GoFundMe page set up for Berkeley vendor Tamai Pearson amid COVID-19

Photo of Tamai Pearson
Jahnai Pearson/Courtesy
A GoFundMe campaign set up for longtime Berkeley vendor Tamai Pearson by his daughter and son has raised nearly $8,000 in donations, as of press time. Pearson hopes to use the raised funds to pay for necessities such as food, in addition to his $50,000 debt.

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A GoFundMe page is seeking donations for Tamai Pearson, a longtime Bay Area resident and vendor on Telegraph Avenue who is struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic and his mother’s death.

Pearson has been dealing with several difficulties, including his wife and children suffering from various illnesses and, more recently, the death of his mother. Pearson said the pandemic exacerbated many of his problems and selling his artwork has become much harder. His daughter and son set up the GoFundMe page with a goal of $100,000. As of press time, they have received nearly $8,000 in donations from approximately 100 donors.

“I’ve survived with arts and crafts forever, and we used to do all right,” Pearson said. “But in the last numerous years, things have been really, really dead.”

Pearson grew up in New York and attended Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, where he earned his degree in political science. He has been living in California for the last 45 years and has sold his artwork on Telegraph Avenue since the mid-1980s.

Pearson said he watched the number of vendors on Telegraph Avenue dwindle from about 200 to 100 to about 8, with even less than that since the pandemic began. The last few times Pearson was selling before the pandemic, he said “not even a dollar came across the table.”

At 68 years old, Pearson said he is approaching retirement age, but added that for artists like him, retirement does not really exist.

During his time as a vendor, Pearson said many people have returned to Telegraph Avenue after 10, 15 or 20 years and said they remember him.

“It’s really an honor. I’ve met so many people over the years,” Pearson said. “You can’t remember every face you encounter, but over the many years being out there, so many people have returned.”

Jahnai Pearson, Tamai Pearson’s son, said he and his sister had been struggling to support their family and, after beginning to accrue their own personal debt, realized they needed to reach out for help.

Jahnai said he initially had feelings of pride and embarrassment, but the pandemic and his grandmother’s passing were the final straws.

Pearson hopes to use the funds from the GoFundMe page for necessities such as food, but also for his debt, which amounts to $50,000. He added that he hopes to lessen his financial burdens and have a few peaceful years without stress.

According to Pearson, this year has been especially hard for him and his family after his mother’s passing, his daughter experience in a car accident and the pandemic. Despite this, he remembers how his mother used to say, “Life is full of pluses and minuses.”

“We’re here, and then in no time, we’re gone,” Pearson said. “So we do the best we possibly can and hold our head as high as we can and reach out when we need to.”

Contact Mela Seyoum at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @melaseyoum.