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Fighting Hunger and Poverty While Living Below 'The Line'
By Sarah Godfrey
Sheila Edwards Howard has lived on both sides of the poverty line—and she has advocated for poor and hungry people from both sides of that line, as well.
Edwards Howard is one of the subjects of director Linda Midgett's new short film, The Line, a documentary that profiles four people struggling to make ends meet. Last night, she joined Midgett, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, and Adam Taylor of World Vision, in a panel discussion held at the Washington, D.C., screening of the documentary. Her words, both in the film and on the panel, offered a reminder that many dedicated hunger and poverty activists are hungry and poor people themselves.
"I'm trying to help myself, I'm trying to help my community," she says in the film.
Edwards Howard grew up in the violent "K-Town" section of Chicago, left the neighborhood as a young woman with a well-paying, stable job, and then found herself struggling again after a horrible fall in a Chicago train station left her unable to work. Edwards Howard has founded an anti-violence non-profit, Born to Be Light, written a book, recorded a gospel CD, and enrolled in college—all while living below the poverty line and dealing with the debilitating pain that is a constant reminder of her accident.
She also helps other poor and hungry people through work with her church, and said last night that she hopes the difficult decision to go public with her troubles will be of help to someone else in the same situation.
"My pride got in the way first," she said of being approached by Midgett to appear in The Line. "[B]ut then the Christian side of me stepped up.…maybe by sharing my story, my hardships, maybe that will help shed some light and help others that are out there. I was embarrassed at first, [but] if I don’t stand up, next time it may be my children."
I spoke with Midgett about The Line last month, and she said she was moved by how much Sheila, and the others profiled in the film, felt called to help others even as they themselves were experiencing such difficulty. "I think all of them have a real kindness in their hearts toward other people,"Midgett said. "Often, when you have some measure of privilege, it's easy to be hard-hearted, to think somehow, I’ve earned this, rather than it being a gift that you’re in your position. For them, they’re all so able to see others more clearly, and they have more compassion because of their own situations."
During the panel discussion, Edwards Howard spoke about the importance of continuing to fight for change, no matter how long and hard the battle.
"We need to hold on until times change….I’m not going to stop hoping and I’m not going to stop moving," she said. "Don’t give up. Keep moving.”
It's an important message for those working on behalf of poor and hungry people, the people in need themselves, and those who belong to both groups.
Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.
Take Action! Demand that the presidential candidates talk about hungry and poor people. Make time to watch The Line—which can now be seen in its entirety at thelinemovie.com—as well as the Circle of Protection presidential candidate statements before tuning into tonight's presidential debate, and then take action to make sure that the 46 million people living in poverty in this country are part of the domestic policy conversation tonight.
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