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Jan, 2016

Philadelphia – Where The Superheroes Don’t Wear Capes

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So, Philadelphia has been such an incredible experience for me. It’s my second time in the states and I love the US more and more each time I see it. I’ve given two talks at RHD and both went incredibly well. The first talk was to a group of people from their program, and the response I got from them was amazing. Some of these people have had to live on the streets, they’ve lived with violence, addiction issues, abuse and much more. They told me at the end of my talk that I’m an inspiration to them, which just fills me with pride and a belief that the work I’m doing really does matter. But in fact, they’re the real inspiration.These are real people with real gifts and real talent, with perhaps no outlet to use them and no opportunity to show the world their real worth. One of them, who always dreamed of being a writer, shared his own very powerful and moving poem with me:

 

Broken

“A crushed olive makes the best oil. A pressed grape affords the finest wines. A plucked petal from a rose sends off the loveliest aromas. A cracked alabaster box permeates the sweetest fragrance. And a broken heart sings the best love songs.”

Written and arranged by Bryant E. Culpepper Sr

 

These are a group of people who’ve experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, perhaps for different reasons and a cruel twist of fate. It could happen anyone of us. No one, no matter the circumstances, grows up wanting to be homeless and to see anyone going through that breaks my heart. They all have a voice that deserves to be heard and they all have a story.

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(One of my quotes from the talk, they liked this one)

 

I also got to see a lot of Philly and almost everywhere I looked I could see people living on the streets. It’s such a sad sight to see especially when it’s such a beautiful city. This was a real shock to me. I saw one man asleep on a vent trying to get a little heat. I saw kids without homes, babies without parents.

 

But beneath this tough exterior lies one of the most powerful forces we have on this planet: love. Philly which is known as the city of brotherly love, is full of just that. So many kind, caring, passionate people and none more so than the amazing folks at RHD. It starts with the very lady who brought me over, Ann. Ann is the unit director and without a shadow of a doubt is one of the most inspirational leaders I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. The thing about great leaders is they inspire leadership in others. Her kindness and compassion truly took me by surprise. I knew she was a lovely lady as we’d spoken quite a lot before I came over, but I had no idea just how special she is. Ann leads by example and for her it’s a calling, not just a job.

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(Myself and Ann having a bit of a moment)

The biggest compliment I think I can give Ann is that I really do wish she was someone I had in my everyday life, a real life angel walking among us. And her team is just as incredible, from the fablous Tanya and Kristan (the work wives) Jim, Takia, Scott, Owen, Coreen, and Yevette (who has quite possibly the prettiest smile I’ve ever seen), Kathryn who organises Hoops for Hope, a homeless men’s basketball league (which needs YOUR help), LaurAnne, Sara, Patrick, Tahira, Nichole, Shawanda, Melissa, Ethan and so many more wonderfully kind, caring individuals. It actually surprised me just how kind and caring they are.

 

A lot of us think about homelessness and never spare a thought to those who are working on the front line to support these people. Anyone who works in this sector does so because it’s a calling, not because of the paycheck. The reason they do it is because they love and care for people. But it is not easy. In fact, I think it could be one of the hardest jobs you could do. I spoke privately with a lot of them and the recurring theme was that they love and care for others. Yet in some ways their hands are tied behind their back, be it because of politics, lack of funding, whatever and that, my friends, is so sad. These people are literally putting their lives on the line, yet you’ll probably never hear of them or the work they do. For example, since my return, a member of staff who works in their shelters has lost his life. He was shot and killed in one of the shelters. For doing the job he loves. He gave the ultimate sacrifice, his life, so that he could protect and care for others. Here are the words of one employee after hearing of the loss of one of his co workers:

 

“RIP to the good man who lost his life this morning and a fast recovery to the other good man wounded providing a service that is often thankless but necessary and sometimes makes you the focal point for the violence, trauma and stress that people without homes, people suffering from addiction and mental illnesses suffer at the hands of faceless, familyless, lifeless institutions and systems every day.

And on this sad day strength and sympathy for all of those who are without homes and suffering from these afflictions and from these systems and will be even more judged and stigmatized for the actions of this sick individual this morning.

I work in this shelter and I can tell you that the staff and the residents both are good people, and that what happened today is not the norm and has been most traumatic for those who have nowhere else but here to call home.

What happened here was a combination of a sick individual and lack of dynamic services robust and widespread enough to make space for and support suffering, sick and traumatized people.

But what was missing most was love. Life is precious. We must all remember this always.” Ethan Jury

 

I worked very closely with this group. I started off with a talk and then spent a half a day doing workshops with them to help bring more kindness into their lives, and also into the lives of the people all around them. They also showed me sincere kindness and took me out for some drinks at the end of their week’s work. I would call them modern day Superheroes, but they don’t wear capes. They wear a plain t-shirt that simply says RHD.

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(The amazing RHD Team)

Some of them are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. While many of them thanked me for the experience I brought them, it is I who should give thanks for what they showed me. They showed me that love, kindness, compassion and Superheroes are all around us, you just have to look a little deeper sometimes. I would like to dedicate this newsletter to the staff at RHD, to 26-year-old Lamont Barham who was injured in the shooting and especially to Edward Barksdale who lost his life while protecting the lives of others. I encourage you to give his memory a moment of your time.

 

Lots more happened while I was in Philly. I ended up meeting the folks from Facebook Stories, who came to film me. I conducted my very first kindness adventure, but I feel that’s a story for another day. Today I just want you to think about this. Think about these people and the many others all over the world who make kindness a part of their life. People whose mission in life is to make everyone feel loved and cared about, because that, my friends, is the most important job of all. And it’s what the world needs.

 

(I also did a little interview with Ann, where I asked her about the work shes does, and the impact it has. Please take the time to watch, now, or later. I promise its one that needs to be seen. I make a little challenge in the video to either send socks to RHD or else to simply give a pair to someone you see, experiencing homelessness. Here’s the address if you want to send them. Ann Ryan 5201 Old York Rd. Philadelphia PA 19141

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