I first met Gabby Almon at the As We Dwell co-working space in the LA Arts District. We were both attending a community gathering of social entreprenuers facilitated by FLDWRK. Gabby was the last to arrive, appearing in a cloud of kindness and determination. She filled the room with an assured strength and approachability, evident in the way she carried herself. I immediately liked her.
As the night went on, I learned Gabby was the founder of Rise of the Bulls, a growing organization and extensive community focused on healing faults and controversies pertaining to the broken humanitarian aid system and the crises this system attempts to serve. Having recently returned from time spent volunteering in a refugee camp overseas, my ears perked up when I heard Gabby’s vision and the intentional steps she was taking towards reconciliation and understanding in our community concerning the Syrian refugee crisis. As the night continued, I learned about the upcoming Rise of the Bulls community dinner and think tank, two separate events focused on creating a platform to discuss and seek answers concerning the Syrian refugee crisis while engaging personally with those around us. The need for an unbiased, safe space to bring about conversation and questions has long been what this crisis has cried out for.
I approached Gabby as the night drew to a close and she extended an invitation to the intimate refugee dinner and think tank. I couldn’t get the smile off my face as I left As We Dwell that evening, excited for what the community dinner would entail and encouraged by the initiatives of others who seek kindness, progress, and unity in the midst of a crazed, temperamental world.
Before I knew it, the event rolled around and I found myself on the 405 blazing towards As We Dwell for the community dinner. I arrived early to the event, toting a bag of melting ice in the looming LA sun. As the 6:30 start time crept closer, handfuls of volunteers began showing up, each bringing their own contribution to the evening. Rachel brought the gorgeous dishes and delicate, twinkling glasses, Gabby the folded linen napkins and white candles, Sherrie the long olive branches and Trader Joe’s autumn bouquets…the table slowly filled with beautiful offerings from people coming together to celebrate and commune with one another. As we decorated the two wooden tables in the back of the space, Chef Oren heated things up in the kitchen; soon the savory smells of Moroccan pumpkin soup and grilled Lebanese chicken wafted through the space, floating up to the industrial rafters like a child’s balloon.
By the time the clock struck 6:30, As We Dwell was brimming with bouts of introductions, the soft lull of conversation, and infectiously loud, warm laughter. I took a step back, inhaling the sweetness of the evening. The topic of the night was home, growing the idea in relation to refugees while we cradled the word with our own definitions and experiences. Gabby called the room to attention and we took our seats. After a heartfelt welcoming, Gabby introduced spoken word artist Arielle Estoria. Her performance of Warsan Shire’s refugee-inspired “Home” awed me and brought a heightened vulnerability and openness to the room. The evening had begun.
The attendees were made up of refugees from both Egypt and the Congo, one of the founders of Justice Rising and a board member of Tiyya. The gathering also included those who have not been directly involved with refugee issues; those who were moved by compassion and curiosity by the state of refugees everywhere. The impossibly talented Bree McCool snapped photos of the evening as we spoke of home, asked questions, and indulged in Oren’s heavenly spread. We traced the footsteps of our ancestors and navigated the paths that carried us to where we all individually stood in this moment. The definition of home swelled in the glow of candlelight, the weight of the word naturally settling in, making room, saying, “Yes, we are all welcome here. We all have a place at this table.”
Here is what I know for sure; people are exponentially messy, and I for one am constantly struggling to navigate my footsteps in a world which grows louder, angrier, and more closed off by the day. Here is what I also know for sure — the small, beating communities throughout America and around the world carry a deep, undeniable power to initiate change by embodying generosity. As my eyes wandered around the dinner table, I was struck by the understanding that the beauty we were all experiencing was based off of the generosity of one another. Each item was either a personal belonging or purchased specifically for the event; there was also generosity embedded within the evening through one another’s stories, ancestry, and conversation. We can embody this contributing, flowing generosity into all aspects of our lives; from conversation, to influence, to finances, to space, to skills, to compassion. The heart of generosity is simple; it is about offering, sacrificing, what we have for the sake of another. This transaction is tenderly, beautifully sacred. The solution in the midst of humanitarian crisis falls in the lap of generosity. We have unimaginable power to redirect change towards redemption by opening our hands with all we offer.
This is the easiest way to step into a lifestyle of generosity; it’s our immediate go-to mind when we hear the word. Without money, the dreams floating around the dinner table at As We Dwell could not happen. Justice Rising couldn’t build schools without finances, nor could Tiyya help rebuild refugee lives without the blessing of money. We are able to push our world higher through financial gifting, blessing those around us with our resources to encourage and sustain them. Money makes the journey ahead smoother. Whether it be through aiding a single person or aligning with an organization, financial generosity is a necessary step towards rectifying the daunting issues we face. I am a firm believer that giving someone money solidifies support, speaking a convicted, “I believe in you, I see you, I am with you.” Money, at it’s very best, is a resource that helps fuel and sustain both vision and mission. It is the ingredient which helps turn dreams into reality. Finding an organization that aligns with your convictions and then financially backing their mission is a huge part in stepping into a lifestyle of generosity.
The context in which we gather is important; the spaces we open up or step into shapes the way we engage with one another. As We Dwell opening their doors to conversation about refugees brought a level of creativity, safety, and intimacy to the evening. We can be generous by opening up our land, which implies being generous with our space. Not only is there an opportunity to use our nation to bless those who have had their own nation stolen from them, we can also be generous with our individual spaces by opening up our homes to one another, regardless if it is to the refugee or the fellow countryman. There is power in welcoming others into your personal space. It reveals vulnerability and trust, creating an atmosphere where we are at ease with one another. When people enter those places, understanding ensues; a stranger opens the door, and a friend closes it. Embracing this philosophy revolutionizes a world growing further apart by the day. Healing starts around a dinner table, in sacred and shared places. Healing starts in your home, around your dinner table.
Connecting people and being the bridge between relationships is a fundamental part in the collective effort of moving forward. The connections between Tiyya, Justice Rising, As We Dwell, Arielle Estoria, Rise of the Bulls creates a stronger voice for good in this world, a stronger voice calling out what is wrong and asking for answers. When we are generous with our influence, the world becomes a smaller place with deeper roots…a world thriving beneath the layers of connection threaded along those invisible latitude and longitude lines. When we are open with our influence, the world shares a breath — connectedness is a blessing that stems from our generosity and our willingness to unite and intercede for others. There is power in your voice and influence - your ability to connect people will strengthen the demand for good in this world.
Compassion is what made this Rise of the Bulls event possible. The compassion present in the people surrounding me in As We Dwell that evening caused a tangible hope to swell inside of, brought about an innate understanding that this was something powerful, pure…a win for the common good. I think we all can fall under this belief that compassion has a limit, that we can only see so much or give so much before we must step away in the name of self-preservation. Yet I have learned compassion is one of those areas in life where you can never have enough of it — there is always room for compassion, always space to be moved by someone’s story. Compassion should not and cannot be quantified. Relentless, generous compassion will change the world; in fact, it already has. Your compassion matters. Your willingness to choose compassion changes everything.
As the night drew to a close, the conversation lingered. Home, refugee, generosity, community…there are still so many questions, so much we cannot wrap our heads around…and that’s okay. It’s okay we don’t have all the answers. More often than not, progress in our lives begins with an open door to one another rather than in hard solutions. The power lies in our ability to come together with a willingness in the ear, heart, and hand. It is through our gifts to one another that we receive our filling. Let us move towards generosity in a world that is starving; let us break bread.