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Faces of Homelessness Speakers' Bureau

Why We Celebrate

by Jennifer Rottman

What amazes me about our speakers is the patience they show with a world that so struggles to understand them, and their willingness to open themselves up to it, so many nights of the year. I am forever floored by the courage they show every time they get up to speak.

Every gig is unique–like a dance played out differently for each audience–but I have seen enough of them to know that there is a common flow that they all share.

The audience falls silent when the speakers begin, not knowing what to expect. What will they tell us? What will they reveal about American society–about us? Will they condemn us for the days and nights of walking by them on the streets, for allowing ourselves to be paralyzed by guilt or puzzled into inaction?

Instead, they just talk, beginning quietly, slowly letting us see into their hearts, opening their lives up to us, allowing us to understand their ups and downs, their misfortunes and mistakes.

The audience visibly relaxes as the talks go on, suddenly relieved when they realize that they are not in the presence of victims, but of heroes, and so there is no need to feel guilt or pity, but rather some sort of pride in just how resilient human beings can be. We all suddenly realize that none of us is here to be judged–there is no judgment to make, no right or wrong–just a collection of human beings, faced with a difficult world, doing the best they can to get through it.

An audience realizes by the end of a panel how lucky they are to be in the presence of survivors, of such brilliant lights, illuminating and forgiving us the darkness of our own souls that just moments ago were afraid to confront them. We leave for the night all heroes–at least for one night having triumphed over the distance that so many other days of the year separates people from one another, no matter how closely they may pass on the street.

Most nights, we have trouble getting out the door–there are so many formerly timid audience members wanting to exchange email addresses, offer donations, ask one more question, give one more hug, say one more thanks. Graciously, the speakers oblige, already forgiving an audience whose middle and upper class counterparts will tomorrow ignore them again.

As we leave, I am honored to walk by their sides, to call them my friends, and to know I will see them tomorrow. George once called Luke and me "unsung heroes," but I have never doubted who my heroes are.

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National Coalition for the Homeless
2201 P Street NW
Washington, DC 20037-1033

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Page last modified: Oct. 11, 2011

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