The Working Poor

Video: the Other MJ

Level: Middle, High school, University
Subject: History, Social studies/science
Creator: Tom Weinberg and Skip Blumberg
Date: 1999
Duration: 29 minutes
This is a film about Michael Johnson, who cleans the floors at the United Center, the home of the Bulls, in the shadow of a much more famous “MJ.” The video takes place during 1996 during the Democratic National Convention, and follows him in his daily life as he works to juggle work, family and just get by on $200 a week.

Teaching Tools

Note: Questions are arranged based on when they occur in the video

Post-screening questions

    1. When Johnson references “40 acres and a mule,” what does he mean by this?
    2. What is the “American Dream”? Do you think all people have the same access to it?
    3. Updates three years later: how has MJ’s life changed?

General Questions

  1. What do you think about MJ’s reasons for not voting? How would you convince him it is worth it to vote?
  2. Imagine you made $270 (adjusted for inflation) a week. How would you budget your money? What would you prioritize? What would you cut back on?
  3. Imagine you are MJ and you had a chance to talk to politicians, what would you tell them? What would you ask of them?


  1. Interview a relative, friend, neighbor, etc. about their work. Write a 1-2 page description of their life or day based on the interview. Include photos or illustrations. Interviews can be collected into a book or a blog and shared.
  2. Record the interview using a digital video device (e.g. smart phone, video camera). The teacher sets up a class blog to share the videos and written reports.
  3. Since the making of this video, Cabrini Green and other CHA high rise projects have been torn down. Have students research the movement in Chicago to tear down the high rise public housing projects and the issues of gentrification. Students will write a 1-2 page essay.