Addie is one of my favorite people in the world. She has been my mentor, helping me to put words to the heartbreak I was feeling as my eyes became opened to unjust systems, giving me direction as I realized that I needed to be moved to action, pouring into me as I began my journey of faith and social justice (entities that I believe must go hand in hand). Addie is selfless, intelligent, slightly obsessed with succulents, creative, wise, humble, and all the way in love with Jesus. I wanted to blog about Addie because she is an expert in the field of social justice, having spent more than the last decade of her life not only working with various nonprofit organizations, but also living in intentional community in inner-city Fresno. So here is a little bit about Addie, her experiences, her heart, and her life-changing advice about how we can begin to slowly mend the brokenness that exists all around us.
Addie grew up as a middle-class, caucasian female. She attended Cal Poly for her undergraduate studies with the declared major of Forestry. She had her heart set on being some type of park ranger or something similar, loving the idea of spending her days in nature far away from the hustle and bustle, pollution, etc. of big cities. Until she went to Skid Row and had her entire worldview completely rocked. For those of you who don’t know, Skid Row is an area in downtown Los Angeles that is essentially a neighborhood for the “stably” homeless. In the early 2000s it is estimated that there were over 6,000 people living there at one time–row upon endless row of tents and makeshift shelters, something we would expect to see in a third world country, but not in our own backyard. “I had never seen anything like it in my entire life,” Addie said, pausing reflectively. “That was when I realized that this is real. And it is happening in my own nation.”
This realization of the profundity of poverty drastically changed the course of Addie’s life. Shortly after, she participated in the Los Angeles Urban Project, living in a motel in downtown L.A. working with recently immigrated Chinese families, many of whom were laboring in nearby sweatshops. “You can’t go back…after seeing that type of injustice and poverty…I knew I needed to change the way that I was living my life.”
That change culminated in Addie moving into intentional community and incarnational ministry in inner-city Fresno with an organization called World Impact. Addie continues to live there, helping children with their homework, facilitating weekly Bible Clubs, and engaging in deliberate relationships with her neighbors. When she first moved to Fresno, Addie worked with AmeriCorps in their street outreach program, providing services and resources for those who were living on Motel Drive, a tough area of town where homelessness, drug use, and prostitution run rampant. It was there that Addie was able to see, first-hand, the deep underlying systemic issues that are so prevalent in our society. And it was while there that she decided that she wanted to get her Masters in Social Work (MSW).
Addie completed the MSW program and continued her work in the nonprofit world both with Care Fresno and at Angels of Grace Foster Family Agency, first as a foster child case worker and later as the director of the homeless prevention and rapid rehousing program. She currently works at an incredible organization called Neighborhood Thrift where her technical title is Program Coordinator, but where she does everything from creating goal and action plans with clients to policy work to leading job skill workshops to manning the cashier (along with about a hundred other things).
After speaking with her about her journey, about the twists and turns and detours that had gotten her exactly to where she was supposed to be, I ask Addie to impart some of her wisdom. I ask her what can we do. What can we do as people who sometimes feel hopeless when confronted by realities like Skid Row? Or feel helpless when faced with broken and inefficient systems? What can we do when we feel overwhelmed by all that needs to be done? And her answer is so simple. Her answer is the key to solving our social problems, to eradicating poverty, to abolishing racism.
“What you can do is get out of your comfort zone. You can get to know your neighbor, get to know someone who is not like you. Step into their world and into their life and your entire paradigm will be shifted.”
It sounds so simple. So easy. But it is hard. And messy. And amazing.
We have become so isolated in our world, so busy, so focused on the end and not the means. We have lost the social capital that is community, and we live in fear of what (or whom) we don’t know, of what (or whom) we don’t understand, of what (or whom) is different from us.
So I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone. To start the conversation with someone who lives in your neighborhood, with a co-worker you’ve never engaged with, with an employee at the grocery store. To get to know someone who does not look like you, think like you, act like you. To have your eyes opened, your heart softened, and your worldview wrecked forever. To love your neighbor as yourself.
“My neighbors have changed and shaped me, made me who I am. They are my heroes.”