Around thirty years ago, I picked up a CD that was a compilation of songs written and recorded by folk living on the streets. I lost the CD in Hurricane Irma along with a lot of other CD’s I had collected over the years but that one I have missed the most and not been able to replace it. These were heartfelt songs from “nobodies” until someone gave them the opportunity to let their voices be heard.
I really hadn’t thought so much about that CD until I saw on the evening news a few years back how a small nonprofit group called Miracle Messages reached out to the homeless in the San Francisco area and through the use of technology and video recordings and a lot of investigative work attempted to reconcile the homeless with family members. Years, even decades could have elapsed since the last contact was made between the family members and as founder and CEO of Miracle Messages, Kevin Adler shares: “There’s a mix of digital illiteracy and a lack of access to technology, along with these emotional barriers like the shame of being homeless, that leads to this perfect storm that can keep people on the street.”
People either write text messages or record short videos directed at whomever they are seeking, and Miracle Messages team members try to track that person down to pass along the greetings. They average about a 60% success rate where family members (parents, siblings, children) are re-connected and life changes. Hoping to reunite one million people by 2021, Adler’s goal is ambitious, yet also points out to the scope of the homeless problem around the world. Miracle Messages has even set up a 1-800-MISS-YOU number for the homeless to tap into to share their stories. “Our mantra is, ‘Everyone is someone’s somebody,’” Adler said.
What prompted me to share these two stories about a CD recording and the work of Miracle Messages is yet another story I came across this past week. In 2003 Dave Isay opened the first StoryCorps booth in New York’s Grand Central Terminal with the intention of creating a quiet place where a person could honor someone who mattered to them by telling their story. Since then, StoryCorps has evolved into the single largest collection of human voices ever recorded.
Five years earlier, Isay made a documentary about the last flophouse hotels on the Bowery in Manhattan. Guys stayed up in these cheap hotels for decades. They lived in cubicles the size of prison cells covered with chicken wire so you couldn’t jump from one room into the next. Later, Isay wrote a book on the men he met there. With an early version of the book in his hand, Isay returned to one of the flophouses and showed one of the residents living there a page dedicated to him. The man stood there in silence looking at the page, then he grabbed the book out of the author’s hand and started running down the long narrow hallway holding it over his head, shouting, “I exist! I exist.”
For years now, Dave Isay has worked to shine a light on people who are rarely heard from in the media. Just by interviewing the “forgotten,” particularly those who had been told their stories don’t matter, he shares how he could literally see people’s back straighten as they started to speak into the microphone.
Folk need to be heard; they need to be seen; they need to be loved. Until then, our work is not over!
See you Sunday,