First and foremost, I would like to praise and acknowledge all those that contributed and worked our first food drive. This is a very special moment in time, whether we know it or not. December 5th is the perfect example of change. A change of thought and in actions. The change from the “Me Syndrome” back to an “us” or “we” mentality. People caring for others. And just for the simple reason of doing something righteous. Being kind just cause with no strings attached. But for me it really shows a lot about the character of a person. How they see the world, what they value and who they are. I have enjoyed serving others on different levels for a little over three years. But from my first experience it made an immediate impact. It gave me such a sense of joy, gratefulness and community. It was a pleasurable moment. My biggest memory is of me doing my first volunteering at the LA Food Bank. My good friend Sarah Byrd invited me to come out on a Saturday morning and I jumped at the offer. The thought of helping feed people that reside in the same city as me gave me a large feeling of excitement. This would be my first real community work, and for me it had the feeling of being on a cool field trip.So instantly I became very interested in what the LA Food Bank did. And based on how many people participated that day I was not the only person that found an interest in what they did and what type of people they were helping throughout LA. It showed that there were people that cared or had an interest in something other than the normal daily distractions. Believe it or not there are tons of people that have huge hearts and donate financially or gift wise to groups that do work with people in need. But there is a huge difference when you assist in doing the work versus making a donation. And I began to learn this in real time.
After my first couple of visits to the food bank, I caught the bug. It led to me always looking for different ways to helping others. Eventually I was dropping off food to the homeless once a week. If we had a party or a family day, I would take all the extra food we had and shared it with homeless people across LA. I have always seen wasting food as being unholy or ungrateful. So I always tried to make care packages of food when I had too much. At some point in time my dear friend Shelly Sims joined in on the fun. We would go feed 40-50 homeless whenever we had an overwhelming amount of food. At some point we began to prepare food just to go hand out. It became an obligation for us. But the difference was that it was in a positive way. We not only felt that we should do it, but we also wanted to do it. There is a great feeling that comes over you when you do a kind gesture. Especially in regards to feeding someone. But there is also a feeling of sadness and/or disgust that can arise. Once the glow wears off, reality sets in. You did a great thing. But at the same time you feel you could and should do more. So instead of 45 people today, it could of been 70. It can be pretty rough sometimes, because you know there will always be more people to feed. And what is even worse is when those people are staring right into your eyes and you have nothing for them. So that’s what brings us to our current food drive. This will be the first one that I have done in a while, at least five months. So we picked a date and posted it on social media. And to our surprise there were a lot of people interested in participating. As interest began to grow, I began trying to figure out what would be a decent number of people for us to feed. I wanted to think big, but at the same time be realistic. Finally 400 popped into my head. It was a doable number workload wise, when you take into consideration the preparing and transporting of the food. But still a very nice number of people to show love to. And a great way to end our 2015.
I chose Breathe Love as the the name for our group. The Breathe Love name has an interesting story behind it. On a Saturday afternoon Shelly Sims was working on an art and crafts project in my backyard. She asked for suggestions on what to add to her painting. The topic was love. So I told her the best one that popped into my head. And then I went right back into doing yard work. Some time after I eventually took a break. During that time I went to see the outcome of her labor. It looked very nice. I gave her a compliment on the work. But I noticed that she misquoted me. “Breathe Love” was incorrect. I had said “Breed Love”. Both equally powerful statements. But they have completely different feelings and ideas in my eyes. Some time passes and the phrase kept crossing my mind. I felt it meant so much more than what I intended with my original. It held more relevance. My interpretation of Breath Love was living out what you preach. And in this day of social media we have so many people that have an opinion or feel they have the right answers. They will make a post thinking that is the equivalent of actually doing the work that goes with supporting those ideas. Breathe Love was the answer to the faux social media activist. Words are powerful. But actions speak louder than words. So my interpretation took me there. It made me see people actually going out into the world and helping. It also gave me a hope for people within the Black community. It makes me feel that we can have somewhat of a utopia if we just looked at one another for who we are, a beautiful people. So by breathing love you are the example. You are living out your intentions. It’s powerful. So the naming of the event was charting a moment in time. Where we mark a beautiful gesture of love. Feeding people is a very honorable act. As well as humbling. It is a very good feeling knowing I have friends that are supportive and that want to participate. So from this day on Breathe Love will be attached to any work I do within the community. I want to be a person of action, not just talk. I want to Breathe Love.
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
December 6th, 2015 GAME TIME
Yesterday was beautiful. A day like no other I have ever experienced. I am actually still recovering as I type these words. I am drained. But I am also super happy. The day was an energy high. You could feel the anxiousness in the air. We had all been looking forward to this mission. And now the time had come. My day started at 6am. As soon as I crawled out of bed I was up cleaning the house and setting up the work stations. I even had to fit in running around the city. But it was all a part of the process. Every detail made a difference of how the day might end up. And I was willing to do whatever to make this day a success. And not just because of the initial goal, but also out of respect for my friends and family that were donating their money, time or both. I don’t like my time to be wasted. So I give that respect to others. As the clock began to move closer to the start time, my cell phone began continuously going off. Everyone was checking in to see if there were any items still needed to make the day go smoothly. It was a proud emotion growing because it left me feeling like everyone was just as invested as I was. Between 10:30am and 11, one by one people were filing in. More groceries stacking up. More voices in the house. Then the music comes on. We start cooking the pasta and the meat. We have now officially began. Breathe Love just inhaled.
There are bodies everywhere. So much movement that it looks like a human ant arm in my kitchen and dining area. The sounds of multiple conversations and singing can be heard while old school R&B blares in the background. Honestly it was a little chaotic at first. But eventually it settled down. Everyone found their groove. Some people had one specific task. Others went back and forth between the different stations we had setup. It was beautiful to witness. Today my people came to show love for total strangers. But at the same time show love for one another. Show appreciation for the relationships that we have built. We all know there are no guarantees in life, so we maximize our time. Any and all moments together are always a bonding experience. Loving the people in your life is a priceless gesture. And we take it very seriously. So we handled our business for the food drive, and still fit in bonding with one another. If I had to pick a phrase for the day it would be “Sharing is caring.” Obviously we were present yesterday to do a wonderful act of caring. But it also represented the fact that we all took care of one another. We had some people making smoothies. Some that brought sandwiches. Even some that bought boxes of pizzas. There were endless amounts of snacks. Everyone had a part to play in making this goal a reality. Every soul that crossed a threshold of my home or did a donation of some sort made this happen. It is pretty funny that people were thanking me for facilitating. But I was much more grateful for all that they did. The lived out their intention. They contributed on so many levels. I was very humbled and proud to see the interest, effort and work that was put into this food drive becoming a reality. I wish the world could see how much work really went into preparing the food and the accompanying care packages. We did the damn thang. This was an accomplishment.
Today was a learning experience. I learned that even with an endless amount of manpower and the needed supplies that things could still go south. My goal was to feed 400 people. And I picked that number based on how many people showed interest. On a normal day, Shelly and I would feed anywhere from 40 to 50 people. So I felt that 400 meals would be a decent and workable number. We ended up feeding 300 people. Which is still a decent number. But I take the blame for not hitting the goal of 400. In the initial stages of the food drive I calculated what was needed to feed 400 people. But I did not factor in the need for a controlled portion size. So there ended up being cartons that were dense and some that were light, there was no consistency. I even had a brother complain that he did not have enough for him to fill his stomach. So in the future I will sit down and calculate what is a respectable amount of food for the people. This was my first stab at feeding a large group of people. I had to learn on the job, and I would not change it for the world. Another thing learned was the importance of time management. My original goal was to reach Skid Row by 3pm on Saturday. That time of day was perfect. It would of given us at least 2 hours of sunlight before darkness blanketed the area. And that was very important due to the fact that this was my mission. Therefor I was responsible for everyone that would be out there. But as the day went on, the time flew by us while doing the prep work and cooking. The evidence was written on the wall and I knew the plan was not going to happen the way I intended. So a little anxiousness set in. I knew some of my friends had never walked the streets of that side of town. So I am sure they didn’t know what to expect. But I needed everyone to feel safe. Especially due to the fact that some had brought their children along to witness and hand out food. I actually brought my 3 year old daughter Taylor out to witness as well. So all my thoughts were based on taking the necessary precautions to keep everyone involved from harm. The day got away from us. But we were working. We would take breaks here and there. But overall we were going at a consistent pace. When we finally finished it was a scramble to get everything in the right vehicles so we could roll out. I have to tell you, my friends and I had a hell of a workout taking the care packages to the truck. Let me explain, so each care package had two bottles of water, eating utensils and a bag of cookies. And I knew that the water bottles would weigh us down. So I made sure we only filled up our giant trash bags that we used to load into the truck halfway. And even with my suggestion it still had us with sweat beads everywhere. It had to get done, so we did it. We transported the care packages in a truck and the food was delivered via van. Once everything was loaded we posed for our group photo. Now it was GAME TIME.
There was energy in the air. It was now time to complete the mission. But we were confused, I’ll be real. People did not know if they were gonna drive their cars or carpool with someone else. So it kind of delayed us lol. But once all the cars were filled and we pulled away from Mtoto-ville the time had finally arrived. As I waited for everyone to join in on the caravan, I looked into my side rear view mirror. I saw something very beautiful. There were about 8 cars behind me, completely filled with people that had the same vision as me. Over 20 people that wanted to do a kind gesture.I had somewhat of a flashback, it took me back to being in high school. When my friends and I would have a designated meet up spot and then drive to whatever social gathering together. And here I am at 34 doing it again. Except this go round is for something way bigger than being social. Feeding the residents of Skid Row had me checking back in with reality. And I was sharing that moment with friends and family.
We went north down La Brea. Then we hopped on the 10 Fwy and headed towards Downtown LA, destination Skid Row. I pulled up first to ground zero. And as soon as I looked up there were people parking behind me. It was time to handle our business. Eventually Lauren “Lo” Ferrell arrives, and I have her double park beside me because I felt it would be easier to work if we created a semi assembly line. And it would save us from having to lug around those heavy trash bags filled with care packages. At 4pm we were finally ready to handout the food. It was something to witness. People were grabbing the care packages from the truck bed and handing them off to another friend that had the meal. Then hand it off to our human being in need. Once it started it was on. Everyone found their position and manned it. Some people were recruiting. Some were the unloaders. Some were giving the food to the residents. The kids even began to handout. It was an occasion like none I have ever witnessed. I was a participant. As well as an organizer. And honestly it felt like I was a fly on the wall in that moment. I was happy. I was on a universal high. People I respect and love had not only contributed to this idea, but actually came out and lived this idea with me. Breathe Love was alive. So I made sure I did every job possible while we were out there. I recruited. I was the security guard. I handed off food and care packages. I even greeted and had numerous conversations. It felt right. I loved that my daughter was there. She saw the people that she loves doing something holy. I watched my nieces hand meals to total strangers. The fact they wanted to be there was enough for me to cheerlead them. But they actually did the work. We cannot ask for anything better than that in life. Children with purpose should be celebrated. And our machine kept going. More and more people came. We eventually had to move down the street once we had fed all the people. And like clockwork, we started right back up. Some even ventured out around the corner. And they then found out how real Skid Row gets. But nothing bad happened. It was just a side of life they were not accustomed to. But I came prepared for the event. I had my machete on my hip just in case. I had to have something on me, I had my babies out there. My weapon was out for everyone to be seen. I knew that we would be fine. But sometimes people can get a little aggressive or excited. So I had to take measures to let my fellow workers and the residents know that I was prepared to protect. And as everyone felt more comfortable they wanted to explore and be in contact with more of the people. So we did. Of course with me by their sides. Eventually we ran out of the spaghetti dinners. So we began to give out just the care packages. We handed out as many as we could before the sunset. Once we called it a day, we stopped and hugged one another. It literally took only one hour to pass out 300 meals, plus the leftover care packages. An hour is not a very long amount of time. But that hour on Saturday felt like an eternity. Afterwards some said their goodbyes and headed home. Some returned to my house and just enjoyed some more of each other’s time. We ate, We talked and we chilled. I had to relax immediately. My saturday started at 6am and never stopped. I was beat. Everyone else seemed a little drained too. There is a lot of emotion and thought that happens when you are exposed to extreme poverty. It’s the equivalent of watching a television and you not being able to change the channel even though it’s right in front of you. You have to consume it whether you like it or not. So you can become a little drained witnessing it all. I have been going to Skid Row since I was a kid. And there is never a time when you witness the conditions of the people and not feel something. If the images and conditions down there don’t make you feel something you are not human. No person in this world should be forced to live like that. Yes, I am ranting. America the land of the great has failed it’s people. We are the biggest country in the world, yet we have people that don’t have a form of shelter. I did not say a house or an apartment. I am saying a place where they can rest their head without the elements making them have concern. I was definitely drained, mentally and physically. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I loved the process. December 5th taught me a lot. And now back home, I was still enjoying the people I had spent my whole day with. I don’t remember even discussing the day that much once we were back at my house. I think we all were still trying to take in everything that we saw and did. At some point that physical draining kicked in and one by one people vacated. I wonder if anyone felt like me. I describe it as a feeling like being sleep and just drinking a couple of cappuccinos. I was wide awake, but I knew I was exhausted. Eventually the house only consisted of Taylor, Sara Jones, Shelly and myself. We ordered Mexican food and winded down. But not before my mini me made us all have a huge chuckle. That was a day in the life of beautiful people doing a beautiful thing. And next time there will be more beautiful people doing a beautiful thing. They will be living out their intensions. They will be the image of Breathe Love.
Honorable Mention + *A soul clap*
Tedford Hope Jr.
Elie Joseph Jr.
Toiah M. Gordon
Stella Berlgarde Scranton
Darron R. Walker
Taylor C. Thomas