Program Note: CNN Heroes received more than ten thousand nominations from 100 countries.. A Blue Ribbon Panel selected the Top 10 CNN Heroes for the year. Voting for the CNN Hero of the Year continues through November 18th (6am ET) at CNNHeroes.com
Nominated Susan Burton | HER STORY
Courage. This is the word that ran through my mind when I first met Susan ten years ago, when she showed me the bunk beds she had put in two bedrooms of her home to house women released from prison with addiction problems. She did not know how to incorporate a non-profit organization and had no financial grants or donations. She just knew she was going to provide a high-quality environment to support women who had been exactly where she had once been. She gave me the courage to go on the journey with her and to support her efforts over one decade.
When I watched CNN Heroes last year, I felt connected to each of the finalists by the fundamental human desire for justice. It was Thanksgiving night and after hearing the details of these amazing people working against all odds, I felt moved to submit Susan’s story of hope and inspiration online. Also every piece of food, every bed and blanket she offers costs money. I was hopeful the attention would increase her resources to continue her work.
[When I heard that she’d been selected as a Top 10 CNN Hero,] a feeling of great peace came over me. I knew that millions of people around the world would be touched and moved to action by Susan’s story. CNN Heroes highlights the transformative power of the human spirit. I knew that Susan’s story of losing hope, becoming addicted to drugs, committing crime to get drugs, going to prison more than five times, and eventually becoming a CNN Hero embodies all of our potential to change our lives and our society for the better. This path from addiction, crime, and incarceration to personal recovery, community empowerment, and activism is rarely celebrated publicly. I felt that [her being chosen as a Top 10] CNN Hero would send a ray of hope to anyone who has ever felt lost to the grip of drugs and alcohol and the millions of people who have been incarcerated.
It’s important for people to know that in addition to running several homes to meet the basic needs of former prisoners struggling to overcome addiction, Susan actively fights to reduce incarceration and to treat drug addiction as a medical condition, not as a crime problem. She was named the 2010 Citizen Activist by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government for her unrelenting efforts to end laws and policies that make it difficult for former prisoners and people with criminal records to get their lives back on track.
Susan is the founder of the Los Angeles chapter of a national organization called All of Us or None, which organizes campaigns to support people with criminal records re-enter into society. For example, they have successfully convinced local governments around the country to remove the question about criminal record convictions from job applications so that formerly incarcerated people are at least considered for employment – the first step to self-sufficiency.
She inspires many of the women who stay in her homes to register to vote and become active in neighborhood organizing and policy advocacy. She changes lives, but she also changes hearts and minds about issues that are unpopular and groups that are disfavored in society, including ex-convicts, drug and alcohol addicts, and poor women whose children are in the foster care system.
Susan’s biggest virtue is her humility. I am most thankful to CNN for providing a mechanism to acknowledge her work and for recognizing her courage and determination.
Filed under: CNN Heroes
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