes from, but nothing that I am doing screams hero – it all screams human.”

Shirley Raines’ life has drastically changed, but sometimes change is not always a bad thing. It can benefit an individual or an entire community.

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