The Adrian Fenty administration prides itself on finding new ways to deal with old problems. When it comes to the homeless, for instance, the new mayor’s staff has launched a self-esteem offensive, with some help from Oscar nominee Will Smith.
This morning, the Fenty team assembled a group of about 120 homeless people and delivered them to Union Station for a private screening of Smith’s new feel-good offering, The Pursuit of Happyness. The film tells the story of Chris Gardner, a single-father-turned-stockbroker-millionaire who did a stint in a homeless shelter with his young son before hitting it big. Attendees were also enticed by a bagels and pink lemonade for a snack and, after the movie, a chicken sandwich for the road.
As expected, there was plenty of snoring in the crowd, along with a shout of “I know how he feels!” when the landlord demands the rent and locks Gardner out of his apartment.
The reviews from the audience were generally glowing. But outside of the organizers, no one viewed it as a life-transforming event.
“Let’s face it, a lot these guys were here for something to do today,” says Marshall Pinkney, who lives in the Blair shelter and didn’t see any aspiring stockbrokers in the crowd. “I think that’s a good thing, but let’s see how long it takes for the D.C. government to get in touch with us again.”
The message of the film was not that all homeless people should aspire to become millionaires, says Moses Greene, with the mayor’s Office of Community Relations. “I don’t believe the intent was to make duplicate Chris Gardners.…The pursuit of happiness is different for everyone.”
Carlton Overton, a resident of the city’s La Casa shelter, thought the city did a service to the homeless by sharing a story about a guy who made it without government help. “I don’t believe we put enough pressure on the homeless to help themselves,” he says.
Homeless advocate Afara Speaks brokered the event with the Union Station 9 theater owners. And it’s not like she had a choice. She says that she was in Union Station one day, and “the Lord told me to come and talk to the management [of the theater]. And because of my obedience, we were able to come together and make this happen.”
Speaks has high praise for the Fenty good-feelings offensive, and she’s had another inspiration—to take the plight of D.C.’s homeless the biggest platform in the land: “Next we are going to get the Oprah Winfrey show to come here and talk to us.”