Jewel: "I Know What It's like to Feel Hopeless"

photo courtesy of JewelPardon me for starting with a cliché (as a musician, I suppose I should know better), but the old adage "don't judge a book by its cover" has never been lost on me. Too often, we are quick to judge others whom we don't understand, sometimes through no fault of our own. Perhaps we don't have time or the opportunity to learn more about an issue. Perhaps we've inherited a long line of societal beliefs. Perhaps we believe everything we hear. Whatever the case may be, I hope you'll join me today in ReThink, a movement that asks Americans to think differently about public housing and the people who live there…and to stop judging the proverbial book by its cover.

Why, you ask? The simple fact of the matter is that housing is a basic human need. It's also one of our most expensive needs, putting it out of reach for many. In simple terms, over the past several decades, public housing has given millions of Americans a place to call home.

Public housing provides stability and support for fathers to develop job skills, for mothers to earn college degrees, services for veterans disabled individuals or aging grandparents who might otherwise have no place to live. It unites families, creates diverse communities and it offers hope for people who once thought their lives to be hopeless.

I know what it's like to feel hopeless. I was once homeless, a statistic waiting to happen. I felt the sting of negative public perceptions about my situation, which at the time was dire and left me with very little options, no real way to get ahead and no hope for a better life. Through writing and music I found my way out and beat the odds. Fortunately, my story didn't stop at homelessness, though I can see how it could have.

Without public housing, far more people would be homeless. And as you read this, you're probably not acutely aware of what that might be like, you're grateful for having a roof over your head, a stable job, being able to provide for yourself and your family. Or, perhaps you're in a not-so-stable place or have found yourself in a less-than-desirable financial situation. Perhaps your neighbor, friend or coworker is in that situation. Whatever the case may be, my advice is simple: keep going and do everything you can to keep others going. And instead of asking why others might need a little help, instead ask how you can help.

For ReThink, you can help by just watching and listening to the inspiring stories of the people and families in public housing. You'll see how others have pulled themselves up to find success, and that success is different for everyone.

As for me, I had a few lucky breaks myself, like getting my demo played on a local radio station and then having it heard by a record label. From a young age, I learned that to get by in life, I had to develop a strong work ethic and even stronger will to succeed. Despite my success, I still pinch myself because I can't believe the turns my life has taken. And I'm so grateful to be able to help inspire others to be hopeful. I look at my son and am amazed every day to see how his life is already so different from mine. He is my greatest inspiration.

Jewel is an acclaimed American singer, songwriter, actress, poet, painter, philanthropist and daughter to an Alaskan cowboy singer-songwriter.