Vita Global is hosting a film screening in Phoenix, Arizona called Poverty, Inc., a thought-provoking film that has earned 40 international film festival honors including a “Best of Fests” selection at IDFA– the biggest documentary festival in the world. Drawing from over 200 interviews filmed in 20 countries, Poverty Inc. unearths an uncomfortable side of charity we can no longer ignore. From TOM’s Shoes to international adoptions, from solar panels to U.S. agricultural subsidies, the film challenges each of us to ask the tough question: Could I be part of the problem?
A Need That Is Often Neglected
Meet Milton Brown. I met him at the Washington, DC Union Station, where Vita Global was shooting a company video. I was walking down the steps of the 3rd floor when I caught the eye of Milton. He was casually dressed and had this amazing smile. I said, “Hello!” and this booming voice said “HELLO!” back to me. We introduced each other and I asked Milton to come join us while we were filming. He obliged. As we were walking back to the filming area, I was struck by his resolve about life and I was curious.
To my surprise, Milton was homeless. He lived in a shelter at night and spent the day at Union Station. I soon found out that he was in the military who suffered through a 37 year heroin addiction, was left by his wife, lost a son who was murdered, and was estranged from his remaining son. Milton was hopeful because he was now clean and sober. He felt life was looking up after years of being checked out.
Milton explained to me the true tragedy of homelessness. It goes far beyond not having food and shelter: it’s the shame and how others treat you. If you don’t already have mental problems, chronic homelessness will cause mental illness. I asked why and Milton said that human beings were not made to have no one acknowledge their humanity. Meaning, no one looks at a person who is homeless in the eye; they rarely experience human touch. People say mean things and look down on them. Milton believed his purpose was to tell people what it was like to be homeless and be a voice for the forgotten. I was awestruck because he never mentioned their need for food, clothes, and shelter. He stated that their need was to be acknowledged! I was skeptical; but his words proved true more than a year later in my life…
Building Relationships While Extending A Hand
So, I’m hangin’ with Terri and her amazing friends who have all been impacted by cancer and desired to redefine their experience by giving to others. They came into town from all over the country, and we connected with my friend Dominic and his hearing dog Plato, whom Dom cares deeply about. So, we made a stop at St. Vincent DePaul’s to help serve the homeless community dinner that day.
I was unprepared for what happened next. My friends in the picture above were serving these wonderful men and women in varying capacities. I joined in serving food at the front of the line. After a few plates, I remembered what Milton told me and knew that I needed to look at these homeless people in the eye, shake their hand, hug them, high five…whatever it was, I had to touch them. Regrettably, I froze for a moment because ashamedly, I was afraid to touch them–lack of hygiene and living on the streets causes skin, rash, hair, and gum disease. I absorbed the risk because I remember what Milton told me. So, I turned to the line and began to high five them, give cool handshakes, or hug them. Since it was a cafeteria, all of the other couple hundred people could see the exchange of hugs and laughs.
I saw immediately the impact of looking them in the eye and then carefully taking the next step to connect by human touch. After about half way through the line, people started expressing how grateful they were for the day! What?! Then the next person started encouraging me and others around them. We were smiling and crackin’ up not in a silly way, but in a way of being acknowledged as a human being. “Sometimes, it only takes one person to believe in you to change your life for the better” –Read, Love, and Learn.
I knew in that moment our exchange changed us both. We were all better people who had moved closer to becoming even better people!
The Co-Producer of Poverty, Inc. Mark Weber makes a profound remark: “…we need to focus less on writing checks and more on building relationships….” Meaning, we can’t know someone’s need unless we get to know them.
Update on Milton? We stayed in contact. He is no longer homeless; he decided to tell his story! He did a Ted Talk last year at Georgetown University and Georgetown Law, along with other top universities in the DC Metro area. He is making money. He is getting requests to speak at high schools across the US about the plight of the homelessness, and young people are paying attention. As a man in his 60s, Milton is pursuing his dream of becoming a CPA, but a Georgetown student summed it up: “…Milton, you may not have become a CPA, but you have affected so many lives at Georgetown. Just remember, we are the future who will be taking care of you.” That’s deep…Chevy Chase High School honored Milton with their prestigious peace award on May 19. My business partner, Colleen Dyble, attended the ceremony and this pic says it all! #Povertyinc #BtheChange #HandupnotHandout #redefineaid #fightpoverty