Robert Boyd, also known as International Red, was living (and may still be) at the Ambassador Hotel, a six-story, 134-room single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotel at 55 Mason Street in the Tenderloin district. He freely speaks of a past life where he was on drugs and participated in an illegal and unhealthy lifestyle.
I am uncertain what or who helped him change his path, but faith and blessings are a consistent part of his language today. His life is focused on engaging in his community and helping others, with a theme he vibrantly evidences: if you look good, you feel good. He mentors young people and hangs out at a local chicken restaurant that helps the homeless and provides a ready street view for Robert to catch and engage passers by.
From his daily changing and extraordinarily coordinated wardrobe, it’s easy to think Robert is a dandy, focused on himself and the attention his color-coordinated ensembles attract. I’m certain you can find a long history of Facebook posts from tourists who sought to take his picture or be in a picture with him. But, Robert got over the personal notoriety quickly and realized there was an opportunity to do something with the attention, to talk to people about his story and the story of many others in the Tenderloin, and to be an example to the population he lives among.
In late 2012, a “hippie lady” made the rounds of SROs to tell people about the computers being installed in nearby senior centers, available for public use. Robert visited the Downtown Senior Center for daily breakfast and ventured downstairs, curious to see if he might learn to use a computer. He had no past experience, no typing skill, and shaky spelling. He was not (still is not) a man easily daunted. He met a CTN tutor and began his journey, coming to the lab regularly, learning to type, setting up an email account, exploring the internet. In 2014, Kat Kruze started with CTN and staffed a shift at the Downtown Center. Like so many, she was charmed by Robert’s personality and sartorial splendor; she immediately suggested a photo and post on Facebook. Thus began Robert’s introduction to social media. He set up Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/InternationalRed?ref=hl) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/mrstylingpro) accounts where he began to post daily.
In 2015, Anthony Pound (Tony), joined CTN’s volunteer corps and started in the Downtown Computer Lab. He and Robert became fast friends, adding Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/world_famous_international_red/) to the suite of social media tools in use. Then Robert was interviewed by Michael Fisher for his show, Behaving Proudly, and Robert thought he might host his own show. Look for his show Wednesdays at 3:30 on BAVC SF Commons/Channel 29 (https://bavc.org/person/international-red). Watch a few episodes and you understand how committed he is to helping others behave proudly and not block their blessings.
In 2016, Comcast started a pilot of its low-cost Internet Essentials service, for low-income seniors in San Francisco. Tony helped Robert sign up and get a low-cost computer to use at home. He still comes to the computer lab — he is a man of community — but now he has the freedom many of us do not recognize: to connect and communicate anytime. He is not restricted to the hours of a library or senior center, or the 2-hour limits of sharing access.