Independent journalist Marianna Sousa is fairly new to the Sacramento media scene, but she’s already making waves. Fresh off a Capital Public Radio internship, where she worked on The View From Here series, Sousa returns with a mini-documentary on ENGAGE, Inc., a grassroots emergency homeless service collective in Sacramento. Led by firebrand communications professor Kimberley Church, ENGAGE works to fill in the day-to-day gaps for the homeless community where the city, county and state have failed. We called Sousa up to discuss her new doc.
VOICES: River City: Where did you come up with the idea for this documentary?
Marianna Sousa: This has been a continuum of a body of work. For the last six years, I’ve produced an event called Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is in the Sacramento area. It started with us feeding the homeless and kind of transitioned into preparing hygiene packages. So Professor Kim Church, who I was a student of years ago, began to support and attended last year when we had it at Sacramento City College. She was so thrilled, and from that point on we extended our friendship in the community to being advocates for unhomed youth.
When I discovered she was doing this wonderful work at St. Paul’s [Episcopal] Church downtown on J Street, it was just a natural connection for me to uplift the platform for her to tell her story and allow other people in the community to show that you don’t necessarily have to do it for a particular organization. As long as you have a willing facility and willing people who understand the power of community service, you can really start to change the conditions of things.
And it didn’t require a whole lot of community stakeholders, in a sense. It was just people with the willpower to come together with the little bit that they had and make it stretch for those who are in need. For me that’s powerful.
V:RC: There’s a real gap in services in our region when it comes to homeless youth and transition-age youth. What do you think someone in the community can do for them?
MS: I think sometimes the importance of creating documentaries is to allow people to see themselves. So when we don’t see ourselves as these celebrities, or these major community moguls, we feel like what we can contribute is not enough. And so what this documentary is showing is everyday people who are coming together the same way some people may consistently stick with watching their favorite sports team. You’re just consistent, right?
The same people who affiliate with a particular spiritual discipline, or religious discipline, there’s a consistency that comes along with it–not perfection, not an expectation that you’re going to be able to solve all the problems, but like I’ve heard reiterated in the interviews is, “We’re just asking people to do what they can.”
So what I’m noticing is it’s great to see people explore their philanthropy on a basic level. Dropping off the water. Dropping off tents. Dropping off the goods.
My suggestion for people would be, whether it’s money and goods, yes that’s well needed and we’re never going to turn that away. But maybe it’s just time. I know women with empty-nest syndrome. Those are perfect candidates for people–parents and single parents who are sending their children off to college and they still want to give to the community and have a paternal or maternal energy. Take a homeless youth to ice cream, as it was suggested. Take them to the movies. Take them to the swap meet to walk around, give them a $20 budget. Quality time and personal development comes through one-on-one engagement.
V:RC: Kimberley Church has built a reputation as a bit of a community rabble-rouser. What strikes you about her?
MS: She is going to rile feathers. She speaks loud and she speaks direct, and I think that’s what’s kind of missing in community activism right now, is people who are willing to take risks and be the voice for the community, and she’s willing to do that. I think that that can be intimidating for people, public officials, because they’re not used to straight shooters. There’s policies, there’s meetings, there’s agendas. And we understand and honor both sides, but sometimes you need someone that’s gonna come in and get straight to the point and that’s who she is.
I respect her. I understand the power of invigorating the masses through presenting yourself in a way that’s going to light people’s fire. And that’s what she does. As a fellow sister warrior in the community, I’m all about keeping the fire lit and carrying the torch as far as I can go.
This interview has been edited for clarity and space.