Our view: Film details invisible problem that community must address

During the film's opening moments, while the screen is still dark, a girl's voice could be heard: "I never really thought about poverty until now." The sentiment, literally from the shadows, was faceless -- just like poverty itself, a critical is...

Fighting poverty
CHUM community and outreach worker Elizabeth Olson (left) and filmmaker and singer-songwriter Angela Brannan are members of a group called Duluth Q that's shining a spotlight on the problem of poverty in Duluth. (Clint Austin /

During the film's opening moments, while the screen is still dark, a girl's voice could be heard: "I never really thought about poverty until now."

The sentiment, literally from the shadows, was faceless -- just like poverty itself, a critical issue a small group of mostly young people in Duluth who call themselves "Duluth Q" are determined to tackle, first by raising awareness. That began this summer with the 37-minute film, "Duluth Q: Poverty, Homelessness and the Working Poor."

To start needed community conversations on the issue, the group screened the film at least seven times since Aug. 23 and made it available on DVD at the public library and elsewhere. Its premiere at Teatro Zuccone was so packed, including with elected officials, people had to be turned away.

"It was a different demographic. It was a young group and a lot of new faces. A lot of younger faces," said Churches United in Ministry congregational and community outreach worker Elizabeth Olson, who works with Duluth Q, in an interview with the News Tribune Opinion page. "We want people to contribute and to think about this and to help be part of the solution."

But why should the majority of us care? Those people in poverty are lazy drug dealers who won't try and who take advantage of the system, right?


Wrong, according to first-time filmmaker Angela Brannan, her research and others in Duluth Q (the "Q" for "question," with the first focusing on poverty).

"It's on the corner. It's down the street. It's in your neighborhood. It's everywhere," the film states of poverty. And, as Angie Miller, executive director of Community Action Duluth said in the film, "It's not 'those people.'" Rather, it's people you know, people all around you.

"You can work full-time, and if you have a minimum-wage job and one child, you are below the federal poverty guidelines," she said.

More than 20 percent of Duluthians live in poverty. Even more grim: Nearly half of American Indians and more than 40 percent of black people are in poverty.

Nearly a third of all Americans will spend time in poverty over the course of a decade, according to Dave Benson, executive director of the Damiano Center. So the next time you're in line at the grocery store, look left and right. One of the three of you will suffer poverty sometime in the next 10 years.

Can't happen to you? Benson has lost count of the professionals he's had dealings with as part of his job who later wind up at his nonprofit's soup kitchen. The kitchen serves 7,000 meals a month. During the height of the recession, that grew to 10,000 meals a month. That's about 330 meals a day.

Benson talks to those he knows. They say things like, "You know, I lost my job in the fall of 2008 and, you know, I ran out of savings, and here I am," he reported for the film. "It's a brand new experience. They were really shell-shocked when they came here because they just never envisioned themselves being in poverty.

"That's the important thing for people to recognize," he continued. "Often, it's beyond the control of the people who end up in that situation. The people who are here receiving help really aren't that different from the people you'd see in any grocery store or the mall. It's just that at this point in their lives they need help."


People in poverty tend to become isolated because they can't afford social settings. That extends to their children who can't afford to try out for sports, band or other extracurricular activities that require an additional fee.

"Children are being cheated out of a future," as Kim Randolph, the director of stabilization at CHUM, said in the film.

An estimated 85 percent of children younger than 5 who live with single mothers are in poverty, according to Miller.

Debbie Wagner, the families in transition coordinator for the Duluth school district, said in the film she sees kids struggling every day with poverty -- and "in every school," too. She works with 500 students a year and knows she isn't reaching everyone who needs help.

"I don't think you're going to see poverty if you don't want to see it. I think you see poverty if you open yourself up to the awareness of what's going on," said Kim Crawford, the executive director of the Life House in downtown Duluth. The nonprofit works with young people ages 14 to 20, about a fourth of whom are homeless after fleeing abuse, neglect or exploitation or because they're suffering from addiction.

Like the girl talking in the opening moments of Brannan's new film, poverty is invisible. With talking-head interviews and little else, the film and the group behind it, Duluth Q, are attempting to change that. They're attempting to turn a spotlight on a subject that demands communitywide attention.

If nothing else, they've already succeeded in starting a conversation, one we can all join. From the ideas and thoughts of many come the best chances of solutions.

TITLE: "Duluth Q: Poverty, Homelessness and the Working Poor"
MADE BY: First-time filmmaker and singer-songwriter Angela Brannan of Duluth for In Flight Films; it was produced in association with B-Productions and with assistance from the Duluth nonprofit Churches United in Ministry, or CHUM
AVAILABLE: The film is available for checkout at the Duluth Public Library
COLLEGE USE: The film will be used in classes this fall at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and at the College of St. Scholastica
NEXT PUBLIC SCREENING: Its next public screening is scheduled for Nov. 3 in the Green Room at the Duluth Public Library
LEARN MORE: For more information, find the Duluth Q group at or e-mail the group at

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