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Brightly dressed Tacoma Mall icon may get help from anonymous online fundraising campaign

Post by Alexis Krell / The News Tribune on Feb. 6, 2013 at 6:04 pm with No Comments »
February 6, 2013 6:06 pm
Johnny Greene, in his usual snappy suit, attends his weekly prayer breakfast, the Men's Wednesday Morning Prayer Breakfast, in Tacoma. June 9, 2010 Peter Haley / Staff photographer
Johnny Greene, in his usual snappy suit, attends his weekly prayer breakfast, the Men’s Wednesday Morning Prayer Breakfast, in Tacoma. June 9, 2010 Peter Haley / Staff photographer

A Tacoma Mall fixture might be getting some help from the community who has for years known him for his brightly-colored suits.

An online fundraising campaign started this afternoon on the crowdfunding website gofundme.com has raised $476 in four hours, which the creator says will go to help Johnny Greene through difficult times, though that has not been verified by the News Tribune. The listed goal is $5,000.

Greene has for years offered advice to mall-goers and, when approached, has used the shopping center as an unofficial ministry.

It’s not clear who started the campaign, but the description on the fundraising site includes an anonymous testimonial of someone who says he or she saw Greene yesterday, and that he had lost his car, in which he had been living.

The campaign is under the name “Tacoma memes,” the anonymous group that makes fun of Tacoma/Lakewood life on its Facebook page.

The organizer says all donations will go to Greene, and asks anyone with questions, job offers or items to donate to Greene to email tacomamemes@hotmail.com.

There was no immediate response to a News Tribune email sent to that address this afternoon.

The website cites a 2010 News Tribune article about Greene:

He’s well-suited for mall ministry

June 22, 2010

BY COLE COSGROVE

The News Tribune

You’ve probably seen Johnny Greene.

He is a man of many suits. He also has the hats, ties, scarves, eyeglasses and shiny shoes to match.

Although few know his name, many recognize the man.

If you’ve seen a colorfully dressed person at Tacoma Mall, then you’ve probably seen Johnny Greene.

If you’ve received a lollipop that matches the suit of the man who gave it to you at Champion Centre church, then you’ve probably seen Johnny Greene.

If you’re a fan of the Facebook page “The pimp guy that walks around Tacoma Mall, ” then you’ve probably seen Johnny Greene.

The “pimp” designation bestowed upon him does not reference his line of work, but rather his dapper and dashing style of dress.

The only thing he’s peddling is life-learned wisdom, advice and Jesus, not necessarily in that order – and only if he’s approached.

Greene has spent time at Tacoma Mall nearly every day since March 1989, when he says God put it in his heart that he needed to be there. It has become his ministry, even though he’s not an official pastor.

“Every person – high, low, rich and poor – they all come to the mall, ” the 57-year-old Greene said recently as he stood near a mobile phone kiosk where he was getting his phone serviced.

Greene stands out. On one recent weekday, he wore a yellow-green suit, a rainbow scarf and a dark green “Godfather” hat with a small feather in the side.

It’s one of the many suits in the rainbow-filled closet in the one-bedroom unit he rents at Apex apartments, within walking distance of the mall.

“Everybody is attracted by color, ” Greene said. “It’s a talk piece. Every day, I get someone talking to me because of a different color I’m wearing.”

He’s become such an icon that someone created the Facebook page last month. It already has attracted 5,694 fans.

Greene doesn’t have a computer, but friends have told him about the page. Although he’s suspicious of the intentions of whoever created it – Greene stands out in a way that attracts gawkers – he takes the Facebook page with good humor. He says God has turned it into a good thing.

“God gets prime time on ABC, NBC, CBS and ESPN, ” Greene said. “Now God’s gonna get prime time on Facebook.”

The comments about him on Facebook are overwhelmingly supportive. Many fans tell of how he has affected their lives. Some talk about their favorite suits: The purple one or the pinkish one. Others have posted pictures of Greene walking in the mall – one shows him in a jolly red suit near a Christmas tree.

“I had no idea that so many people recognized him as a good icon in the Tacoma Mall, ” Brittany Raney, a fan of Greene on Facebook, said last week in an e-mail. “I’m happy to see that the Facebook page is a positive page and full of lovely comments about the good Johnny has to offer. I bet he would have never guessed that this many people have been touched by who he is and what he does.”

Raney, a 22-year-old from Tacoma, said she remembers first seeing Greene when she was a small child.

“He stood out as the guy with fabulous clothes, ” she said. “When I asked my dad why he was wearing those clothes, he said, ‘First impressions last forever. He seems to be the kind of guy who makes lasting impressions.’ My dad was right. Johnny is a very sweet, very polite, very friendly man with a big footprint in many lives.”

In November 2005, Raney was working at a little girl’s birthday party at Build-A-Bear workshop when a gunman opened fire in the mall, hitting six people. Raney ran with armfuls of children to reunite them with their parents in a safe part of the store. Later, she comforted a shooting victim who lay bleeding on the floor nearby.

Although Greene was at church at the time of the shooting, he later talked with many of the employees he had come to know through the years.

“Johnny made a very personal appearance at our store to tell us how amazing we are as a team and how brave I was, ” Raney said. “I know it’s silly, but it meant a whole lot especially because the road to ‘recovery’ was a rough road and I haven’t completely gotten over that experience.”

“Going to school and doing something with my life was one of his many pieces of advice, ” Raney said, “that I have done and am currently doing.”

Greene knows hardship himself. He said his experience helps him relate to people he talks with.

He describes himself as a troublesome teenager who left home to live with his grandmother.

“I know what it is to not know a mom or a dad, ” he said.

He was married, but it didn’t work out. In the past, he’s lost his job, lost his car, lost his place to live.

He once worked as a maintenance man at the mall, but was laid off in 2006.

Through it all, he kept the suits.

Colorful clothing has been Greene’s passion since elementary school in Oklahoma, where a classmate’s mother was a seamstress. She made a bright jacket for her son, who didn’t like it and sold it to Greene.

“I bought my first yellow blazer for $5 in the fifth grade, ” Greene said.

“Ever since creation, God has been color, ” Greene said.

He cites the rainbow after a storm, and Revelation 4:3, which states in part: “there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.”

He says he buys most of his suits from three places: Mr. Mac on Tacoma’s Martin Luther King Jr. Way; Platinum Wear in Tacoma; and LeRoy Men’s Wear in Seattle.

Once, a stranger bought him a few suits.

“He said, ‘You’re looking good and I want to keep you looking good, ‘ ” Greene said.

Since April, he has worked for Three Chicks Catering in Tacoma. “Washing dishes for Jesus, ” he said.

He now has a car: an older crimson Cadillac with duct tape around the sunroof. A Gideons Bible and a bobble-head Jesus sit on the dashboard.

The new job keeps him busy working long hours. He doesn’t have as much time to spend at the mall.

“God has put me on the rebound, ” he said. “He changed my life, he can change anybody’s life.”

A friend sends pictures of Greene to family members in Israel, where he has a cult following. He’s known as “Bless You.”

He said he was called recently by Pat Robertson, who wants him to share his story on the “700 Club” television show.

While not one to dwell on material possessions, there is one thing Greene dreams of owning.

“I really would like to get a rainbow suit, ” he said. “That would be a blessing.”

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