When the 2008 recession in the United States negatively impacted Sarah Greene’s life in a major way, she could have responded differently. Instead, she used the situation as a call-to-action. Sarah turned the focus from her predicament to a desire to spotlight the plight of others around the country in a photographic journal, Too Hungry to be Proud: A Photographic Journal of ‘One Thing’ That Changed Their Lives.
Sarah set off in a van to travel the United States. Armed with a camera, notebooks and laptop, she witnessed first-hand how people were dealing with the effects of the financial crisis. What she found surprised her.
Not immune to struggle in her own life, Sarah felt her life experiences made her more empathetic to those barely keeping their heads above water. Combining the written word with the power of photography, she brought the reality of life in America to light. She believes, as I do, the ever-growing levels of poverty and homelessness need to be addressed.
The number of foreclosures, lost jobs and homelessness skyrocketed in 2008. Many of the down-trodden struggle with mental health issues. Drug addictions are at epidemic levels. Sometimes the problems are at least in part self-inflicted.
Yet too often the homeless and poor are dismissed as people looking for handouts. Many are hard-working and well-intentioned people, struggling despite their best efforts. Some work multiple jobs, but still scrape to make ends meet. Some have college degrees, others have had their lives uprooted by natural disasters, sudden lay-offs and so on.
Sarah rightly points out that most of us are just two paychecks away from homelessness. Sad, but true.
Something needs to be done. I respect Sarah for bringing some of this to light, for having the courage to be the voice of the voiceless.
To her credit, she stepped out of her comfort zone willingly to get the whole truth. Sarah set out in the least ideal conditions in order to get the most accurate account she could—the heat of the South in the summer and the bitter cold of the Northeast in the winter. Often spending the night in a sleeping bag in her van, Sarah tried to capture it all: “When I witnessed emotion or saw just the right shot, I lowered my pen and raised my camera.”
Her eye-opening and important book is compassionate and humane. She doesn’t sugarcoat the realty; several of the stories and photographs are gritty. This is not a fictional, idealized portrait of our country.
Sarah captures the grimness, the reality, but not everything was gloom and doom. She also found hope. Courageous and resilient people are still out there, both trying to get back on their feet or lending a hand to those in need.
Too Hungry to be Proud is about recession and its aftermath, but is every bit as relevant today. Despite the difficult circumstances, the spirit of the American people—even among the beaten down—is often remarkable.
Sarah reminds us there are kind-hearted people in the world trying to help, many who had to overcome their own challenges. She lays out the truth and then asks you, the reader, to make a difference in your own way, to be grateful for what you do have, to be kind. I second this challenge.
As Sarah says, we really are not all that different. Any of us could fall on hard times in the blink of an eye.
I applaud Sarah Greene’s efforts on this project and admire her guts, determination and compassionate heart. I wish there were more people like her. We could really use them.
**If you would like to read more about Sarah Greene, as well as nine other remarkable individuals, you can pre-order my new book, (Extra)Ordinary: More Inspirational Stories of Everyday People at http://kicamprojects.com/shop/extraordinary-more/.