MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Citations and arrests for panhandling are higher than ever in Memphis, but one woman is working to raise awareness of the problem of homelessness.
Cell phones were rolling in Parkway Village recently as writer Naja Matthews held an open mic event for local youth.
As kids shared their passionate forms of writing, Naja shared her message with words, hugs, and laughs as she hosted a safe space for those in need of an outlet.
“If I can connect with them and bridge the gap, then we can avoid depression and anxiety in kids their age,” she said.
Naja understands those feelings. She’s been dealing with them since she was a child, which is part of the reason why she wrote a book titled “Nomad Girl – Life Itself.”
It’s a memoir striving to combat adolescent suicide. In the book, she digs deep into her own story, shining a light into her life as a single mom and one who experienced homelessness.
“I was doing odd-and-end jobs, staying here and there, but during that time I felt really low,” Naja said. “I have journal entries from 2015 — everything that is in the book is something that I’ve gone through.”
As a way to show her dedication to the younger generation, she utilized teenagers at the open mic night. They worked as a photographer, a DJ, comedian and of course, as talent.
She hopes the message to them was clear through her story.
“I am in contact and dealings with a lot of people that stay on the street, and one of my favorite scriptures is Matthew 25:35,” Naja said. “‘For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home.’”
There’s a lot she would say to her younger self, but what she would stress the most is believing in yourself and spreading kindness.
At the end of the day, that deed costs nothing, but means everything to those who really need it.
“If you don’t have anything to give. a smile or even opening a door for someone can change the trajectory of someone’s whole life,” she said.
After that event, Naja donated a portion of her proceeds to the Dorothy Day House through her nonprofit called Hope Through Love.
If you are interested in her book, you can find it on Amazon.