In communities overrun and broken by cycles of addiction and violence that have run their course for decades, individuals are taking matters into their own hands to turn the tide on poverty.
Comeback, a new documentary video series released on Tuesday by Opportunity Lives, tells the tales of the country’s real war against poverty.
"There is a very real cultural movement going on across America of people coming out of bondage," said Comeback’s director and videographer Clare Burns. "People are finding redemption—They are making a comeback, and then they are helping other people do the same."
Burns refers to a "bondage" suffered by those living in chronically impoverished communities scattered across the United States. She traveled with Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) on a journey he chose to go on following the 2012 election to better understand the root cause of poverty and how to best fight it.
The series is not about Ryan. Aside from an introductory episode, Paul makes few appearances.
"I was impressed with Ryan’s willingness to listen and learn, and to go see what these poverty fighters are doing first-hand," said Burns. "He stayed quiet and behind the scenes, listening and learning from the people on the ground, which I think further emphasizes that this isn’t a story about Paul Ryan."
Here are five of the most inspiring moments from Comeback:
Former Gang Members Turn to "Guerilla Warfare" Against Poverty
Antong Lucky, the man who founded the Dallas chapter of the Bloods gang, decided while he was in prison that he didn’t want that life anymore and went in search of redemption.
"Redemption is being able to look at yourself through some self introspection and say, ‘Where I go wrong at? What led to that choice that made me go wrong?’ And then you got to spend the rest of your life correcting it," says Lucky.
Reverend Omar Jahwar recruited former gang members to be foot soldiers in his fight against Dallas’ gang culture.
"You cannot do a drive-by analysis of this kind of complex disease," says Jahwar. He calls what his men are doing "guerrilla warfare," going into the neighborhoods and relentlessly sending the message to kids that they can "become a hero."
Lucky is one of his soldiers, and he created a group called We Make Real Music, which helps youths in the area create music that sends a message other than that of violence.
The Transformation of Greg Bradford
A drug addiction that began when Greg Bradford was a kid ruined his life. He would disappear from his wife and kids for days, spending the little money that they had on drugs. He would rob his own mother.
Bradford went through countless stints in rehab and then a much longer stint in prison. When he got out, he turned back to drugs.
Then Paul Grodell gave Bradford a job and took him under his wing.
"For the first time ever there was a man who didn’t want anything from me but to see me get healthy," Bradford says.
Grodell’s effort succeeded where government programs didn’t and transformed Bradford’s life.
Moms Start Bringing Their Sons to Men’s Boot Camp
Pastor Darryl Webster runs a 21-day boot camp in Indianapolis that teaches men how to have a positive impact in their communities.
Mothers in the community who saw the work Webster was doing started putting their sons through the boot camp, where they stood alongside men who made the mistakes their mothers hope they can avoid.
The message to kids was that there is always a chance for redemption in life.
"Even though we failed at some time in our life, our failure is not final as long as you have an opportunity to make it right," Webster told them.
A Little Girl is Shown that Her Life is Valuable
Shirley Holloway turned property in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood into a treatment facility that is saving lives.
Holloway doesn’t stop at housing those in need—she gives them meaning in their lives.
Comeback tells the story of Pamela and her daughter India, who were taken in by Halloway due to a domestic violence situation. When India arrived, she would fall asleep hearing voices telling her to commit suicide—now she has a feeling of self-worth and knows that her life is valuable.
Halloway has worked with over 40,000 individuals in the area who are broke despite the multitude of government-run programs they depend on, and says it is time to divert the money being spent to programs that have proved they work.
"Let’s put the money where it works. Let’s not keep doing what we’ve been doing because we know it doesn’t work," says Halloway.
The Whole Community Wins
When Grodell rescued Bradford he wasn’t just saving one man, he was saving the community around him. His wife Crystal was just as much of a victim as he was.
"Sure he was the one who was addicted and in bondage for many years, but she was in bondage in terms of how to handle his situation as a mother and a wife," said Burns.
After Bradford changed his life, Crystal took him back.
"You can’t be in the room with them and not feel the love that they have," said Burns. "She went through a transformation as well."
Bradford now spends his time working tirelessly to help other addicts on the path to recovery by giving them the type of love he received.