Chicago pastor helps tell the real story of poverty in America
Written by Emily Mullins
September 20, 2012
"When the director told me they were going to be telling real stories of poverty and telling real solutions of how to combat it, I immediately wanted to be a part of it," said Rev. Julian DeShazier, senior pastor of University Church Chicago UCC. "It's a dialogue we are trying to have at University Church and we want to do that nationwide."
Poverty is the theme of The Line, a 30-minute documentary by Emmy-award winning producer Linda Midgett that premiers Oct. 2 in Washington D.C, with screenings to be held around the country. The film, developed in conjunction with Sojourners, a national Christian organization committed to faith in action for social justice, aims to show the real – and the new – faces of poverty in America. In the film, DeShazier discusses the role churches can play in combatting poverty, while real Americans discuss the struggles they experience living below the poverty line.
The film introduces new concepts of poverty - like working poor people and people who are house poor - and negates the misconception that most Americans who live in poverty are unemployed minorities, DeShazier said. The film features a single father of three from the Chicago suburbs who was laid off from his job at a bank and is now a regular at the local food pantry. It also features a fisherman from the Gulf Coast whose livelihood continues to be compromised by the BP oil spill.
"Poverty in a philosophical way is very ambiguous," DeShazier said. "We have this notion of the poverty line and people above or below it are either poor or not – but there are people who live above the line who are poor and people below the line who are way poorer than you can imagine.
"Putting real faces to the issue can help people have a real conversation and bring it closer to home," he continued. "For those who thought poverty was a black thing or a Latino thing, this film shows a white guy who can't keep the lights on."
DeShazier has been an advocate of the poverty issue since he was called to University Church two years ago. Financial hardship has led to an outbreak in violence in inner-city Chicago, which DeShazier describes as "worse than a crisis." He says most of the assistance programs at his church are geared toward youth and follow the mentality of what the church can do with them, rather than for them. University Church plans to offer job training, GED preparation and literacy programs, and also has a recording studio in its basement to encourage teens to come and express themselves in a non-threatening, non-judgmental environment. The church works closely with the Chicago Wisdom Project, an organization that strives to empower youth to transform themselves and their communities though creativity.
"We can't give them money or jobs, but if we can give them an opportunity to articulate what they are going through, help them process the trauma they are experiencing, then maybe we can help them reorient themselves around hope and other things," DeShazier said.
Congregations are encouraged to host a screening of The Line Oct. 2 to spread this message to their members and communities. Visit the film's website to sign up to host a screening or to find a screening in your area.
"Churches can show the film, and more importantly they can have a conversation," DeShazier said. "Churches need to make a decision about how engaged they are going to be with the issue of poverty. The film and the dialogue might help."