By Chris Gelardi, Global Citizen, May 22, 2018
It all started with pandas on TV.
It wasn’t a spider bite or a genetic mutation, but rather an overwhelming sense of compassion that turned Austin Perine into a superhero.
About once a week, the mild-mannered 4-year-old transforms into his alter ego: “President Austin.” Clad in a red cape and blue T-shirt with the hashtag “#ShowLove,” the boy wonder walks the streets of his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, feeding the homeless population.
It all started in March, when Austin saw a mother panda abandoning her cub on an animal show on TV.
“Austin began to get concerned, and I told him that the panda would be homeless,” his father, TJ, told CNN. Austin didn’t know the meaning of the word “homeless,” so his father took him to visit the city shelter.
Immediately, Austin’s nurturing instincts kicked in, and he asked his father if they could feed the people in the shelter. “I didn’t expect to feed homeless people that day. But when a 4-year-old asks you, what can you say?” his father said.
So they went to a nearby Burger King and picked up an order of chicken sandwiches.
The young boy quickly made a habit of his act of charity. Soon, President Austin was seen scuttling around the streets of Birmingham with his father, summoning the hungry with a polite and high-pitched “Excuse me!” and handing out paper-wrapped sandwiches and cans of soda as he uttered his dual catchphrase and call to action: “Don’t forget to show love.”
His kindness soon caught the attention of local figures, then local media, then CBS News. When Burger King found out he was using their sandwiches for his good deeds, the restaurant offered him a monthly credit of $1,000, ensuring that he could continue to fulfill his mission, according to CNN.
Now that their work has received national attention, the father-son duo hopes to expand into providing services that address the systemic causes of homelessness.
“Mental illness, drug abuse, addiction, and things like that,” TJ told CNN. “Austin and I want to build a facility and get some specialists in there that can actually help these people get back into the workforce.”
Despite housing a university and an increasingly thriving downtown, about 30% of Birmingham residents live under the national poverty line — $24,600 for a family of four. Development has largely bypassed underprivileged communities of color, members of which are forced to live in polluted areas with few social services and even fewer means of achieving social mobility.
When asked why he does what he does, Austin told CBS News: “It’s just the right thing to do.”
Global Citizen campaigns on the UN’s Global Goals, which includes ending hunger and food insecurity. You can take action here.