Thursday, June 30, 2011

RIP Pam Stovall, Associate Director of MLK Library

On Tuesday, June 28th I went to DC's Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library to speak to a group of over 100 teenagers who are part of the Summer Youth Employment Program about homelessness -- to do a sensitivity training of the youth about the homeless issue. (This is the same program which former DC mayor Adrian Fenty pitted against the homeless last year when he shifted homeless funding into it.) This portion of the SYEP is one of the many steps that the MLK Library has taken in recent years to better serve its homeless patrons.

While there, I was saddened by the news that Pam Stovall, the associate director of the library had passed. She lost her battle with breast cancer on Sunday, June 26th. As Audrey Middleton broke the news to me, she said, "I just received an e-mail from Pam on Thursday. Everyone was saying, 'When Pam comes back, we're going to do this and tell her that.' Then, next thing you know, we get word that she passed".

Pam Stovall was a pioneer in her loving service to the library's homeless patrons, though I doubt that many homeless people knew who this awesome woman was when they passed her in the halls of MLK. But, even those who didn't know about her dedicated work for the homeless community which she did behind the scenes, never seeking any praise, most definitely reaped the benefits of her work.

I first met Pam on a cold January day in 2007. Several other homeless advocates and I had gathered under the library's overhang to protest the closure of the program which is presently known as Thrive DC and located in the basement of St. Stephen and the Incarnation in DC's Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. (At that time it was called the Dinner Program for Homeless Women, even though it fed breakfast to men and women, and was located next door to the library.) During the protest, we made a circle, held hands and prayed. It was at this moment that Pam passed by and inquired as to what our gathering was about. She then scheduled a meeting with our group which took place several days later.

During our meeting, we explained to her some of the problems being faced by the homeless. David Pirtle emphasized that those living on the streets and in shelter are people first and then homeless. And to this day, library employees refer to them as "people without homes". We also explained that many of the homeless have difficulty getting a good night's sleep due to being in noisy shelters near people who talk and snore all night or being on the streets where they have to sleep with one eye open. Pam saw to it that the library took a more sensitive approach to dealing with those who sleep in the library. She even allowed David to have art sessions with the homeless. But these are just some of the things that were done as a result of our first meeting with Pam. WE held several additional meetings with her. She brought other library employees like David Robinson and Grace Perry-Gaiter into our successive meetings. Eventually the library instituted several other programs and events that were homeless-centric.

Pam Stovall had homeless advocates to do several sensitivity trainings of its security and staff. Realizing that some of the "people without homes" needed to be connected to various services, she established a homeless outreach office in the library. Now the homeless can be connected to mental health services, shelter, feeding programs and places where they can shower and get clean clothes. Many of the homeless spend their days in the library. And now the homeless service providers can meet them where they're at.

Being that most shelters are closed from 7 AM to 7 PM. This means, among other things, that homeless sport buffs are often unable to watch games that they want to see. Under the auspices of Pam Stovall, the library began to show different sporting events to the homeless on its big screen T.V. in room A-5 or on a smaller T.V. in the 2nd floor lobby.

As it turns out, the library's staff and security are not the only ones who have been insensitive to the plight of the homeless. At one time, the library was also having a problem with teens who would mock the homeless who they met in the library. The issue came to a head in 2009. So, they took decisive action against this problem by developing a project that was designed to help teens gain an understanding of the homeless while also learning photography and interviewing skills. The project was called "Your Story Has A Home Here" and headed by Rebecca Renard. From October 2009 to June 2010 several teens interviewed over a dozen homeless people. They'd work in pairs, with one interviewing/audiotaping their subject and the other doing a photo shoot of the person. The finished project was put on display for several weeks beginning on June 21st, 2010.

I'm sorry to say that the next display which I expect the library to erect is a memorial to the life and work of Pam Stovall. And I'm not sure as to how much her obituary will say about what she did for the homeless community. But I AM sure she touched the lives of many people, most of them housed. Her work for the homeless may be a drop in the bucket when put up against all that she did for all those whom she knew and loved. But for the "people without homes", her work for their (our) community was indeed priceless -- even if they didn't know the woman behind the work.

As a lasting testament to her work for the homeless, may the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library continue to treat the homeless with the same dignity and respect that Pam Stovall demanded be shown to them and other libraries begin to follow her example. In so doing, you would not only continue her work for the less fortunate, but would also multiply it. May this record of the work of Pam Stovall cause even the multitudes who were denied the privilege of knowing her to serve "people without homes" with the same level of dedication, in essence, multiplying her effect many times over. Rest in peace, Pam Stovall.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Samantha Gyabaah said...

I am Samantha, Pam's daughter. I was having a hard time tonight sleeping, thinking about my mom....so I decided to do a search in my email and then on google to read things from her and about her. Even though its a year later, I never saw your blog about her. I am DEEPLY touched. I knew about her passion for the people without homes because she often shared what she did with me but reading about her efforts for others is wonderful. I thank you for sharing and pray that the library has kept up the sensitivity, programing, and overall care to this group of patrons and all people who come to the library. God bless.

July 14, 2012 at 3:07 AM  

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