After receiving the award on Sunday, Raines thanked her children, including her late son, who inspired her creativity.
“Of course it wasn’t easy. I stand before you as a very broken woman,” Raines said emotionally. “I’m a mother without a son and there are a lot of motherless people on the streets – and I feel like it’s a fair exchange.”
Every week, Raines and her team of volunteers open the shop and turn part of Skid Row, home to one of the nation’s largest homeless populations, into an open-air beauty salon.
Her goal is to make the homeless feel human, whether it’s a haircut, a facial, a hearty meal, or a hug.
“It’s not so much just makeup or hair, it’s more physical touch,” Raines said. “People need physical touch. It was difficult when the pandemic hit. We had to stop doing hair, we had to give up the services of a hairdresser. And that may have been the sweetest touch they’ve had all day.”
As the 2021 CNN Hero of the Year, Raines will receive $100,000 to expand his work. She and the other top 10 CNN heroes honored at Sunday’s gala receive a $10,000 cash award.
Raines struggled with financial instability, grief and loss for years following the death of her young son Demetrius.
“The world looked at me and thought probably the same thing they think about the homeless when they walk past them,” she said. “You never know what someone is going through, you know?”
Reigns’ twin sister encouraged her to find the cause of her pain. That goal came about in 2017 when Raines joined a church group on a nutrition mission.
“I went to Skid Row and I was like, ‘Oh, where are all the broken people? Oh, I’ve been looking for you all my life,” she said. “I never wanted to leave. It’s a place where people have amazing hearts, but no one can see it because you can’t see the forest through the trees.”
Beauty 2 the Streetz was originally small, with only Reigns and her children helping hand out food, drinks, hygiene kits, and beauty products. Only Raines dyed people’s hair and did their makeup.
But then she started streaming events live and posting photos on Instagram, and Beauty 2 the Streetz soon became more famous.
Licensed barbers, barbers, makeup artists, and even major cosmetics companies have reached out to Raines, saying they want to help.
By 2019, Raines had registered Beauty 2 the Streetz as an official non-profit organization, with about two dozen volunteers generously donating their time and effort to help Skid Row residents feel beautiful.
As Raines’ efforts turned into a full-blown operation, with music playing and queues lining up around the block, she began providing more supplies and essentials—rape whistles, tents, sleeping bags, hygiene items—and she teamed up with local health officials. offer more services.
Before the pandemic, Raines cooked 400 meals a week in the kitchen of her two-room apartment in Long Beach and traveled to downtown Los Angeles three times a week to feed people and bring groceries.
Then, when the efforts of many organizations were affected by Covid-19, services ceased. But Raines changed her mind, opting for packed lunches and a modified schedule, and moved on.
In tandem with the health department, which provided masks, sanitizer and other personal protective equipment, Raines said her group and other Los Angeles County non-profit and community projects have worked tirelessly to serve the invisible.
“We just had to use common sense and figure out how to keep feeding them while keeping them safe and keeping us safe,” Raines said.
Today, with vaccination rates rising and a sense of normalcy returning, Raines is offering food and supplies twice a week, and expanding partnerships with local groups to ensure this often overlooked population knows there is hope.
“My sun has not come out for 30 years. It was 30 years of tomorrow before I even saw the dawn. I’d be lying if I said I’ve always been completely happy with it. away the pain of my son’s death. But I definitely got better. Now I can say his name. He is the reason I do what I do.”