T H E AWA R E N E S S T I E S ™ O F F I C I A L M A G A Z I N E F O R C A U S E S IN A WORD
LAURA KIMPTON ( O N T H E C O V E R )
BARE TO BE BRAVE
BECKY KOETS RICHARD
SEE MY COLOR
MARCIA S. ROSS & JEFF KAUFMAN
DEAR YOUNGER ME
BTWF/CHANNEL KINDNESS/ZEE TAYLOR
REFLECTIONS OF A REFUGEE
STANDING IN YOUR TRUTH
THE UNITED EDITION U N F I LT E R E D : S TA N D I N G U P A N D S P E A K I N G O U T
SUICIDE IS A PREVENTABLE MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS. YO U C A N BE T H E O N E TO START THE CO N V ERSAT IO N . H F T D.O R G
THE UNITED EDITION AwareNow™ is a monthly publication produced by Awareness Ties™ in partnership with Issuu™. Awareness Ties™ is the ‘Official Symbol of Support for Causes’. Our mission is to support causes by elevating awareness and providing sustainable resources for positive social impact. Through our AwareNow Magazine, Podcast & Talk Show, we raise awareness for causes and support for nonprofits one story at a time.
O6 A TRUER PICTURE
48 NO ONE SHINES THE SAME
08 WITHOUT PERMISSION
52 I NEED YOU TO SEE MY COLOR
14 IN A WORD
56 GRATEFUL FOR THE STRUGGLE
96 ACE IN SPADES
22 FOR HUMANITY
60 LIFE ON MARZ
102 WORDS WITH EDEN
24 STANDING IN YOUR TRUTH
MARCIA S. ROSS/JEFF KAUFMAN
JONATHAN GEORGE/AALIA LANIUS
34 UNEXPECTED PLANS
72 REFLECTIONS OF A REFUGEE
108 COMPLEX PTSD, MY SON & ME
36 BARE TO BE BRAVE
BECKY KOETS RICHARD
38 UNIVERSAL SONG OF UNITY
82 DEAR YOUNGER ME
42 OVER THE WALL
86 THE TWO SIDES OF BROKEN
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BTWF/CHANNEL KINDNESS/ZEE TAYLOR
90 YOUR NAME & YOUR WORD
92 DITCH THE JUNE GLOOM
EDEN BENIBO/TANITH HARDING
116 UNITED WE STAND
FREE & EQUAL/UWS FESTIVAL
120 AWARENOW OFFICIAL SELECTIONS
UNITED is a state we need to achieve.
United means different things to different people, ‘united’ to me means a commitment to collaboration with shared empathy and compassion. I feel we have become a ‘me first’ society, and it’s been that way for far too long. Now is the time for change.
More than ever people seek the easy road. While the problems we face are not easy, they are easy to see and right before us: equal rights, social stigmas, racial inequity and environmental issues… just to list a few.
To pretend that everyday life can go on the same way as it always has is not an option. Again, the change that’s needed isn’t an easy undertaking, but if UNITED, it’s possible to overcome. With Pride Month coming to an end, I feel it’s truly just a beginning. I remain proud of the changes we’ve seen, encouraged by the path we are on, and hopeful about what’s possible.
To claify, this isn’t about ‘some’ of us. It’s about the ‘sum’ of us.
Please remember the following as Thavius Beck reminds us in ‘To Make Manifest’
Thoughts determine what we want.
Actions determine what we get
Think, Act, Now ALLIÉ McGUIRE
Editor In Chief & Co-Founder of Awareness Ties
Allié is a Taurus. She started her career in performance poetry, then switched gears to wine where she made a name for herself as an online wine personality and content producer. She then focused on original content production under her own label The Allié Way™ before marrying the love of her life (Jack) and switching gears yet again to a pursue a higher calling to raise awareness and funds for causes with Awareness Ties™.
Connect with Allié on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/alliemerrick JACK McGUIRE
Production Manager & Co-Founder of Awareness Ties
Jack is a Gemini. He got his start in the Navy before his acting and modeling career. Jack then got into hospitality, focusing on excellence in service and efficiency in operations and management. After establishing himself with years of experience in the F&B industry, he sought to establish something different… something that would allow him to serve others in a greater way. With his wife (Allié), Awareness Ties™ was born.
Connect with Jack on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jack-mcguire-609339186
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News AWARENOW NEW ambassadors Allow us to introduce you to our newest Official Ambassadors.
Laura ‘Aura’ Westcott
NEW COLUMNISTS Look for stories in each month of AwareNow from our new Official Columnists.
Elizabeth Blake Thomas -
NEW Talk show episode When Pride Month ends, the movement continues.
Tune in on June 30 at 6pm PST/9pm EST for an unfiltered conversation on LGBTQ+ issues as we hear personal stories and discuss public matters.
Catch this premiere broadcasted by KNEKT TV, available on Apple TV & Roku.
Learn more here:
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The forest of humanity
is limitless… AJ DAHIYA
CHIEF VISION OFFICER OF THE POLLINATION PROJECT 6
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‘POLLINATING WITH PURPOSE’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY AJAY DAHIYA
A TRUER PICTURE
AS SEEN IN THE FOREST OF HUMANITY
Suppose two people are on opposite ends of a vast and lush forest that stretches for many thousands of acres.
One stands beside a rushing stream, watching the light play on the water.
The other is in a heavily wooded thicket, so dense that very little light filters through at all.
If they were to describe the forest to each other, their accounts would be drastically different.
They aren’t standing in the same place or having the same experience.
Perhaps they might argue about what the forest looks like.
Or, they could choose to listen to each other and grasp a bigger conception of the forest; one that accounts for the fullness beyond their own immediate horizon.
The moral of this little story: Our own lived experience matters.
It is important, yet a worldview centered on this alone will necessarily result in a very limited understanding.
You may be sitting beside the stream, but that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t standing in the thicket.
The forest of humanity is limitless, the map of which is a tapestry of all of our collective unique experiences.
The truth of another’s story in no way invalidates your own.
In fact, the more perspectives we can hear with an open heart, the larger and truer our picture becomes. ∎
Chief Vision Officer of The Pollination Project
www.awarenessties.us/aj-dahiya Ajay was born in the outskirts of London to a working-class immigrant family. Growing up in a diverse and disparate environment his childhood was immersed in a variety of cultures. From early on in his life, Ajay felt a great spiritual calling. While in pursuit of this deep calling Ajay became ordained as a monastic in his late teens.
As a monk for close to a decade, Ajay had the honor of serving diverse communities across the globe. After transitioning out of monastic life would go on to hold executive leadership positions in a variety of missiondriven organizations
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ORIGINAL BY SAGE GALLON 8
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“It’s in our most unapologetic, authentic self where we find our strength. It is in that place where we exercise our humanity without reservation or judgment.
We accept that we are uniquely created to share our lives... without requiring per mission.”
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ORIGINAL BY SAGE GALLON 10 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
ORIGINAL BY SAGE GALLON 11 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
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ORIGINAL BY SAGE GALLON 13 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
I live in fight or flight all the time… because it started at such an early age, I don't know how not to. LAURA KIMPTON
ICONIC ARTIST, CHILD ABUSE SURVIVOR & AWARENESS TIES OFFICIAL AMBASSADOR FOR THE HUMAN CAUSE 14 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH LAURA KIMPTON
IN A WORD
HEALING A WORD & A WOUND AT A TIME An iconic artist using words, one term at a time, to translate realities on levels people generally don’t go to but should, Laura Kimpton uses her art with symbols that serve as statements. Today, I’m honored to speak with Laura in a conversation about healing a word at a time, as it pertains to PTSD. While it’s generally an acronym linked to warfare, it’s a term that’s connected to the welfare of all who have suffered from physical, emotional or verbal abuse.
Please note, what follows in this interview are accounts entirely unrelated to Laura’s father, Bill Kimpton, who himself was abused and established a foundation to support others. Nor are they connected to her mother. They pertain to interactions with other members of her family whom Laura hopes can be helped and healed by the sharing of these truths.
Allié: Let’s take life, and this conversation, a term at a time. Laura, your life is filled with stories of the unimaginable, defined by both what dreams AND nightmares are composed of. Let’s start with an acronym we’ve all heard, but haven’t always believed was applicable to ourselves. PTSD (defined as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is often only linked to the military. What does this term mean to you? How have you experienced it?
Laura: So, I'm a survivor of verbal, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse since probably six months old, if not younger. I’m going to be very clear that it wasn't my father, Bill Kimpton. He used to suffer from PTSD and started a foundation just for it. And it wasn't my mother. From early on my older sister tried to kill me. So I live in fight or flight all the time. And because it started at such an early age, I don't know how not to. And I didn’t even know I was in flight or flight until my daughter was born and I wasn't a suffer of postpartum because, um, I took 10 years to have her and she came out the quietest as baby ever because I meditated under a tree for the nine months, but my fear levels went up to like 5,000 times more.
When she was two years old, I was at a concert of a band that I followed called Widespread Panic. Suddenly, as I was watching the show (lightly on mushrooms - which I'm very open about my psychedelic activism for post traumatic stress and trauma). And a woman kept on touching me, when I suddenly realized that I didn't feel touch. I analyzed touch. And then I realized I wasn't in my body and I instantaneously came in my body. So, I went out searching and researching because I have a Master's in Psychology. I went researching for what it means to be a sufferer of abuse, especially in my childhood - my sexual abuse started between three to five. What does that mean?
I started researching and realized I suffer from PTSD severely. I had tons of mental abuse, but not the mental suffering, because I'm a meditator. And I always worked on it. As a result of my mental abuse, I suffered more physically. I had more physical pain. Robert Sapolsky wrote a book called, ‘Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers’. And he explains if you live in fight or flight, what your sicknesses would be. So you one, if you're running, you release your intestines, because you want to be lighter. Race horses, do it. You can go watch the race horses and the ones that poop you go bet on. So, you release. I have severe IBS. If you are constantly in fight of flight, you can have a problem getting pregnant because if you're running at all times, you can't be carrying a baby. I had severe headaches and severe neck pains and shaking. So, I had all these symptoms.
These stories were always there for me… My older sister, I would wake up almost every night with her beating me. I was a very aware. My older sister tried to kill me at the stores - that I remember. And I was told. I have scars from when I was two years old from her putting me in a shopping cart and throwing me as fast as you could against the brick wall. I have scars, I have scars all over. I had to go to the hospital from her dropping broken glass and making me walk on it at age four to coming into my room when I was 12 and breaking all my glass animals - stuff I had collected that she wanted to destroy. Every night, I’d wake up to her beating me. 15 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Laura: (continued) So, I knew all those stories. And then I knew about the sexual abuse too, because my little sister was caught. He beat and sexually abused us - my step grandfather. So, I knew all those stories, but I'm someone who at 18 just ran and went to college and never looked back. I wasn't someone who would talk about or think about having PTSD, but then once my baby was born and all this stuff started coming up, I researched and realized I'm a severe survivor of PTSD.
I hope I can be part of something where people starting talking about child abuse, because people don't want to talk about it. Especially a three-year-old being sexually abused. That's not something anybody wants to talk about.
Being a child of someone who suffers from abuse, you learn ways to get by in life. I never thought humans were good. So, I wasn't disappointed by humans. I think humans are way better than they are expected to be. Because I'm a survivor and my father was a survivor and the foundation, I get to go out there and help people.
Allié: Sibling. Most think of siblings as either a ‘best friend’ or a ‘childhood rival’. When it comes to sibling abuse, most haven’t heard of stories that bring this issue to light. Please shed a light on the reality you experienced.
“I wasn’t allowed to shine…”
Laura: You know, I don’t really blame my sister. My older sister went from a perfect little family, to me being born, to the family splitting up… the electricity being turned off, the huge fights and a very difficult time for my parents. We were put in a room for a large amount of time and, and my sister’s anger became extreme. She blamed me because before that I wasn't born. Before I was born, her life was fine. I became the punching bag for my sister. I became the reason for her life falling apart even to this day.
It was a very difficult time with me shining. I wasn’t allowed to shine. My sister was gorgeous from kindergarten on, and it was really hard for her to be the most popular person in the town. I mean, she had to be the president of the class, a cheerleader and all this stuff. And I looked like a boy until I was 16, and I just play sports. And so nobody noticed me. I was told I was retarded at school because I'm dyslexic. And so I didn't have any expectations on me. My sister, however, had these huge expectations. So, for me to shine was very dangerous.
Right now, for me being a very successful artist is a very difficult time, probably one of the most difficult time I've had in eight years. My brother killed himself three years ago. I wasn't suicidal, but I had a moment where I understood it. All this work I'm doing in order to not be in pain. I learned at 30 that beating myself up in my head was not going to get me anywhere.
It's just always a struggle, but I've had such a blessed life life. Since leaving my home, not a single stranger has ever tried to hurt me. I have amazing friends - the strongest group. I've always had amazing friends because I'm fun to be with. And, and I don't play games.
My father built a hotel company. So, I inherited money that I got to spend on art. I spent my whole inheritance on big words and art and installations around the world. I have a wonderful daughter, and I love my dogs. So, I've had a wonderful life, but it’s kind of a yin yang thing. The year that my brother killed himself, I got cancer. I told my brother I had cancer, and on that same day, he got out of bed and hung himself. Now, he had already written a suicide note. He said he was gonna do it in six months. And it was six months to the day. So I was just the last drop, but I didn't get out of bed for four months. 16 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Since leaving my home, not a single stranger has ever tried to hurt me. LAURA KIMPTON
ICONIC ARTIST, CHILD ABUSE SURVIVOR & AWARENESS TIES OFFICIAL AMBASSADOR FOR THE HUMAN CAUSE 17 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘ON MY WAY TO FLY’
“This is why I can talk about it. Because I don't feel shame.”
Allié: Shame. Many who are abused don’t speak up because they feel ‘shame’. You suffered multiple abuses from multiple abusers, and yet you, for the most part, did not carry the burden of shame. Speak for a moment about ‘shame’ and how it has or has not impacted you.
Laura: I never understood shame. I never had shame about my abuse. I’m a very present person, and I didn’t know I was in flight or flight. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be living that way, being that my sexual abuse was when I was young. I had my first moment of shame this year when I talked about my sexual abuse on stage and then off stage at a party. I had four girls cry in my arms, but the men in the room were very uncomfortable, and a particular man came up and yelled at me about it. He asked why I had to talk about it and ruin the party. When you say you were sexually abused at three-years-old, a person has a visual of that three-year-old being sexual. And they’re going to get really uncomfortable. Maybe I ruined their party night… I learned that when speaking about this, it’s important to consider the setting. So, I did feel shame for the first time in my life. 18 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
“I know that there are so many people out there silently suffering…”
Laura: (continued) When my younger sister was caught with my step grandfather sexually abusing her when she was seven, my parents blamed her. They told her that she shouldn't have been climbing on him and shouldn't have wanted love from him. So she feels shame all the time. People who are survivors of rape or sexual abuse, think it's their fault. And our society has done that. This is why I can talk about it. Because I don't feel shame.
My step grandfather was the first person to touch me. Now, obviously my mother touched me. I'm not saying to my mother didn't touch me. She fed me. She clothed me. She changed me. She touched me. But my mother was very busy and in a very hard situation and everything collapsed when I was born. So, suddenly my step grandfather was the first person who really loved me. And some would say shame on me for saying that. But you know, most of the time he wasn't doing sexual stuff to me, most of the time he was holding me and laughing and playing with me. A three-year-old doesn't know when these things are happening, that they're wrong.
Allié: Speaking. So many shelter their abuse by hiding, denying and covering. You selected none of these. You chose ‘speaking’. When it comes to speaking up about abuse, what strength does this provide both the one who’s speaking and the one who’s listening?
Laura: It's easier not to speak about it. I'm speaking up because I know there are people out there suffering, and there are people out there that don't even know they were abused. It doesn't make my life easier at all. I'm speaking out because I know that there are so many people out there silently suffering, and I, now at 58, believe it's my job. Being a well-known artist now, and I've having a family foundation, it’s my job to help those people. I can't not help.
LIVE DREAM BE OK
ORIGINAL ARTWORK BY LAURA KIMPTON
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Allié: Thank you for sharing so much of yourself, Laura. Your story is one that will support so many who have lived in shame and silence for far too long. With your words and your art, you are doing so much to help others. With regard to words and art, you are perhaps best known for your Monumental Word Sculptures, which have been seen at Burning Man and purchased as permanent installations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Rosa, CA, Arlington, TX, Reno, NV, Aspen, CO, Miami, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Hong Kong. What’s the story behind these icon words and the birds?
Laura: I’m dyslexic. I thought it would be funny, you know, if I picked words for my art. Back then, there weren’t any big words but HOLLYWOOD. So, I did MOM at Burning Man. I picked MOM first because I spelled it backwards. The bird image cutouts represented my father…
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Laura: (continued) The bird represents my dad, because he would go to Sienna, Italy to see the swallows in the square every year. When he died, I knew because of my Shamanism studies that a lot of people will visit you through birds. They believe birds are the animal that take you to the next stage. And my dad did.
I bought a house on 75 acres, on a very dangerous road, and I had a hawks land on my car at 60 miles an hour flying. I had hawks land in the road at 60 miles an hour, and they looked at me and said ‘slow down’. Another time, I had a bird nest right outside my door and there were five baby birds - all so young and not attentive with the exception of one that seemed so wise and looked right at me. I felt it sort of represented my dad, and my dad was a meditator.
When I did the words at Burning Man, would hand out the birds. They are a drop out of the steel so light can go through. I would say, “Do you want a piece of love, magic, dream, etc.?” You have one, Allié, which is cool. You have one and didn’t even know anything about it… ∎
Laura Kimpton is a Los Angeles-based, American contemporary artist whose work consists of painting, mixed-media installations, and sculpture. Her creativity stems from a desire to question traditional views on social interaction, therefore invoking through her art a reaction from her viewers that ultimately completes her projects. Her raw and original work uses photography, found objects, televisions, paint, and resin–fusing objects of history to convey a very personal message. Laura Kimpton is best known for her Monumental Word Sculptures, which have been seen at Burning Man and purchased as permanent installations in Santa Rosa, Calif., Arlington, Texas, Reno, Nev., Hong Kong and Miami. View her work on her website (www.laurakimpton.com) and follow her on Instagram (@laurakimpton).
Awareness Ties is honred to welcome Laura Kimpton as an Official Ambassador for the Human Cause, as we work to raise awareness one story at a time. These are the stories that need to be seen and heard to create sustainable change.
ALLIE + LAURA’S
This bird was given 18 years ago when I was at a coffee shop in Grand Rapids, MI.
A guy who I shared my story with told me that he loved my vision and wanted to give me this bird as a symbol of freedom. He told me he was given this while at Burning Man and wanted me to have it. This bird has rested in the bottom of my jewelry box for nearly 2 decades. I had nearly forgotten about it until I spoke with Laura and looked closer and deeper at her work. I jumped up from my desk the moment I recognized it from her ‘E’. I dug out the bird, held it, took this photo and texted Laura right away. She confirmed it. This was indeed her bird.
This is not where the story ends…
This is the tattoo on my wrist that I
got20 years ago. It’s the very symbol
of balanced energy that she features
in so many pieces of her work inside
her birds. Coincidence?
I don’t believe in those. - Allié M.
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We must respect each other.
We must understand each other. OGIMAA (ACHA-KOOH-WAAY)
ANISHINAABE KNOWLEDGE KEEPER, CHIEF OF FOOTHILLS OJIBWAY ON TURTLE ISLAND 22 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT FEATURING CHIEF OGIMAA
CHIEF OGIMAA NAMED OFFICIAL AMBASSADOR FOR THE HUMAN CAUSE Awareness Ties is proud to introduce Chief Ogimaa as an Official Ambassador for the Human Cause.
Ogimaa (Acha-Kooh-waay), ‘Jim’, Anishinaabe Runner & Knowledge Keeper, Chief of Foothills Ojibway on Turtle Island has contributed to AwareNow Magazine as an Official Columnist with his exclusive column, ‘Creator’s Calling’, bringing insights beyond bounds that seldom see. Today, we are honored to welcome him as an Official Ambassador as we work to raise awareness for the human cause that ties us all together one story at a time.
‘Us’ is more than a pronoun to recognize one’s self and those associated to the reference. When we refer to ‘us’, we include all of creation. In all humans, animals, plants, water and air, there is a shared energy that ties us all together. All of ‘us’ depend on one another to exist. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves. It is through ancient wisdom, like that shared by Chief Ogimaa, passed down and carried on, that we recognize our roots run deep and are bound to what we may have forgotten or never known.
If our humanity is a universal thread that ties ‘us’ all together, now is the time to find it grab hold and be bold in accepting that we are all ‘one’ - part of ‘everyone’. That said, we are proud to welcome Chief Ogimaa into our family as an Official Ambassador for the Human Cause. Learn more about Chief Ogimaa and the lessons he shares in Creator’s Calling: www.awarenessties.us/chief-ogimaa ∎
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My name is Ariya.
I was born in Tehran, Iran. I am gay. ARIYA
ARTIST & AWARENESS TIES OFFICIAL AMBASSADOR FOR LGBTQ+ AWARENESS 24 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘THE WAY TO HAPPINESS’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY JACQUELINE WAY (FEAT. ARIYA)
STANDING IN YOUR TRUTH
FINDING THE STRENGTH TO SPEAK OUT & STAND UP Over the course of our lives, we all try on different masks and costumes to fit into a the world. It's what we all want: to be seen and heard in a sea of billions of people that share this planet. But we get lost in the masks we wear. We loose who we are trying to fit into our culture, our religions even our gender. The perfect "selfie" of everyone else's expectation of who we should be. This will never set you on the path to a happy life because you are taking a path that is not yours. Hiding behind the clothes, the make-up the layers of self doubt that who we are is not enough.
When I met Ariya I only saw him. He was magical to me because he could see what I could feel. His art was reflection of what I know to be true but was scared to express because of what others would think. By sharing his story it set me free and it set him free. When you stand in the truth of who you are - you give others the permission to to do the same. You become the light in another's dark day. It is then when you are free from yourself and you are on your path to happiness. What follows is a personal story from Ariya Razmjou. This is his truth.
Strength comes from living your truth.
To be true and authentic is your path to true happiness, freedom, peace and joy.
You may be mocked by others, but they have no power over you...for you have discovered the power from within.
My name is Ariya. I was born in Tehran, Iran. I am gay.
It’s taken me a long time to get to this moment. To say and write those words without reserve. To share all that I am. To stand in my truth without fear. To stand without judgement of myself. To be who I am with all my imperfections and in all my glory. But it has been a long path to get to this place and it has only just begun. It’s been filled with trauma, fear and abuse. I have stood side by side with death more than once and have chosen life.
My first memories as a child always take me home to a place of love and care from my parents and grandparents. Those early years of life were beautiful. I felt safe and joyful. Love and light surrounded me. I had a clear voice those days as a child. I felt free to talk about anything and express myself in a way that felt right to me until the age of 5 when it all started to change.
Sometimes when I expressed myself, I could see reactions from people that I did not understand. I could see the expressions on their faces that spoke a thousand words.
Why are you like this?
Why do you look like this?
Why do you act like a girl?
Why do you put flowers and ribbons on your toy car?
Why do you have a girlish voice?
Why are you different from other little boys? 25 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
ORIGINAL BY ARIYA 26 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
“I was caught between the men I loved and the sin I was committing.”
I started to question myself. I was just showing up in a way that felt natural to me. What felt right and good for me. But I did not fit into the box of expectations that people had of me. I was going against my culture, my “manhood” as expected by others and the world around me. I was shut out and ignored – because I was different. I didn’t understand. What was wrong with who I was on the inside? Was I a mistake?
I came to realize that people have different faces and characters. They lie, act, play games, blame, judge and pretend they are something they are not. I did not see the world this way and it quickly became a very scary place. I lost the freedom to be me - to love unconditionally. The battle began with myself because of who I am on the inside and what the world was teaching me on the outside.
I knew as a child that I was attracted to men more than women. Society told me this was wrong but it felt so right. I would imagine the characters in the cartoons or the superheroes of my childhood coming to save me, but I never knew why I felt so unsafe. I learned to act so people would like me, they would see me - even love me. But it was all an act. A carefully crafted character I played in my own life. I was never truly me. It was so far from my essence of who I really was until I lost my own character in the characters I played.
Day by day the world became darker and darker. I built walls around myself to feel safe and my light began to fade. The boy who was shining and bright didn't have a voice anymore, he was hiding from the whole world, because he had learned how scary people could be, how lost people can be, and how much they can hurt each other.
But deep inside there was a voice. I could hear that voice sometimes late in the night. It talked to me in whispers.
The voice of hope.
The voice of light.
The voice of guidance.
The voice of love.
I couldn’t resist the feelings I had for other boys. But I had been taught it was a big sin! I would go to hell. But I felt like I was already living it. I was caught between the men I loved and the sin I was committing. The confusion made me crazy, and scared. I had to choose one or the other.
I chose to be me. I took a leap of faith to trust my parents with my secret. Surprise! They did accept me and the relief that swept over me from hiding for so long filled my heart with happiness. I could breathe. I could look in the mirror. I am gay! Those days were so exciting as I discovered a new world. A world of being myself, accepting myself. But that acceptance only went as far as my parents’ doors. I lived in a society, a country that to be gay is taboo and a big one!
I had to live a lie – wear different masks of characters I played at work, on the street, with family and friends. The pressure was too much; this would never be a life. At age 21, I decided I had to leave. Move to a dream land where I could be me in every moment of every day. Everything was arranged and I was preparing to say goodbye to loved ones with my ticket to my destiny in my hand - to the future that I had dreamt about for so long.
I was going to be free forever… 27 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
“I wasn’t sure what would kill me first – HIV or if I would kill myself.”
Just a few days before my flight, the phone rang – a call that would change everything. I had completed a routine health check-up in preparation for my departure. The results came back that I had tested HIV positive. I couldn't hear anything anymore, there was a long whistle in my ear… I couldn't feel my body anymore. Time had stopped.
What just happened? I’m just 21!
I just started to live my life! Am I going to die?
In the same breath a voice came streaming into my head. A voice I had to learn to live with.
I am the worst person in the world.
I am dirty.
I don't deserve to be loved.
I traveled down the road of fear, loss, and no self-love. I was screaming, crying, running away, hiding and fighting with myself in every moment. I didn't know what to do. I was full of hate and regret. I didn’t leave Iran but chose to stay with my parents to die. I wasn’t sure what would kill me first – HIV or if I would kill myself.
Difficult days followed living life second by second. Living in a nightmare. I couldn’t accept myself; I wasn’t accepted by my country, my culture or my gay community because HIV was taboo to them all. But I was familiar with living in a nightmare. I had lived there before. There was a hidden strength, a voice that helped me to stay alive - to have a bit of hope that things would work out for me.
It was not a straight line. Life never is. So many twists, turns, bumps and holes that I had to dig my way out of. The story is long and not pretty. Loneliness and darkness filled so many days and so many nights. But I am still here and yes there was a solution.
The solution was to truly listen. Listen to the whispers that had carried me through on the days when I could not breathe. Not to my mind or body but my soul. The voice that was always there even in my darkest moments. The place where love and light reside in us all. I was so much more than the voice in my head or the roles that the world so easily judged me by. It was a strange and good feeling; it was a new type of feeling that I never experienced before. A light inside of myself that was shining again.
Day by day I started to discover this new voice that lives inside. A voice of love, acceptance, and trust. I was finally waking up from the long sleep. I was dreaming all the time, it was a dream that I could make heaven or hell, it was my choice. There was nobody to blame anymore - only me. It was time to change the program in my head and lead my life from my heart and share it with the world. 28 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
ORIGINAL BY ARIYA 29 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
ORIGINAL BY ARIYA 30 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
ORIGINAL BY ARIYA 31 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
STANDING IN YOUR TRUTH
PERSONAL STORY BY ARIYA
I turned my profession as a graphic designer into a viewing glass to share with the world what I get to see and experience every day. I was guided to translate the messages from the sky, clouds, and the sun - to show you how I see the world from the inside out.
Today, I express the two worlds I see through my art with the simple hope you can find the light through the darkness.
Today, I accepted myself for who I am.
Today, I found the light and love that was always there whispering my name.
Today, I found my voice.
Every day I will travel to the sky and explore the universe so I can share the truth of who we all are. ∎
Artist & Awareness Ties Official Ambassador for LGBTQ+ Awareness https://www.awarenessties.us/ariya.html I am a creative intuitive artist sharing the universe I see and experience beyond the boundaries of our planet. My creations come from inner awareness that is heart centered and does not rely on analysis or head-based questions. It is a way of creating that reflects the connection into your emotions and responding to what feels right. This intuitive space is a place of trust that opens doors to my imagination that I would never find by reason and sensory perception.
Inspirational Keynote Speaker, Philanthropist & Founder of 365give www.awarenessties.us/jacqueline-way Jacqueline Way is a dedicated world changer. Her soul purpose is to inspire and educate the hearts and minds of people globally to create a happy, meaningful life. She expresses her purpose through her charitable organization 365give created and inspired by her son with a simple vision to “Change the World 1 give, 1 day at time.” She is a world-renowned keynote speaker with one of the most watch TEDx Talks “How to Be Happy Every Day – It Will Change the World” Every day she is committed to living the highest expression of who she is as a human being through her work and by touching the lives of others.
32 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Today, I found my voice. ARIYA
ARTIST & AWARENESS TIES OFFICIAL AMBASSADOR FOR LGBTQ+ AWARENESS 33 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
We can change our view. CHARLOTTE ALEXANDRA
FOUNDER & CEO OF CULTUROSITY 34 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘FEARLESS’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY CHARLOTTE ALEXANDRA
WITH EYES OPENED & CURIOSITY EMBRACED What do we know about the world we live in?
Usually we just walk within the lines, confined by narrow minded narratives we see in the media withholding of us from stepping off beaten track.
It’s when we truly open our eyes and embrace our curiosity that suddenly we can change our view and unexpected paths appear showing us new ways to literally broaden our horizons.
“I’m on a mission to discover the truth behind some the worlds biggest ‘cultural misconceptions’…"
We live in world where we have all the resources to be connected. At the same time, however, we couldn’t be more disconnected from each other, from ourselves, and especially from the truth.
My name is Charlotte Alexandra - a producer and journalist with an immense passion for traveling and an even bigger passion for discovering the truth. I’m on a mission to discover the truth behind some the worlds biggest ‘cultural misconceptions’, by exploring the unknown and diving in deep with every step getting closer to gaining a deeper understanding of myself, others and the world around us.
So many places, people and cultures to discover… Yet, sometimes we feel confined by an illusion of fear that holds us back from trusting our inner compass. It’s when we allow ourselves to break free from the fear of the unknown, change our perceptions, wander the world, and open our mind and heart that we find ourselves ready to embrace whatever lies ahead.
We realise it’s not only about the destination. We discover that it’s much more about the journey… a journey where curiosity is our guide on a path to creating cultural connections around the world. This is ‘Culturosity’. ∎
Founder & CEO of Culturosity www.awarenessties.us/charlotte-alexandra Charlotte Alexandra, founder & CEO of Culturosity is a business mentor, empowerment coach & serial entrepreneur with a passion for Media. She is on a mission to help You unlock your fullest potential! Helping people around the globe expand, grow, connect and to build a business they are proud of, a life they love and a mindset that will take them places. After kickstarting her career in Marketing + Advertising following a journalism & communications degree, she decided to launch Eleven11 Media Networks. Creating a platform for likeminded creatives to collaborate on spreading a positive message through media. Her work as both an entrepreneur and a media coach has provided her with an international network of inspirational and influential associates ranging from entrepreneurs, business leaders, public speakers & celebrities - uniting and combining their talents to make to world a better place.
35 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
I’ve walked through hell and I will not stand by and willingly allow it to happen to anyone else. BECKY KOETS RICHARD
BREAST CANCER & BREAST IMPLANT ILLNESS SURVIVOR Photo Credit: Tim Motley 36 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
PERSONAL STORY BY BECKY KOETS RICHARD
BARE TO BE BRAVE
UNAFRAID TO BARE THE TRUTH ABOUT BREAST CANCER In ‘The HEART Edition of AwareNow, we shared the story of a woman who wanted to raise awareness for both Breast Cancer and the Breast Implant Illness she developed because of her reconstructive surgery. However, for Becky Koets Richard, creating awareness was not enough. For her, action was required (and taken).
Myself and a small group of women are working with Michigan House Representative Julie Calley on drafting and introducing a bill that would create a required check list for plastic surgeons to discuss with their patients before breast implant surgery. This checklist will give patients critical information to make an informed decision about breast implants. Included in this checklist will be information regarding:
• The Black Box Warning that was issued on ALL breast implants in 2019
• The breast implant manufacturer’s warning brochure (This is already printed but rarely given to patients.)
• Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) (This is a cancer that is exclusively caused by breast implants and list of symptoms associated with it.)
• Breast Implant Illness (BII) and the common symptoms
We are passionate about getting this information to patients so they will be able to make informed choices. This bill will without a doubt protect Michigan women and their families. Just having access to this information can keep breast cancer patients from suffering the way that I did. We are working hard to get our stories heard. Women have the right to informed consent and we won’t stop until they have it. A similar bill was passed unanimously in Arizona and was just signed into law by their Governor. After we pass this bill in Michigan, we will press on and work to take the bill nationwide to a federal level.
This year 300,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. The thought of even one women walking the same path that I did keeps me fired up and motivated to protect each one of them. I’ve walked through hell and I will not stand by and willingly allow it to happen to anyone else. I will do everything in my power to get this information out there. For more information, please visit www.healingbreastimplantillness.com. ∎
EXPLANT TO FLAT
This video documents Becky, a 48 year old breast cancer survivor, getting her breast implants removed. It covers the day of the explant surgery on Dec. 10, 2020 and shows her recovery through Feb. 2, 2021. The implants made her painfully sick since her reconstruction in 2017. Once the implants are removed, her health instantly improves.
WARNING: This video contains
37 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Did we forget or chose to forget the words of our one song? PAUL S. ROGERS
TRANSFORMATION EXPERT, AWARENESS HELLRAISER & PUBLIC SPEAKER 38 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘RELEASE THE GENIE’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY PAUL S. ROGERS
UNIVERSAL SONG OF UNITY
GENIE FACT: A GENIE KNOWS WHAT BECOMES OF THE BROKEN HEARTED Unity is defined as a state of being united or joined as one.
It is also used to describe ‘being in harmony’.
The ultimate unity is the universe. Literally translated, it is Uni (one) Verse (song).
As far as we know, we all come from this one song.
Trouble is, have we somehow forgotten the words?
When we attempt to label something, we automatically divide unity into two - the haves & the have nots.
The rich, the poor. The right, the wrong. The black, the white. And the us and them.
This is an important cause of discontentment and dis-ease.
As human beings, our bodies are complex machines full of constant unities, the vast majority of which are carried out on a completely subconscious level. Without these unities, we would not survive. When people say they haven’t changed, that is actually not exactly true. I have always known myself as Paul in this lifetime. However, like you, I do have inhabited many different versions of my body in this lifetime.
Considering that every 7 to 10 years all our cells are replaced by new ones, the physical body has changed but what has not changed is the driver. The driver is the invisible you. This is the level where we are all connected. This is where we are all the same.
Think of life as a Formula 1 race. Your car starts the race, and after a while, it needs to come into the pits. In the pits there is a team of 20 personal mechanics all working in perfect synchronisation to get you back into your race as a human. This means that the car that finishes the race is not the same car that started it. Many parts have been replaced and are new and different. It’s similar for our bodies. Biologically, there is no trace of our previous body after 7 to 10 years.
I now live in a body that is 48 years old. This will not be the last version of my body, although life has tried to take it back prematurely on more than one occasion! For the record, I wish to return this body, at the end of this adventure, having squeezed every drop of life from it.
“It’s like a song we used to sing a lot as a child…”
In an everyday way, we see unity in collaboration with others for a common goal or purpose. This is why it feels so good inside. That’s when we are reminded that we haven't really forgotten the words to the song. It’s like a song we used to sing a lot as a child, it comes back surprisingly easily if you just hear the first note. This is when we experience moments of being completely aligned, on purpose, in flow or in spirit/inspired.
Is this one reason why music has such a great role in all cultures?
It has the power to touch us at multiple levels.
Let's put this to the test… 39 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Hear ‘Universal Song Of Unity’, written and narrated by Paul Rogers
via the AwareNow Podcast:
Learn more about Paul and read more of his work:
Follow Lex on Instagram:
Close your eyes and think of your favourite song.
Now sing out loud or in your mind some of the lyrics.
How does that feel? Where did this memory of this song just take you?
I am betting a time, a place and a feeling. All of this without physically moving a thing.
As we honour PRIDE month, let’s look at a meaningful symbol of unity: the rainbow flag.
You may not know that each colour of the pride flag has a meaning:
RED for Life
ORANGE for Healing
YELLOW for Sun
GREEN for Nature
BLUE for Harmony
VIOLET for Soul/Spirit
Originally, there were 8 colours, but now the 6-colour version is an unmistakable symbol - a wonderful interpretation of our shared unities. This, like other symbols, strengthens our connection with each other and our one song.
As humans, we are the only species who has the privilege and power of choice.
We have the choice to create and shape the world and our destinies.
We are also, on the other hand, the only species who fails to live in unity with its surroundings.
The universe will continue long after we have gone. So we only have this question to answer:
Did we forget or chose to forget the words of our one song? ∎ “Don’t die with the music/song still inside you.” - Dr. Wayne Dyer PAUL S. ROGERS
Transformation Expert, Awareness Hellraiser & Public Speaker www.awarenessties.us/paul-rogers Keynote public speaking coach, “Adversity to hope, opportunity and prosperity. “ Transformation expert, awareness Hellraiser, life coach, Trauma TBI, CPTSD mentor, train crash and cancer survivor, public speaking coach, Podcast host “Release the Genie”, Director at Core Mentors Association (Not for profit) & Best-selling author. His journey from corporate to Kitesurfer to teacher on first nations reserve to today. Paul’s goal is to inspire others to find their true purpose and passion.
40 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Show them that there are good people on the other side… ROY ZAFRANI
AWARD-WINNING FILM DIRECTOR 42 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH FILMMAKER ROY ZAFRANI
OVER THE WALL
HUMANITY IN THE EYES OF A CHILD We’re told from the day we’re born what’s wrong and what’s right. If what we’re told is wrong, how would we know what’s right? In the award-winning short film by Roy Zafrani, Over The Wall, this question is answered by children. In this film that is both beautiful and brilliant, a coincidental meeting between an Israeli boy and a Palestinian boy leads them to discover that reality is different than what they have been told. We are honored to recognize this film as an AwareNow Official Selection.
Allié: Over the course of your 12 minute and 9 second film, your work brought me to my knees - with tears of sadness for how we’ve failed our children and in prayer that we can learn our lesson and teach our children better lessons. A short film with a long-lasting impact, Over The Wall evokes so much emotion in such a short period of time. What emotion were you trying to tap into most?
Roy: Thank you so much for the kind words, it's really exciting to know we touched the hearts of people from all over the world. The strongest emotion that arises in the film is the emotion of LOVE. Just before they succumb to the brainwashing of the environment on both sides, just before they fear the other side, or hate it, the children, who symbolize innocence, meet and suddenly discover that what they have been told is completely different from reality. With great courage, they remove the negative layers that have begun to accumulate in their brains throughout the first years of their lives, and become best friends. They experience true love between friends, independent of material things, or even verbal communication. They do not need all these. They just want to celebrate life, like we all do in our childhood.
OVER THE WALL
AWARD-WINNING SHORT FILM BY ROY ZAFRANI
43 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
“None of us are born with hatred…”
Allié: The discord between Israelis and Palestinians is one of the world's most enduring conflicts. I love that you confront this contention with the engagement of children and the bond they build despite a wall between them. It speaks to the hope for humanity. Do you believe it is our children that can and will end this conflict?
Roy: I would like to believe that children will end this terrible conflict, even though at the moment it seems like an imaginary fantasy. The conflict is not good for anyone, it is important to me that everyone knows it.
None of us are born with hatred, so children are our hope because they have not yet had time to close their hearts towards the other side. I believe that if Nathan and Khaled were the leaders of both countries, there would be a real opportunity for peace.
Allié: It’s incredible how many insights were manifested in the mere 729 seconds of your film. Do you have a personal favorite scene or statement?
Roy: I really like the scene where Nathan runs to warn Khaled while putting himself in danger. This is a very dramatic scene that symbolizes the biggest change that has taken place in Nathan. If until now he only found a friend beyond the wall to play with, at this point he shakes off all perceptions with which he came to the wall for the first time, and chooses to save his friend - the most logical act for him and for any humane person.
Allié: ‘Over The Wall’ creates awareness for the realities of our time and the versions of it that we instill in our children. If there was a single action to serve our children that you would like parents to take upon seeing your film, what would that be?
Roy: It's all about education from a very young age. Your children will absorb their values and beliefs from the environment, and you have no control over that. But a very significant part of their development and perceptions of reality take place in childhood, at home.
My statement to every parent: Teach your children to open their minds and not accept everything as absolute truth. Educate them to have empathy for the other side. Show them that there are good people on the other side as well, and most importantly, tell them that life is short, and it is a shame to waste it on hatred and fear. If there is a change one day, I believe it will come from below, from the people, who will say "Enough, we are tired of this constant pain." When there are enough people on both sides to do it openly, the people at the top will have no choice, they will have to accept the will of their citizens. ∎
Learn more about Roy Zafrani and his work by visiting his website:
Connect on Instagram:
Roy Zafrani - @roy.zafrani
Over The Wall - @overthewallmovie
44 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
PICTURE YOURSELF HELPING OUR VETERANS.
It’s a funny word, because it suggests that it’s all about yourself. But these could be the most selfless selfies ever taken. THE FLEX SEAL FAMILY OF PRODUCTS partnered with Awareness Ties to give a little helping hand to our Veterans, with the #Selfietosupport our Veterans campaign. For each selfie shared, we donated $5 to support OPERATION RAMP IT UP, an organization of volunteers dedicated to building access ramps for veterans. To date, they’ve installed over 100 ramps in 26 different states. This nation’s veterans fought and sacrificed for our freedom. At the very least, they deserve the freedom to enjoy easy accessibility to and from their homes.
LET’S FACE IT. We can change the lives of the selfless veterans who served for us. flexsealproducts.com
No one shines the same… CALY BEVIER
RECORDING ARTIST & AWARENESS TIES OFFICIAL AMBASSADOR FOR LGBTQ+ AWARENESS 48 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
“You will never reach your full potential until you stop caring about what others think about the person you portray yourself to be, and step into who you know you are. It takes vulnerability, and courage. You might have to crush some fears but I promise, you are golden. And who you love only adds to your iridescence. No one shines the same, but make that choice to step into the sun, and shine baby!”
49 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Step into the sun,
and shine baby! CALY BEVIER
RECORDING ARTIST & AWARENESS TIES OFFICIAL AMBASSADOR FOR LGBTQ+ AWARENESS 50 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
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I need you to see my color. LEX GILLETTE
4X PARALYMPIC MEDALIST, 4X WORLD CHAMPION & KEYNOTE SPEAKER Photo Credit: Ware Studios 52 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘NO NEED FOR SIGHT WHEN YOU HAVE VISION’ BY LEX GILLETTE
I NEED YOU TO SEE MY COLOR
AT THE INTERSECTION OF BOTH BLACK & BLIND
If you don’t know my story, I’m originally from North Carolina. I started experiencing sight loss when I was eight years old, and that led to a string of 10 operations that I had in hopes of fixing the issue, but after the last one, doctors said there was nothing else they could do to help my sight and I would eventually become blind. I was transitioning from a world where I could see, to a world of blindness.
Fortunately, one thing led to another, and I found Paralympic sport, and it has totally changed my life in ways I would’ve never imagined. I want to circle back to the mention of North Carolina though, because with everything going on in the world right now with racial inequality, systematic oppression, police brutality, there was no way you could grow up in North Carolina and not have a conversation surrounding racism.
It was something my mom brought to my attention at an early age, but the frequency of the conversations were never to the point where racism was always front of mind. My mom wanted me to go into the world and graduate from high school and college, get a job and contribute to society, be the best athlete I could be, be the best speaker I could be, be the absolute best I could be in everything I did.
But she always let me know that no matter how many degrees that you have, no matter the jobs you may hold, the medals you might win, the stages you may grace and no matter the amount of good you may do on this earth, you still may be subject to some sort of mistreatment and discrimination just because you’re black.
“…I stand at the intersection of being both black and blind.”
It’s so mind boggling to write that sentence because you would think in 2021, we’d be past all of this - but we’re not. My experience is different because I stand at the intersection of being both black and blind. I can remember a few times where I can say, "Oh wow, I was treated differently because I’m black." In all honesty, I can think of many more situations as a person with a disability when I was discriminated against, mistreated, and not afforded the same rights as the next person.
Now that I think about it, who's to say that mistreatment wasn’t caused by me being black also? Given the state of our country, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. If we venture into the world of imagination though, maybe there were more moments when I did experience racial inequality. I may have walked into a building or a neighborhood, and people’s actions and behaviors might’ve changed simply because I was black. Maybe even a white person put a finger over their lips to signal to a friend, "shhhh." This could be done to eliminate my ability to detect if someone was there. People can see me coming way before I ever see them. Again, just imagining here. I can’t confirm if those things have ever happened.
53 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
“Everyone needs to acknowledge that racism is real…”
The reality is that I’m blind, and blindness has provided a type of protection to me from these visual responses and reactions, but that protection is not there for other people of color. Let me restate that. We don’t have the same protection that the next person may have, and specifically people who are white. We can go down an everlasting list of examples of how people of color are marginalized within our country. Life is different for us.
I had a friend say recently, “You know, I don’t see color.” I understood his sentiments, I really did, but the reality is you can see color my friend and if you didn’t, you’d be like me — blind.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeing color. Seeing color and the varying shades of race in our world is beautiful, but the problems arise when you’re triggered to think, behave, and act inappropriately because of color.
I need you to see my color.
Things like systematic inequality, police killings in broad daylight, injustice, mistreatment, and other egregious acts are linked to my color specifically. So, I need you to see my color so you can gain an understanding of what comes with it. This is not just a battle for people of color to fight alone. I have friends who just so happen to be white, and they don’t subscribe to racism, nor do I believe everyone who’s white in America does, but there are a lot out there who do stand firmly on racism.
For my brothers and sisters who have white skin, the ones who are on the front line with us and want to squash racism, just know that it’s okay to see color. I want you to see my color and understand the struggles that come with it so that you’ll be able to advocate for us, speak in support of us, and fight to break down the walls of oppression that have been built to keep us marginalized.
Lastly, I want to address this so called “all lives matter” mentality. I personally think we need to toss that in the trash right now. Toss it! If all lives mattered, then we wouldn’t be saying black lives matter. Black lives make up a portion of all lives, and as it stands right now, we don’t matter. We don’t matter as much as a life that is white.
I certainly don’t want to bring up any dark memories for anyone with this next mention, but we’ve seen mistreatment and egregious acts against other groups in our country specifically women in the workplace. What about the egregious acts against women in the entertainment industry? Even our LGBTQ friends have experienced unnecessary obstacles and struggle. Correct me if I’m wrong though, when these things started coming to the surface, I don’t recall anyone saying, “all genders matter” or “all sexualities matter.” We acknowledged it was a problem that needed to be addressed, discussion was had, and swift action was taken to rectify the issue.
Now, I understand there’s still more work that needs to be done for both women and LGTBQ rights, but my point is, now that we say black lives matter, there’s push back, there’s resistance from folks who want to say, “don’t all lives matter?”
Not to make this about myself, but when I began losing my sight, the doctors took me through an examination, and they said that we need to operate on your eyes because you’re suffering from retina detachments. They didn’t say they’d operate on my whole body, all of my body. The issue was with my eyes. Let’s stop beating around the bush here and acknowledge the fact that we need to operate on the issue and problem at hand, which is the marginalization of people of color within the United States of America.
As it stands right now, conversation is being had, dialogue is open and that’s a good thing. We need to continue talking. Everyone needs to acknowledge that racism is real, police brutality is alive and systematic oppression breathes within our laws. I understand that some of the discussion may be uncomfortable, but don’t run from it. Don’t steer clear of it. If you continue to ignore it and not address it, you will continue to directly, and indirectly, administer these cruel acts against people of color.
54 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Hear ‘I Need You To See My Color’, written and narrated by Lex Gillette
via the AwareNow Podcast:
Learn more about Lex and read more of his work:
Follow Lex on Instagram:
“…all this time I wasn’t the only one who's blind.”
It’s great that we’re having open and transparent conversation but talking only does so much. Let’s get up, get a plan, and get moving to a point in our country where people of color can occupy this space with equal rights and equal protection. Until there is equality, it would be more accurate to say, “some lives matter” or maybe even “most lives matter” and that probably is stretching it. But if we don’t break down the biases and systems that currently exist against people of color, it’ll never be “all lives matter.”
On Twitter recently, someone asked, “How would you explain 2020 to someone who's blind?” My response was “Well, I’d say it’s been the year where I’ve been able to sit back and say to everyone, all this time I wasn’t the only one who's blind. Our country lost sight of a lot of important issues many, many years ago, and now we’re witnessing it run into the consequences head on.”
Sight reveals our current reality and vision allows us to see past our reality. IT…WILL…TAKE…TIME. But let’s make an honest effort to suffocate the systems created to marginalize people of color, and let’s eradicate the evil that is currently seen by eyes everywhere. Things look blurry and bleak at the moment, but if we operate on the problem specifically that is ruining our mind’s eye, things will eventually change, and a new vision will emerge. A vision where our thoughts, actions and behaviors are guided by a genuine love that resides in the hearts and minds of us all. ∎ LEX GILLETTE
4x Paralympic Medalist, 4x World Champion & Keynote Speaker www.awarenessties.us/lex-gillette Lex Gillette has quickly become one of the most sought after keynote speakers on the market. Losing his sight at the age of eight was painful to say the least, but life happens. Things don’t always go your way. You can either stay stuck in frustration because the old way doesn’t work anymore, or you can create a new vision for your life, even if you can’t see how it will happen just yet. His sight was lost, but Lex acquired a renewed vision, a vision that has seen him become the best totally blind long and triple jumper Team USA has ever witnessed.
55 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
And then the moon seemed to smile,
“I’ve been watching over you all this while.” ALLIÉ MCGUIRE
CO-FOUNDER OF AWARENESS TIES 56 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
PERSONAL STORY BY JONATHAN KOHANSKI
GRATEFUL FOR THE STRUGGLE
AN ECLIPSE INDUCED INSIGHT
My insomnia has slowly been creeping back into my life and disrupting everything, my drive, my focus, how my thoughts are formulated and how I’m interacting with people. On June 10th while people wanted to go see the solar eclipse that was due to occur, many simply didn’t want to get up to see something taking place at sunrise, which for that day was 5:06am, locally. For me, a 4:00am wakeup, warming up a Monday brewed coffee (yes, I’ll drink 3-day old coffee) 20-minute drive to the beach is the normal morning routine. On my drive I couldn’t believe how spectacular the sunrise was shaping up to be, the whole sky was a scorching orange, like the embers of a fire ready to descend upon the landscape. I couldn’t remember the last time I had witnessed this palate spread across the entirety of the sky and I was disappointed that I wasn’t already on the shoreline. When I did finally arrive, the sky was still glowing and despite the stunning beauty of the scene, I was focused on what I had actually come to do...photograph the eclipse...though clouds were spread out along the horizon and the situation wasn’t looking even remotely good, I persisted. I locked a large lens onto my camera and strolled out along the sand and down to the water line like so many times before. At this point I was regretting not bringing a wide-angle lens to capture the scene. Instead of running back up to my car to get a different lens, I did the best I could with what I had and just admired and enjoyed the beauty that had unfurled before me. Sometimes we get so enamored with what we’re anticipating or intending to do that we simply overlook everything else around us. Eventually the eclipse came, and the clouds that I had feared were going to ruin it only added to its splendor.
57 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
“Some decisions have been hard, some have hurt myself and others, but I’m grateful for them.”
That brings us to where we are now, the morning of June 11th, sipping a coffee and writing. Allié, shared one of my eclipse photographs on Instagram and added such a simple line and posted it to her story. Allié captioned the photo with… “and then the moon seemed to say and smile ‘I've been watching over you all this while’”. It instantly brought tears to my eyes and simply overwhelmed me. I thought about my initial diagnoses with MS, waiting in a hospital ER by myself after jut going through my first MRI and being told there were signs indicative of MS. I thought about the 20+ MRI’s since then, the endless appointments, the countless vials of blood draws, and infusions. Other than a literal handful of times (that I could count on one hand), these have been alone. Have I had to do all of these things alone? Doubtful, but my stubbornness, pride, and fear of being seen as a burden can be stronger than even my fear of being alone. We are all products of the decisions that we’ve made throughout life, our situations are also a product of those decisions.
I tend to pursue the proverbial breadcrumbs that life has randomly thrown down for me, following what feels right on the inside regardless of how bizarre the decision may appear on the outside. Those decisions have brought me to where I am, what I’m doing, and what I deal with. Do I regret the decisions and path I’ve taken to get here? It’s been a difficult, uncertain and sometimes scary road, but no, I don’t regret it. Some decisions have been hard, some have hurt myself and others, but I’m grateful for them.
When we think about gratitude, we tend to look at, and reflect on, the better things in our lives, the roof over our heads, the health of family & friends, our jobs, our opportunities, etc., but what about the things that aren’t considered positive? Health that isn’t perfect, the hurt we’ve been dealt and the hurt we’ve dealt others, loss of friends or family. Where we are right now, and who we are, is a culmination of everything that we’ve dealt with in our lives. The good & bad, the ugly & beautiful and everything in-between. These circumstances and choices that we’ve made throughout have led us to where we are at present. Knowing that past struggles have led me here, and loving what I’m doing, I can’t wait to see what these struggles lead to. ∎
Open Water Swimmer, Photographer & MS Warrior
www.awarenessties.us/jonathan-kohanski Hi, I'm Jonathan, I'm a wanderer of sorts, looking to further enrich lives and share experiences that show we are all capable of truly amazing feats that push my own boundaries and can many times turn heads. I'm a sucker for raw and real stories and attempt to share my own, with all the good and bad through that same lens. I'm always open to finding my next adventure that will help me to continue writing the stories that can help others overcome their own demons. I'm a lover of the water and spend a lot of my free time in it, whether it be swimming, body-boarding, or taking photographs while in it. I was diagnosed with MS at the age of 25 and it has changed the course of my life, not just in a physical sense, but also in my perspective of life, what is valuable to me and worthy of my time. We all have our struggles and triumphs, I'm here to share mine and maybe, help others through theirs.
58 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
…the clouds that I had feared were going to ruin it only added to its splendor. JONATHAN KOHANSKI
OPEN WATER SWIMMER, PHOTOGRAPHER & MS WARRIOR 59 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
I can be a character for three minutes. I can be honest for three minutes. MATTY MARZ
SINGER, SONGWRITER & PRODUCER 60 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MATTY MARZ
LIFE ON MARZ
THE STYLE & SOUND OF RISING POP STAR MATTY MARZ With genres ranging everywhere from punk rock, bubblegum pop, funk & electronica, Matty Marz has put himself in a category few artists get to live; a lane entirely his own making. Growing up, Matty spent much of his youth involved in various theatre companies & productions with eyes set on center stage. By 13, he started studying the craft of classical composition & vocal technique while starting his journey as a songwriter. As the formative teenage years went on he found solace & safety in pop music, which culminated in 2020’s Mine! and this year’s Nu Eyez. Artists such as Madonna, David Bowie, Prince & Lady Gaga showed him the light of what being an artist could be. As the sole creator of his music, Matty has complete control over his process. With a fiery presence & keen sense of individuality, there is nothing stopping the singer-songwriter. In this next chapter, he’s set his sights and aspirations on center stage: the world.
Allié: With a style and sound all your own, Matty, you are making waves while making headlines. For those discovering you for the first time, what is it that they should know about you and why you create what you do?
Matty: You know, every artist has their reasonings as to what makes them great and wha drives them. And I think for me, I've always been very fortunate that it's been like second nature. I grew up doing musical theater and then went into singer songwriter production. I studied classical, jazz, and opera. So I was always invested in music, art and creation all of itself. But it really, for so long, gave me an outlet for me to create who I wanted to be in a lot of ways because I just… I felt very ‘othered’. I didn't feel like I fit into anything, any group settings or communities. I just grew up very much like ‘the weird kid’. So, cultivating a look and sound took many years, and it took a lot of experimenting and really studying a lot of different genres of music, but it’s essentially a part of who I am in the greatest capacity. I always say that there's no differentiating factor between me as a person and me as an artist because they are very intertwined. But I think people finding me for the first time will find someone who is a little bit out of the box in terms of the normal pop landscape, but someone who can embody many different styles, sounds, genres, and also characters to a certain degree.
LIFE ON MARZ
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MATTY MARZ
61 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Allié: You studied and explored a variety of genres, what is it specifically about ‘pop’ that provides you with a sense of safety and solace?
Matty: Pop music in a lot of ways like raised me. Growing up feeling like an outsider, pop music is such a comforting place. By so many people, it’s deemed as almost ‘commercial’ or ‘artificial’, but I kind of grew up in a period where pop music was the lifestyle and the bread and butter of media and culture at the time. So I'd like, you know, Lady Gaga. You had Katy Perry, Kesha, Nicki Minaj, you know, all these kinds of people… Taylor Swift. The list can go on and on, but I was really raised in a period where it was all cultivating in a brand new way and pop was fresh and exciting.
For me, pop music takes on many different forms. It can mean many different things, but there is something about the simplicity from the catchiness of the melodies to the way these songs are composed and written that is so simple and it's delicate. It's something anybody can digest, but at the same time creating pop music is very complex. There are a lot of layers to making good pop music. You have to know what you're saying. You have to know what narratives you're tapping into and what genres are tapping into. And it can be the simplest thing. Like my new single is called pretty, which is very, you know, simple. It’s also a song and a word that also took on many different meanings. So as I think a good example as to the simplicity, but also complexity of pop music is what it allows me as an artist to be. I can be whoever I want to be. As I said before you know, I can be a character for three minutes. I can be honest for three minutes. I can shape my worlds how I want through synthesizers and melodies.
“It feels like it's a narrative and a song that I've almost been waiting my whole life to write…”
Allié: Your new single, Pretty, launches on June 25th. With this track, you intend to ‘take us to a technicolor dancefloor with a vintage pop anthem that will make us dance through our tears’. Tell us the story behind ‘Pretty’.
Matty: I've actually had ‘Pretty’ for about two years now. It's kind of been in the oven and baking. A lot of my work I’ve been sitting with for quite some time. I let it marinate. That’s how I like work. I’ll start something then I'm like, “Okay, this is great. And now let's let it sit for a little bit and let’s work on some new things.” So, I'm really excited about this one. Because it feels like it's a narrative and a song that I've almost been waiting my whole life to write in some ways.
Basically, it was inspired by 1950s. Like doo-wop, that's how the initial idea kind of got rolling. So I was inspired extremely by the Ronettes ‘By My Baby’ song. So it starts off with this drum melody… and it so draws you in. So I was going to try to reinterpret and make it something of my own. So, that was one of the main inspirations. And I wanted to create a song that felt was really of that era and really vintage like 50s and 60s, but then also kind of maintain both a pop overall sheen, but also give it an edge with a kind of modern, post punk influence. It's a song about escapism, and it's a song about essentially creating and crafting the world you want to live in - even if it's in your own fantasy and it's in your own brain that doesn't make it any less real.
The first lyric is “I spend my Fridays all alone cause I got no friends to call my own. They never hit up my phone. So I sit and stare out my window.” So, it's definitely tapping into young adolescents from a perspective I may be have had like in middle school or high school, but it's a narrative that has followed me and kind of plays in and out of my music quite frequently, which is about escapism… about feeling left out. So embracing yourself for who you want to be. This song also is inspired by ‘It's My Party’ by Leslie Gore, which is one of my favorite songs ever. And so I flipped that at the end of the song. I sing, “It's my party, everybody is here and I'm the one they're here for.” This is to solidify this idea that I envision a world where everything is pretty and everything's decadent… and I have money, and I have friends, and we party, and we do everything that's really glamorous. I think, especially after last year, everyone needs an escape. I think this song will really resonate with a lot of people because it really plays on the ideas of loneliness, but also self preservation through your imagination.
62 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
“I think that my queerness has something that I've always been really proud of and that has set me apart.”
Allié: Your music and your style seem to be ‘unbound’ by rules, standards or norms. Does this parallel the lifestyle embraced by and empowering the LGBTQ+ community?
Matty: There definitely is a parallel. I think that my queerness has something that I've always been really proud of and that has set me apart. You know, I've had people tell me that I would never be able to achieve certain things as an artist, saying there's no gay artists, there's no this or that. I’ve had a lot of people telling me these things throughout the years. So, I think my queerness in that sense has amplified the narratives that I use and the emotions that I feel. Even navigating as a young teenager and child listening through the lens of pop music and kind of escaping. I think in a lot of ways too I try as a songwriter to really tap into just a really general emotion that everybody can feel and resonate with. I think it's funny because I'm always meeting people and they're just like, “Oh, you're not really what I expected. You’re nicer. You're very calm and very grounded.” I'm very much just like a person, but I also like to make music and I'm an artist. So, I think that in terms of my resilience and my competence, it definitely is in a lot of ways tied to my queerness and also just being who I am. I think everybody needs to be exactly who they are - whether they wake up and they feel more masculine or whether they wake up and feel more feminine. I think everyone needs to digest their own authenticity in their own way. But in terms of lifestyle, I’m very modest in a lot of ways. In terms of fashion, I love to dress up, and I love extravagance and whatnot, but I'm also very humbled by emotions. I try to remember that every day is a blessing and that I'm not better than anybody else because I can create and do these things that I do. I just want to do the best job that I can do while I'm here while also inspiring others.
63 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
“Don't be afraid to be lonely.”
Allié: Happy PRIDE Month, Matty! To all members of the LGBTQ+ community and all allies in support of the progress that’s been made, yet aware of the progress still needed, is there a message of your own you’d like to share?
Matty: Definitely. I think that we are in such a pivotal time in world history. Now more than ever, it’s important to embrace yourself for who you are.I think that Pride month can also come with a lot of loneliness for a lot of people because they expect that they need to be a certain way. It may be a kid in the rural part of America who can't celebrate Pride month, who listens to those records and goes on the internet to tweet and have those communities online. Even to the kids who may be in Brooklyn or the adults in Brooklyn who are celebrating, maybe even 60-years-old, that are just now starting to come to terms with who they are. I think that just always remember that your own self-love will never reflect poorly on to anybody else and your own self-love and validation is in some ways the most important relationship you're going to have. So, don't be afraid to be lonely. Don't be afraid to explore why you're lonely or why you're upset. Explore the traumas that may have been afflicted upon you in your lifetime so that you can go and be authentic. Be the most loving version of yourself to all the other people around you. Know that there’s no right way to be gay, or trans, or non-binary. Just being you is enough and also so needed.
Allié: I love that. And again, how you say that ‘self-love’ is so important, but that ‘self-validation’ is needed so you don't need an external element to validate you.
Matty: Yeah, I think it's just as important. It’s funny because ‘Nu Eyes’ is very much about that. It’s that same strain of emotion where it reads like a lot of self empowerment anthems, without trying to. It’s just genuinely how I feel. When you are disregarded by everybody and when friends leave out of your life or you lose that job or you lose that place to live. The only thing you have control of is how you view yourself and going internally to making those calls to say “I'm not going to give up on myself. I'm going to be the one to rise above it and come out on top because I'm doing it for myself and for no one else.” I think that a lot of people need to hear that this sometimes. ∎
Get to know Matty more by visiting his website:
Connect on Instagram: @iammattymarz
Listen on Spotify: awarenow.us/spotify/mattymarz
64 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
She could have left,
But she did not leave… MARCIA S. ROSS & JEFF KAUFMAN
PRODUCER & DIRECTOR OF ‘NASRIN’ 66 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH PRODUCER MARCIA S. ROSS & DIRECTOR JEFF KAUFMAN
THE WOMAN & THE FILM FUELING CHANGE Secretly filmed in Iran by women and men who risked arrest to make this film. An immersive portrait of the world’s most honored human rights activist and political prisoner, attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh, and of Iran’s remarkably resilient women’s rights movement. In the courts and on the streets, Nasrin has long fought for the rights of women, children, religious minorities, journalists and artists, and those facing the death penalty. In the midst of filming, Nasrin was arrested in June 2018 for representing women who were protesting Iran’s mandatory hijab law. She was sentenced to 38 years in prison, plus 148 lashes. Featuring acclaimed filmmaker Jafar Panahi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, and journalist Ann Curry the film is narrated by Academy Award-winner Olivia Colman. NASRIN is directed by Jeff Kaufman and produced by Marcia S. Ross who join us to share more of the story behind this story.
Allié: Some produce films simply to ‘create’. You, Marcia, sought to produce a film to create change. With the understanding that needed action begins with awareness, you and Jeff produced a powerful documentary with a clear purpose. Please share what you set out to achieve with NASRIN and what’s happened so far.
“…she’s been in prison with this unjust sentence.”
Marcia: When we first began to make the film Jeff had made a previous film called ‘Education Under Fire about the persecution of the Bahai faith in Iran around 2011 and 2012. He came across Nasrin at that time because she was a Muslim attorney defending Bahai people, and he was very taken with that. And it was an interesting way in which Muslim people were still helping their friends and neighbors, in spite of what could happen to them. After we finished our last film about playwright Terrence McNally, we were thinking about what we wanted to do next. And we started to really do some research and homework on Nasrin and look at what she'd been doing over the past decades since that film had been made. And she just became a really compelling figure for a film because of the kind of work that she does. Nasrin represents people from all walks of life, in the LGBT community and the environmental community, against the death penalty, women's rights, children's rights, in a very difficult society. She's sort of a role model for many women in the country. Something else that's really important is that she also represents an incredible movement of women in Iran that people don't really know much about that are fighting for their rights all of the time. We don't really know that in this country. We read what's going on politically, but we're not really aware of that. So that was why we wanted to tell her story. We were interested in creating a community portrait of activists through Nasrin's personal story. As you know, or not, while we were making the film in 2018, she started representing these young women. It was called the Girls of Revolution Street movement. And these were women of all ages taking off their headscarves in public and waving them on sticks to protest the mandatory hijab law, and she began defending clients in this area. She got arrested. So, in the middle of making our film, she disappeared into prison. And in fact, this past week, it's the third year that she's been in prison with this unjust sentence. Then our film really took on a new energy because now our subject is in prison, and it's such a horrible, dangerous, and of course unjust situation. Our efforts and our energy as we began to launch the film, in addition to showing the culture of Iran, showing the women of Iran, telling Nasrin’s story, it became very urgent to have the film become part of a global conversation about helping get her out of prison, bringing attention to her cause, and making sure that we’re doing everything we can to get her released.
67 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
“the more you realize how much she loves those around her and how she's loved by those around her, the more you feel that sacrifice that she makes when she realizes she might have to go back to prison…”
Allié: Stories are powerful agents for change, especially when shared with authenticity. The agency and artistry used in the direction of your film make Nasrin’s story resonate on so many levels. Through the lenses of a wife, mother, attorney and activist, it is her grace that serves as a common thread in all these roles. As the director, Jeff, what attributes about Nasrin did you want to convey with your footage?
Jeff: I think at the beginning of every film that, without sounding pretentious, there's sort of a vision of what you hope to get, and you don't know if you'll get there. The more preparation you do and forethought, the better chance that some surprises will come along the way that will bring you that and more. So, Marcia and I both love narrative films. I love a lot of films from the 1940s, 50s and 30s, with all these character actors - John Ford and John Houston and stuff like that. So we want to apply with veracity that sense of character and place to documentaries because if you're talking about someone like Nasrin, or like Terrence McNally as Marcia mentioned, you don't want this Marvel figure who people look at it from afar. You want to make that personal connection. Whether it's Terrence, as a young LGBT writer trying to find his way in the world being true to himself, or Nasrin stepping outside of herself to defend so many others, there's a spark of inspiration we can pass on if you can connect to them personally. Our goal was to tell Nasrin's story both, as you said, as a woman, as a mother, as an activist. Also just the more you realize how much she loves those around her and how she's loved by those around her, the more you feel that sacrifice that she makes when she realizes she might have to go back to prison… and the horror of what she's experiencing each day now, because you've seen her as a mom and as a wife. I guess I'll just say one more thing. I used to have a radio show, and sometimes people who do impressive things in public are less impressive in person. The wonderful thing about Nasrin and her husband Reza is that they are the funniest, kindest, smartest - just good people in person as they are in public. It makes it all the more motivating to get Nasrin free.
68 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
“Her purpose is extraordinary…”
Allié: Producing any film comes with risks, but with this documentary secretly filmed in Iran, the risks were great. That said, with great risks can come great rewards. What have you found to be the most rewarding with regard to the production of NASRIN?
Marcia: Well, you bring up making it. Obviously, we couldn't go there. It would be too dangerous to go, and Jeff had been there. So, that was out of the question. He’d made other films about Iran, and if we'd actually gone there and if we'd been on the street with an American crew, forget it. It would have been over. Actually, it lends itself really well to, having these people intimately follow her around because we were able to capture so much more of her life in different ways and really get in there close in ways that we wouldn't have been able to get the other way. For me, it's a couple of things… a lot of things. One thing, of course, is our relationship with Nasrin and Reza as people. I mean, Jeff and I, as a married couple, even though we’re 7,500 miles away from them, we've really developed this incredibly close personal relationship with them that has really transcended while making the film. It's really grown quite a bit, actually, since we finished the film. That’s been really incredibly important to us personally. The other thing is that Nasrin is a person of extraordinary purpose. I think as a mother myself, one of the questions I really had to answer is, how do you do that? I mean, how do you make these choices? People often ask, after she got the Sakharov Prize and she got out of prison the first time, after being detained for defending others as she'd been arrested for other legal work previously, she could have left, but she did not leave. She stayed in the country because she loves her country, and she's trying to affect change from inside and make it a better place for her children. I asked, how is it that this person can make the sacrifice? What I learned is that's not how she sees it, nor did the other women that she has worked with that had been in prison or would have been a prison, but escaped from Iran. They truly believe that the work they're doing can and will and does make a difference, and their purpose is extreme. Her purpose is extraordinary, and it's so inspiring to work with someone like that who knows exactly what she wants to accomplish and is willing to put that before all other things. That was incredible to me.
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH PRODUCER MARCIA S. ROSS & DIRECTOR JEFF KAUFMAN
69 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Allié: Jeff, thank you for preserving the language, opting to incorporate subtitles for the majority of the film. In your opinion as a filmmaker, how much does preservation of dialect affect the integrity of a film?
Jeff: Well, that's an interesting and tricky question and, you know, we've been interviewed many times and you're the first person that asked that question. You get bonus points. It's part of respecting the people whose story you're telling. I mean, we're not Iranian. And so we really, really, really took seriously being as true to the voices that we heard as possible. And that's the voices of what they're saying, but also even the way they're saying it. It is interesting though, because Farsi is constructed much differently than English. So sometimes, whole chunks can be at the beginning of a sentence. But often times meaning comes through nuance and interpretation and not a direct word. And there's even not gender specific pieces in the language. We obviously need to be tight and accurate with our subtitles, whatever country they are, but we also need to make sure that we're editing properly in Farsi so that someone who speaks that language isn’t going to go “What the heck is going on?”. It's very tricky because when you're editing something, sometimes you need to just trim a little bit of the S or put the two words together, or there's a long gap and you can mess up a lot. We had some fabulous people, translators and sound people, who were there for us in the trenches, every single second, and a fabulous editor who really sweats the details. All that's part of the behind the scenes process of making it work.
Allié: You’ve just produced a documentary featuring ‘The Nelson Mandela of Iran’. I can only imagine that this has changed you. Marcia, how have you grown from this experience both professionally and personally? Jeff, what insights have you gained?
Marcia: I think getting to know people this way in another culture and another place that I knew nothing about certainly has been quite transformational for me. I mean, really life-changing particularly because of the kind of work that Nasrin does and the risks that she takes. I mean, there's a couple of things… making the film too. We were in the midst of the last presidential administration, and I was very anxious a lot during that period about what potentially was going to happen to our rights in this country - our civil rights, our human rights here in this country. It was a great fear of mine. You can feel that in Iran. All the time you see there, what happens in a country where people's rights slip away, where people's rights are taken from them. This is what it's like. We have a lot to be grateful for here, compared to so many other places in the world. We have so much freedom. We do have so many rights, but the truth is that they could go away like that, if people are not paying attention or don't care or don't take responsibility for it. So, I think that was very inspiring and just a constant reminder of sorts of my own civic obligation to make sure that I do everything I can in my own country as we go forward to make sure that we don't slip away from democracy, that we don't lose our civil rights, that we don't just give them up because we just think we have them and so don't pay attention to them. That was very important.
“the film continues to give us both a lot of purpose about moving forward on her behalf and other issues that we care about.”
I just think realizing how important it is to have a life of purpose for me is something Jeff and I talk about all the time. When you make a film like this, it’s not easy, obviously. No documentaries, no films are easy. Nobody makes a film and says that it was easy. But you have great purpose while you're making it. And the film continues to give us both a lot of purpose about moving forward on her behalf and other issues that we care about. 70 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Jeff: It also connects with what you were saying about the mission of AwareNow which is connecting to others and finding ways to serve others and not thinking of just my piece, but how all the pieces fit together. I think Nasrin teaches us that in many ways. When we first talked to Nasrin about doing this film, she right away (this is so typical of Nasrin) said, “Well, I wouldn't want it just to be about myself.” We always thought that it would be a conduit to others, but that she wanted to connect to others. She was very inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, but people outside of Iran who did remarkable work who saw beyond their own narrow silo to realize that society is made up of a lot of different forces and that inspired her. We feel that she could be that inspiration for others.
I have to say that it's important to realize that right now Nasrin is in one of the worst prisons in the world. So, as we love Nasrin and we think of her humanity, we also need to think of her like many other political prisoners around the world who are in the same horrendous conditions. She's in a cell that's about 10’ by 13’, long and wide. There's about 12 beds in that room, stacked up. There's a low ceiling. There are no windows; there’s no ventilation. There's a constant smell of sewage. They have water that has too much salt in it. So, it makes everyone sick. And the food has no protein in it. She had COVID, she has a heart condition and this is what they're doing to Nasrin only because she was advocating for a better society. You know, as Marcia said, many times she could have left Iran if she wanted to. She stays because she loves her country, and this is the punishment she's getting. There are so many ways to get involved on behalf of Nasrin and to be aware now of others like her. ∎
We begin with awareness then move to action.
See, hear and share her story: www.nasrinfilm.com
Together, let’s free Nasrin.
“Of course I am optimistic for the future. I have no doubt that equality will prevail, because without equality you cannot have peace and love, and without peace and love, life is empty.” - Nasrin Soutoudeh
IN SOLIDARITY WITH NASRIN SOTOUDEH
Human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh has been sentenced to decades behind bars in Iran for her professional defense of civil activists.
71 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
We live in such a colorful world filled with beauty… THI NGUYEN
NONPROFIT CONSULTANT, ENTREPRENEUR & PHILANTHROPIST
Wardrobe: Lisa JN Marie Photo Credit: Albert Evangelista
72 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘GO GREEN DRESS’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY THI NGUYEN
REFLECTIONS OF A REFUGEE
FINDING GRATITUDE IN STORIES OF STRUGGLES
There are moments in our lives when we are at a crossroad not knowing which direction we will go and how we will get there. Oftentimes it is not a choice we make but by chance we end up somewhere unexpected taking us on this adventure called life.
As I flip through the pages of my journey thus far, I feel extremely grateful for all that life has presented itself. Through the sorrows I have discovered a profound sense of gratitude. Through the losses I have uncovered immense strength. Through the pain I am blessed with a tribe of wonderful human beings that continues to support me with each passing moment.
I guess you can say I am extremely lucky…
Lucky to have made it this far.
Lucky to have this life.
Lucky to breathe this air.
Lucky to be alive.
My story could have been completely different if my parents didn't decide to escape our country in the middle of the night. Traveling aimlessly out at sea in hopes of reaching a safe haven in a foreign land where they didn’t understand the language and not knowing if we would survive. Or if my mother and I perished at sea, were murdered by pirates or unable to reunite with my father and sisters - as hundreds of thousands have experienced.
For those who do not understand the flights of refugees, ask yourself this:
Who in their right frame of mind would leave everything behind, to take a journey they are uncertain they will survive to a destination they do not know if they will be accepted or make it out alive?
Only those who are desperate enough to put themselves, their kids and loved ones in danger for a better future ahead.
I am one of those kids that survived.
Every time I look at the ocean I thank my lucky stars and am extremely grateful for my parents in their decision to leave behind their own family to find us a better future. I am thankful for their sacrifice to go on a dangerous journey where millions perish so we can be where we are today. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I am reminded of this journey and I realize that life for me is not that bad.
In 2008, I left my cushy corporate job and worked for an NGO overseas helping to repatriate Vietnamese refugees who were stuck since the refugee camps closed down. They were left in a country where they did not understand the language, did not have rights or access to the local benefits and had to figure out a way to survive.
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74 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Wardrobe: Lisa JN Marie Photo Credit: Albert Evangelista www.IamAwareNow.com
“As a refugee in America, I love experiencing the melting pot of culture…”
At the time I wanted to take on this project hoping to better understand my own journey, my parents journey and millions who fled their birth country. Too young to remember the details, I truly just wanted to piece together my own plight, a story of which I am unable to get my mom to share to this day.
What started out as a self serving trip resulted in much more than I could have imagined. I was able to see first hand the tenacity of individuals thriving by establishing a successful business. I witnessed a community coming together to help one another to survive in a foreign land. I heard stories of desperation and despair through multiple attacks as my clients were considered foreigners. Finally, I learned the truth of personal experiences with the migration of the Vietnamese people. Stories of witnessing ship wreckage, overcrowding on fishing boats, starvation, death, illness, sacrifice of one's life for the survival of another, pirate attacks (rape, plunder, theft, murder), boats stranded on islands, loss of family members, loss of entire belongings, separation of parents and kids, never reuniting with family and even cannibalism of the ones who perished so the rest can survive made my heart ache.
Through these recollections from my clients, I finally understood the pain, strength, determination, suffering and sacrifice my parents endured for our family. I had a greater sense of gratitude, love and understanding for them, their unwillingness to share the details of their story and their strength in overcoming whatever obstacles that presented themselves to get us here to America.
June 20 marks World Refugee day. As a refugee in America, I love experiencing the melting pot of culture, ethnicity, food, languages, celebrations, and holidays we have access to here. The individuals I have met making up America are part of the reason for my wanderlust, coupled with my thirst to experience life to its fullest. Hearing stories of their country, their history, their journey and visualizing the world they come from excites me. I wish I could live long enough to experience and explore every country and every city on this planet.
We live in such a colorful world filled with beauty. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we were more accepting of our differences and united with a singular purpose? If we were patient enough to hear the story of a stranger, would we be more tolerant and understanding? Imagine if we could all travel freely without restrictions and be welcome wherever we want to go?
Sadly the world seems more divided now than united.
As we slowly open up again, I am reflecting on the changes in the last year and a half. Some good, some bad but mostly feeling humbled and grateful. I am reminded of my parents' sacrifice and my own journey to get right here, exactly where I am supposed to be. Above all, I need to stay positive and believe that no matter how much darkness is out there, an equal or greater amount of light exists.
Life is funny... you go through these ups and downs and when you do... you start realizing what truly matters. You learn that a few key traits will help you in surviving any obstacles.
PATIENCE for things that matter in your life.
KINDNESS for others since you'll never understand their suffering.
GRATITUDE for what you have now because it can disappear in an instance.
HOPE to carry you through the darkest days.
LOVE to remind you everything will be OK. 76 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Wardrobe: Lisa JN Marie Photo Credit: Albert Evangelista
Remember, we are all going through something, so be kind to those you come in contact with including yourself. Spend some time with your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, coworkers, siblings and even strangers; you will never know how long they will be around. Ask them to share their story. Listen more than you speak and put yourself in their shoes. By doing so, perhaps you will get a better understanding of their nuisances.
I believe if we put down our guards and focus on love and kindness we would be more united in protecting one another. I hope by sharing my story, you'll have a greater understanding for the stories of other refugees who made a similar choice for their loved ones. Follow @GoGreenDress on Instagram for inspirational quotes, messages and photos of faraway land. As always feel free to reach out should you have any comments, questions or suggestions with my next article. ∎
“To be accepted we must love, to love we must be accepted.” - Thi-ism THI NGUYEN
Nonprofit Consultant, Entrepreneur & Philanthropist www.awarenessties.us/thi Thi Nguyen brings with her over 2 decades of non profit experience as a participant, advisor, board member, consultant, volunteer and research and development specialist. Her expertise combining technology to further advance the vision and mission for philanthropic causes has allowed her to serve as a trusted partner with many notable organizations large and small. Thi has experience working with organizations focusing on combating various global issues such as: human sex trafficking, homelessness, poverty, fair wages, global warming, malnutrition, gender equality, humanitarian assistance and human rights. She's currently developing an app to connect individuals and corporations to assist nonprofits in furthering their vision and mission.
77 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
I am one of those kids that survived. THI NGUYEN
NONPROFIT CONSULTANT, ENTREPRENEUR & PHILANTHROPIST
Wardrobe: Lisa JN Marie Photo Credit: Albert Evangelista
78 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
LISTEN IN. CLICK THE PODCASTS BELOW.
AwareNow™ Podcast is the 'Official Podcast for Causes'. Presented by Awareness Ties, AwareNow is rated 'O' for original and organic content to raise awareness for the causes we're all tied to, through personal stories and exclusive interviews. Tune in as we raise awareness a story at a time about topics that aren't always easy to talk about through conversations that are sometimes hard to have. Together, we are aware now. Listen and download. Available via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts & more.
S U B S C R I B E A W A R E N O W P O D C A S T. C O M
I need to hear stories
that can lift me up. ENDA O’DOHERTY
MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER, AUTHOR & MINDSET COACH 80 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
PERSONAL STORY WITH BY ENDA O’DOHERTY
POWER OF DELIVERING CONTENT AND SHAPING TOMORROW In 1990 when Snap hit the top of the Billboard charts with “I've got the power”, I certainly didn't realise that I have the power as we all do in our lives to impact Society around us in a positive way. I was still a chronic alcoholic at that point and had not begun my career as a writer and motivational speaker. Words have the power to transform lives to lift us from the ordinary.
“You look beautiful.”
”I love you.”
“Can I help?”
Simple yet powerful words can impact all of our lives.
Each of us walk different pathways in life. Mine has led me from alcoholism and suicide to becoming an author and motivational speaker. The story of how I climbed Kilimanjaro with a washing machine in my back has inspired people all around the world. This led to the publication of my mental health book “I’m Fine!” which has been a life changing success.
The fundamental part of being human is our humanity. I believe that we not only have the ability to change people's lives for good, but we also have a deep profound responsibility to do so. Technology and social media have the ability to destroy our mental health and happiness but they also has the ability to allow us to reach more people with positive uplifting stories than ever before. That's why I've launched ‘The Mighty Mini Podcast’. In 1990 the word ‘podcast’ did not even exist! Today with some simple technology, some hard work and some imagination, I am able to speak to people from Alaska to Hawaii and from London to Moscow.
Why this name for my podcast? I want something that is condensed and powerful - something that packs the real punch. You didn't have to spend hours listening to the podcast but you could come away richly inspired having learned new knowledge, techniques or advice. One of the most marvelous things about podcasting is that it forces you to sit and reflect on your life and how you would like to impact others. In a crazy modern world that races at breakneck speed, it's unusual to take your pen and paper and sit in the garden and think. If you are thinking of launching your own podcast don't let fear control you. To change the world… to change your life, quite simply you need to take action. I often describe fear to people as cellophane. If you wrap yourself in layers of it, pretty soon you'll be able to take no action at all. You’ll sit on the couch. You won't be creative. You won't contribute to the world.
For me, so much has already come from preparing this podcast like learning new skills in podcast editing, graphics and video. I have been amazed by the stories of the people who have reached out to me to be guests. As a motivational speaker and someone who spends most of the days inspiring other people, I’m human. I need to hear stories that will raise me up. I'm sure quite a few people don't know that ‘pod’ stands for ‘personal on demand’. My podcast certainly is personal. I intend to put my experiences, my thoughts, my feelings, my joy and my fears available on demand for the world. A friend of mine asked me if I was concerned the podcast would not be a success. Instantly, JFK’s words came to mind: “Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly." - John F. Kennedy ∎
Learn more about Enda O’Doherty by visiting his website:
Listen to The Mighty Mini Postcast via Spotify:
81 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
To the young kid who did not know that they were not quite a boy or a girl… ZEE TAYLOR
BORN THIS WAY FOUNDATION/CHANNEL KINDNESS LGBTQ+ LIT CONTEST GRAND PRIZE WINNER 82 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘CHANNELING KINDNESS’ COLUMN BY BORN THIS WAY FOUNDATION (FEAT. ZEE TAYLOR)
DEAR YOUNGER ME
A PRIZE-WINNING PIECE ADDRESSING WITH ONE’S SELF
In partnership with Hope in a Box and in commemoration of Pride, Channel Kindness held an LGBTQ+ Lit Contest that asked high schoolers to share how LGBTQ+ representation in books inspired them and impacted their lives. The following is the Grand Prize-winning contest story by Zee Taylor:
Dear younger me,
To the kid who would stay up much too late at night to watch YouTube short films about Queer kids just surviving,
To the young kid who did not know that they were not quite a boy or a girl,
Dear a young queer who felt much too drawn to their best friend and her smile,
You are loved, no matter what others might say.
You have not yet read Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin or heard of the metaphorical dial,
You do not know why you do not like the term girl for your soul,
You do not feel like anything other than who you are
But I promise that does not mean you are broken.
Dear child who has not yet cried tears over the ending of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,
You have not yet realized that you are both Dante and Ari, trapped inside your mind,
worrying about what is right and what is wrong,
The dear adolescent who has not yet kissed their best friend and ruined everything,
But as Cameron Post shows, that event is not the end,
It is simply a new beginning.
Hello to the child who considers ending it all if only it means peace inside,
Peace inside is a false narrative pushed by those who do not have Pride,
You should not wish for peace,
Wish for love and hope and fire and joy and sadness,
Wish for any emotion that proves you are real and complete.
I wish I could talk to you hours and tell you of the story that would change your life,
I want to tell you that it is perfectly alright to love Dante, with all your being,
I wish I could tell you that the character of Ari would make you feel more seen for the first time,
I want to tell you that even when the sky is falling apart, there is always a clear desert on the other side,
One with no rain or birds falling from the sky,
Just your best friend’s hand in yours as you both stare at the stars,
83 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
If only I could tell you what Cameron Post will teach you in a few years,
When bad things happen, it does not mean the end,
You are resilient and no one can pry your heart from your soul
Dear younger me who has not yet read Garvin’s masterpiece on the complexity of gender,
To the child who has not yet found the word ‘nonbinary’ to describe themself,
I wish I could tell you that one day you will be so comfortable in your own skin that you will
stop hiding behind hoodies in the middle of summer,
I want to tell you about the moment that everything seems black but you paint it white in your
mind, just like Riley.
Dear younger me, I wish I could tell you all the stories I have read and all the love I have felt,
You will fall in love with so many characters, over and over,
But none will ever touch your heart like Cameron, Ari, or Riley,
For they are the first time you will ever feel truly seen and complete.
Dear Younger Me. ∎
Channel Kindness LGBTQ+ Lit Contest Grand Prize Winner www.channelkindness.org/author/zee-taylor My name is Zee. I am 16, live in Tennessee, and I am queer. While my gender is technically called girlflux (a movement between nonbinary and female), I generally prefer the blanket term of queer for that as well. Many stories have helped me come to terms with who I am, but the books of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Symptoms of Being Human, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe remain particularly special to me in my journey for self-discovery. I enjoy baking, reading, painting, gardening, cooking, and listening to the voices of others through books.
84 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
SIP OF HOPE IS THE WORLD'S FIRST COFFEE SHOP WHERE 100% OF THE PROCEEDS SUPPORT PROACTIVE SUICIDE PREVENTION AND MENTAL HEALTH EDUCATION. Prevention starts with a conversation, and the conversation starts here. To learn how you can break the silence, visit SIPOFHOPE.COM
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I’m still here… JOEL CARTNER
LAWYER, AWARENESS TIES OFFICIAL ADVISOR & COLUMNIST 86 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘UNYIELDINGLY HUMAN’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY JOEL CARTNER
THE TWO SIDES OF BROKEN
DISABILITY DEFINED BY BOTH JAGGED EDGES & INNER STRENGTH More than anything I've ever communicated to anyone in any context, what I'm about to say to you all is a work in progress. What I've tried to get on paper I've carried around for years, maybe for my entire life, and I'm only just beginning to unravel it. So, consider this Part 1, with future parts coming at dates yet to be determined.
I've been privy to a debate in the disabled community around the word ‘crippled’.
Basically, some people view the use of the word as a reclamation of power, and some people view it as a perpetuation of a dangerous and hurtful sentiment, no matter who it comes from.1 I'm a fan of the "to each their own" approach to the debate rather than wading into the unwinnable territory of an absolute right and an absolute wrong. We all have a responsibility to ensure the language we use does not harm those around us, but beyond that, I think it's a matter of personal choice. As for me, I've used crippled and broken jokes as something of a diffusion tactic for difficult conversations with friends, dates, even professionally. "If you can't laugh about it, then it's just sad." It's part of my way of dealing with the fact that, in a lot of ways, life dealt me a crap hand.
I have a slightly different relationship to the word ‘broken’.
In the context of Pride, I've found myself dwelling more and more on the face we present to the world, both by choice and as a consequence of more sinister attitudinal barriers. Someone pointed out to me recently that broken can imply an ability to fix. My conceptualization, however, of broken comes from the connotation that broken things can 1) tend to have some form of a jagged edge and 2) have their own strength and power.
THE JAGGED EDGE
It's hard not to feel like a walking weapon when I face the reality that I require more than other people from the people in my life. There isn't anything wrong with requiring more, it's just the reality of the thing, and as they say, everyone has baggage. But it doesn't mean I don't feel the sharp edges when, at worst, there are days when I can't keep the pain off of my face or the frustration out of my voice. When I see what those days do to the people around me. It doesn't mean that I don't shy away from things like asking a friend for a ride to somewhere as basic as the grocery store (even though there's nothing I can do about the fact that I can't drive) because it feels like an imposition. When all of that stuff gets out of the box where it lives in my head, life starts to feel enormously lonely.
In the before times, my sister and I were in a bar, and we saw this guy who had CP. I haven't had a ton of interactions with other people with CP outside of my youth or medical environments, so any time I see someone else with CP out in the world, I get excited. So, we see this guy across the bar, and my mind starts going in a million different directions. The thing that stuck with me the most was the fact that he had friends. I know that sounds ridiculous; of course, he has friends, I have friends, they treat me like everyone else. Why shouldn't he? Of course, he did. But it hit me like a lightning rod. It wasn't just that he had friends or seemed to be so easy with them either. It was the sheer world of questions that opened in my head. “Does he struggle with feeling like a burden? Does he have trouble getting people to take him seriously professionally? How does he handle waking up in pain in the morning?" All those questions and more swirled around my head as I watched him. I didn't end up going to introduce myself. After all, what would I have said? But even now, I think about him often. Seeing him was both awesome and loneliness in a microcosm; how many of those questions does the rest of the world ask?
87 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
"Life has knocked me down over and over again. Yet, I get up every time, and there is power in that.”
Most of the people I've talked to about this concept of the word ‘broken’ have had the gut reaction, "What are you doing calling yourself broken!?” And I get it; it's an incredibly negative connotation with genuinely harmful implications, but I also think the idea that there is a power in the fact that despite everything I’m still here shouldn't be overlooked.
On a good day, the morning is the hardest part of my day.
From the moment I come to consciousness, I'm in pain, and the force of will it takes to put that pain to the side and get up to go about my day ranges from mild to titanic in scale. To be honest, much of my ability to deal with that pain comes from external motivation from the people around me. "If you can get out of bed, there are people around you who will help you get through the day." But there's also a lot of internal fortitude there as well. There are easier examples (surgeries, physical therapy and the like) to contextualize the strength of consistently dealing with circumstances on that scale. I think a more broadly accessible example though actually comes from the last year and a half that I've spent job searching.
I moved to D.C. to pursue my dream, at that point seven years in the making, of working in public policy and legislation. I did this with a wonderfully supportive network of friends, family, and colleagues who all wanted to see me achieve that dream. However, as I'm sure many of you can empathize, as time rolled on and no permanent job revealed itself, it became harder and harder to psych myself up to tailor yet another resume or write another perfectly targeted cover letter, and the pressure of watching other people hoping for my success also began to weigh heavily, just like the jagged edge previously described. Now, layer on top of that feeling, the days when getting out of bed is a monumental task, or when I would sit at my desk and do more spasming than writing because my body just wasn't having it, and you can probably guess that I haven't always been in the best mindset in the last year and a half.
Finally, one day, I asked myself if I could put in a cover letter all the nonsense I've overcome: being born at 27 weeks, having two disabilities, all the surgeries, the physical therapy, the pain, the prejudice, the bias, and every other horrible thing life has thrown my way… Despite all this, I still received a major fellowship in undergrad, graduated well from my department, got into law school, published a paper, and passed the Bar. Who would want to hire me? Of course, I can't put those things in a cover letter; heck, I wouldn't even bring those things up in an interview. That's not how the world works; that strength is not something the wider world often wants to see because it requires actively looking at the unpleasant things to see the strength to be found in them. It was in that moment of examining this hypothetical cover letter that the power of using everything that has happened to me and everything I've done struck me and for whatever reason, the word that encapsulated it for me was ‘broken’. 88 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
I am broken. I will, probably, always live with that fear of the days that those jagged edges will hurt someone that is not me, and that is a horrible feeling and something to work on (see below). But there is also a strength in being broken.
I'm a 26-year-old lawyer that by all accounts, shouldn't have made it anywhere near this far. Yet here I am. I do it anyway.
I am broken. Life has knocked me down over and over again. Yet, I get up every time, and there is power in that. That's where the idea for "We do not yield" came from. It's why I wrote the piece on disability and policing that started my time at Awareness Ties; it's why I want to work in public policy. The world can be unfair, and random, and hard, but the idea I hope to prevail is the idea that we can get knocked down over and over again and still get up. I know because I've done it. When you spend your whole life fighting, there's a certain power that gets conveyed in the idea that you have yet to find something that can truly keep you down. I'm a 26-year-old lawyer that by all accounts, shouldn't have made it anywhere near this far. Yet here I am. I do it anyway.
A FINAL THOUGHT (FOR THE MOMENT)
I say it a lot, but the easiest way to address the jagged edges is to talk about them, and on an individual level, that's still true. What distinguishes this from other similar discussions, however, is that, unlike more discrete policy concerns, where we seek to understand broader communities, whether that be the disabled community, the LGBT+ community, or so many others, there's a certain amount of acceptance of visibility that needs to come from the rest of the world first. The world doesn't see the jagged edges that come with living a life with a disability or the deluge of questions I had for that guy in the bar, or the strength that can benefit others when we overcome those things. The world doesn't see the often unfortunate amount of courage it takes to come out, or the trauma of being told who you love is wrong, or the joy in finding that love. In short, the world does not see (or wish to see) many of these faces. Conversations, stories, and understanding is where we start, but at some point this world must move to accept these many faces and voices as well.
Happy Pride! ∎ (A special thanks to Dani Overby for her help in editing.) JOEL CARTNER
Lawyer, Awareness Ties Official Advisor & Columnist www.awarenessties.us/joelcartner Joel Cartner is a lawyer and public policy professional with Cerebral Palsy Spastic Diplegia and Retinopathy of Prematurity. Cartner has a background in public health, disability, and education law and policy. He received his J.D. from Quinnipiac University School of Law and his B.A. in Political Science from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Cartner currently lives in Washington D.C. where he works as a Document Review Attorney while seeking legislative employment.
89 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
All you have is your name and your word. DESMOND CLARK
SPEAKER, AUTHOR & FORMER NFL PLAYER 90 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘PRINCIPLES OF WINNING’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY DESMOND CLARK
YOUR NAME & YOUR WORD
LEADERSHIP AND THE TITLES THAT FOLLOW I used to think leadership was a title, something bestowed-upon somebody.
A reflection of their position, or power. I was the captain of our high school football team, and charged with arranging spring/summer workouts. Instead, I spent my time playing basketball, ignoring my obligations to my team and coach.
One day my football coach found me, and (some cursing may have been involved) asked me why I wasn’t arranging the football practices as I had promised to do. I mumbled. Perhaps I apologized.
And then he said words that I often repeat on stage when I speak.
This is true in business, sports, and family:
“Son, all you have is your name and your word.”
I’ve been successful in certain things, and some people think that makes me a leader.
But when I coach or speak, I try to make it clear:
My titles or accomplishments have never made me a leader.
I lead me, and the titles and accomplishments follow.
Other people don’t make you a leader; your actions do.
The true leader has four tools: action, empathy, consistency, and trust.
It took me failing to learn the obvious:
Leaders don’t chase titles or followers.
Titles and followers find leaders. ∎
Speaker, Author & Former NFL Player www.awarenessties.us/desmondclark Empowering sales professionals and leaders with ‘Principles of Winning’ to create a standard of excellence, Desmond Clark is a former star NFL Tight End, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Author, Speaker, and Inspirational Business Coach. During his 12 year tenure in the NFL, he played with the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, and 8 years with the Chicago Bears, retiring as the second leading Tight End in Bears history for catches, yards, and touchdowns behind only Hall of Famer Mike Ditka. Before entering into the NFL, Desmond set Wake Forest University receiving records and finished his college career as all-time leading receiver in Atlantic Coast Conference history and a degree in communications. For more information about the ‘Principles of Winning’ group coaching course call 863.581.5161 or email email@example.com.
91 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Working remotely from the comfort of our homes has been an important strategy in combating this pandemic. LORRAINE D’ALESSIO
FOUNDER OF D’ALESSIO LAW GROUP 92 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘CROSSING’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY LORRAINE D’ALESSIO
DITCH THE JUNE GLOOM
A PLEDGE FOR PROFESSIONAL WELLNESS
Business Leaders Must Prioritize Their Employees’ Wellbeing When Returning to the Office
It’s starting to feel like summer again in Los Angeles. Beach weather is here to stay, reopenings at Dodger Stadium are ushering in familiar crowds to America’s pastime. Eager children are ready to ditch their classrooms (both virtual and in-person) as they near the finish line of the school year, and friends, family, and coworkers are finalizing upcoming summer vacation travel plans. Now that travel is a more tangible reality, we’re all itching to catch up on lost time from the past year-plus of quarantine and social distancing.
June in Los Angeles is the month I most associate with change, other than November in my hometown of Mississauga, Canada. Transitioning from springtime to summer comes with a lot of anticipation for building new memories to look back on. And given this past year, I’m sure we’re all hungry to make new memories. As we eye more and more freedoms returning to our daily lives, we should pay attention to the way these old familiar pastimes feel, and find ways to prioritize these feelings in the grand scope of our daily lives, both personal and professional.
“…it’s important to better understand the ways in which our work life affects our mental and physical wellbeing.”
In addition to being the beginning of Summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, June is also National Professional Wellness Month. Considering that, under normal circumstances outside of a pandemic, we spend a significant amount of time in the office, it’s important to better understand the ways in which our work life affects our mental and physical wellbeing. Understanding the issues that we face in the office, and the impact that these issues could have in our personal lives is crucial to employers who want to support their employees and foster a positive and healthy work environment.
If there was ever a time to prioritize wellness in the workplace, it’s been this past year. Of course, as coronavirus numbers have risen and dipped in the U.S. this past year, working remotely from the comfort of our homes has been an important strategy in combating this pandemic. Taking work computers to home offices, bolstering internet connections, and jumping on zoom instead of our regular in-person meetings has not been challenging in the scope of the personal sacrifices people have made throughout this tragic time. 93 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Of course, moving the office and our work schedules to our homes come with a couple of new challenges and feats to cross. Busy schedules, planning trips to the supermarket, keeping our children active and entertained between zoom classes, and more. The work/life balance was a puzzle that required active attention and effort in order to complete the image.
But there’s no doubt that working from home also introduced a number of unseen perks into the workplace that companies and business leaders should carry over into day-to-day operations once offices open up. These perks have proven to increase happiness and general well-being within employees. These benefits should be considered when strategizing which policies and procedures should be maintained in order to maintain this wellbeing and foster greater strength in the employer/employee relationship.
And though there are plenty of studies that equate employee happiness with increased productivity. A recent survey organized by Avaya polled a number of professionals who were forced to work from home throughout 2020 due to the pandemic. 27% of those polled stated that they were happier working from home, 56% sharing that a sort of workfrom-home-and-in-office approach has the potential to improve well-being.
The study also revealed that a great number of workers felt like they were trapped in monotony in regards to their life outside of work. As people return to the workforce and continue their work, the need to meet people where they currently are, and provide them with the opportunity to set their schedule, choose their surroundings, and encourage greater flexibility in their professional lives will do wonders to productivity for a company. All in all, studies show that a proactive approach to mental health has a great effect on combating burnout in the workforce.
Working from home has shaved down the time it takes to commute to and from work, cut down the cost of travel, introduced greater flexibility in time management, and more. These changes, which can feel incremental and small out of context, add up to a greater picture for employees. They give more time to employees to pursue the interests and relaxation of their free time outside of the work schedule while showing them that their employers do care about their overall happiness and wellbeing outside of the office or workplace.
Returning to the office gives business leaders a chance to look at their pre-pandemic policies and procedures. Comb through the way your business runs and think of the various ways that changes in these policies could result in a greater outcome for your employees. It may be summer but it’s never too late to do some much-needed spring cleaning.
I implore fellow business leaders to take a pledge. Pledge that we’ll prioritize our employees and their wellbeing as we continue to return to the office and return to some sense of normalcy. Take note of the types of issues they are facing on a day-to-day basis. Understand that issues are unlikely to be isolated events and that giving your employees time and flexibility in their approach to these issues will help you better understand how to solve future problems as they come up.
We have power in the way we can support, encourage, and inspire. But that only comes in time and through vigilant effort on our part. And I promise you, we will all be better for it. ∎ LORRAINE D’ALESSIO
Founder of D’Alessio Law Group www.awarenessties.us/lorraine-dalessio Founding partner of D’Alessio Law Group, Lorraine was named the 2017 Leader in Law by the Los Angeles Business Journal and is the recipient of the 2018 Enterprising Women Award. A former Ford model turned legal powerhouse, Lorraine is a multi-award-winning, immigration expert who regularly contributes to the Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter, LA Business Journal, Playback and other leading outlets in the U.S.. Lorraine has provided counsel to hundreds of prominent and award-winning entertainment agencies, unions, private companies, academic institutions, tech startups, entrepreneurs and enterprises, and has worked on highly successful refugee and deportation cases with immigrant communities across Los Angeles.
94 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
It's incredible to be part of something that is passionate, radical and life changing… ACE
GUITARIST, SONGWRITER, PRODUCER, EDUCATOR, AUTHOR AND PRESENTER 96 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘GLOBAL GOOD’ EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW SERIES BY TANITH HARDING
ACE IN SPADES
THE MANY SUCCESSES OF A MUSICAL CAREER Ace is a guitarist, songwriter, producer, educator, author and presenter and has been the guitarist in UK rock phenomenon Skunk Anansie since 1994. As one of the biggest rock bands in Britain and Europe throughout the 90’s they have sold over six million records and performed sellout world tours. In addition he is the Head of Industry Partnerships and Business Development for The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance and is still touring as well as balancing a busy family life.
Tanith: Ace, you’ve been a guitarist for Skunk Anansie for more than 25 years and the band is as popular as ever. What does it feel like to be part of something so successful?
Ace: It's incredible to be part of something that is passionate, radical and life changing, and be successful within it. It envelops everything from recognition from your music, satisfaction from the success, creative freedom, self sufficiency and total fulfilment as a creative artist. Financially, it's been incredible to earn money out of your art, and I bless this, as I know many people don’t have that privilege but still play music and be in bands for years because it's a passion lead pursuit. The band has been successful on its own terms and reinforced positive messages for change and supporting diversity, inclusion and well-being across all walks of life. Some songs have messages that are still relevant today, so that's a testament of great songwriting and social awareness. I’m so appreciative of the experiences I’ve gained, the people I've met and the places I've travelled to. I do understand this is an incredible privileged elite lifestyle I've been blessed with and worked hard to achieve too. For the past 10 years I've put all the money I've earned from the band into my children's education. So, no speedboats, sports cars and private yachts for me… LOL. It has been the best money I've spent, and the best gift I could give to them.
ACE IN SPADES
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ACE FROM SKUNK ANANSIE
97 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
“I don't look for recognition of myself here, I look for recognition of the needs of students and the programs."
Tanith: Your passion for music and education have come together over the years including roles at music institutes including your recent move to ICMP and constant support of The Global Youth Awards. Why do you think providing music education and recognition is so important?
Ace: Music education is a really great thing as it has two sides. One explores and pushes the boundaries of creativity and creates a social tool kit that you can use anywhere in your life. Learning an instrument is incredibly fulfilling, it's a collaborative art and it builds a community around you of like-minded people who share a passion for art and creativity. I find the demographic is incredibly diverse and welcomes people from all walks of life with different social and economic backgrounds coming together through one medium.
I've been involved with music education for 25 years, starting as a masterclass guest, mentor, moving on to a tutor, course writer and module leader to creating and forming my own schools, then moving into the industry side of creative development for students outreach. I don't look for recognition of myself here, I look for recognition of the needs of students and the programs and people that will support them to create long-lasting careers with flexible multiple income streams within today's music industry. Being surrounded by students and dual professional tutors, is a really energising and uplifting experience, and another reason I love to do this job. When I was young, the secret of success was; Talent, Drive and Focus. Now I’m older it has shifted into; Precision, Velocity and Impact. 98 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Tanith: As a husband and father your work schedule must be super tough, and I know you’re dedicated to time with family, how do you create balance with such a busy career?
Ace: You could say the schedule is tough if you don't enjoy it, but if you enjoy it, it's just about the volume of hours doing something you want to do the energy to sustain it.
My family is quite industrious and busy. Education has been at the forefront of everything while the kids are young to set them up for life. So the key is, 'work when they work', and take time off when they do. For example they go to school all day, and then do extra curricular activities such as piano lessons, maths lessons, tennis, Saturday school etc. So I'll work at these times but stop and do things with them when the free time is there. This actually gives me a lot of time to get things done from 9am-7pm. I'm a big multitasker and time manager. I live by lists and calendars and a structured work ethic. I get excited about creating new projects and doing things that I want to do. I take a chance often, I make calculated risks and run them alongside surefire moneymaking pursuits such as full-time employment. The family are used to me being like this and they know it's important that I must do the work. I'm also very conscious about offsetting time when needs be, when your daughter says let's play, you’ve got to play…It's the old adage of work hard play hard…When I’m not working I'm totally focused on doing things with the family such as days out, road trips, barbecues, nature visits, arts and crafts etc…. oh and that admin stuff…lol
99 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Tanith: The last year and a half has been strange and many people considering a career in the arts may be concerned about what to do, what advice would you offer them?
Ace: Just because we've had a year out, it doesn't mean the arts have gone away. Creative people will always be in demand, and talent will rise to the top. In some ways creative thinking has to be more prevalent than ever with challenges that face us and may face us again in the future. The world needs music, entertainers, art, creativity and a lust for life. We as humans are always seeking fulfilment and happiness. Some get this through being an observer and others get it through providing it. Learning an instrument or creative skill can forge a lifelong career and also gives you immense satisfaction as a human being to learn, grow and entertain the possibility of creating something new that has not existed before and give it to the planet. Maybe the creative arts is the last spiritual Bastian we have for a fulfilling a unique bespoke career?
Tanith: You have tour dates in the diary with Skunk Anansie and recently created your own line of streetwear on top of the move to ICMP. What can we expect to see on the horizon?
Ace: You can always expect something new from me! One of my great gifts has always been foresight, collaboration and connection (and a mad work ethic). I don't give myself any limitations and surround myself with creative collaborative people. Always share your ideas, and don't be a hoarder and ideas will come back to you in abundance. I'm not afraid to try something that will fail if I have a belief that it could work. I am never discouraged when I fail either, because I always learn something fantastic that I take forward. I also believe that no good work put into something is ever wasted, it always pops up somewhere else as a useful asset. I get excited about trying new projects, and I'm always balancing financial aspects against creative and fulfilling aspects. For example my T-shirt store is about me having the time to draw, design, create and have fulfilment in that area, but using the time in a business sense to create income from it that can then support other ventures or be ploughed back into my children's education.
My philosophy is:
You have your main job, your second job, and your Saturday job… A few quotes I live by:
People will always remember you by the way you make them feel.
Your network is your net worth.
If someone else can do it, you can do it! ∎
For Skunk Anansie Live Performance Dates visit their website:
Learn more about The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance:
For Ace’s Merch Store visit:
Learn more about Ace here:
https://www.aceskunkanansie.com TANITH HARDING
Director of International Development, The Legacy Project, RoundTable Global www.awarenessties.us/tanith-harding Tanith is leading change management through commitment to the RoundTable Global Three Global Goals of: Educational Reform, Environmental Rejuvenation & Empowerment for All. She delivers innovative and transformational leadership and development programmes in over 30 different countries and is also lead on the international development of philanthropic programmes and projects. This includes working with a growing team of extraordinary Global Change Ambassadors and putting together the Global Youth Awards which celebrate the amazing things our young people are doing to change the world.
100 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
I don't give myself any limitations… ACE
GUITARIST, SONGWRITER, PRODUCER, EDUCATOR, AUTHOR AND PRESENTER 101 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
True change is always an inside out experience. EDEN BENIBO
WRITER, STORY TELLER, THOUGHT LEADER & CEO OF HELLO ICON MAGAZINE 102 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘GLOBAL GOOD’ EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW SERIES BY TANITH HARDING
WORDS WITH EDEN
A CONVERSATION WITH EDEN BENIBO
Eden Benibo is a writer, story teller and thought leader with an undiluted passion for impacting her world positively via words. Her life is guided by the principle that ‘change is not just a part of life, change is life itself ’. She has won various awards which include: The Escape Award, The Elite Writers Award (twice) and The Superwoman Under30 Award. She has also been a nominee of The Creative Africans Award, London, and is currently CEO of Hello ICON Magazine which is a digital space where art nurtures, empowers and creates global connections beyond all racial, gender, religious, age and ideological differences. Additionally she was recently made an Ambassador for the World Literacy Foundation 2021 and selected to judge The Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition 2021.
Tanith: Eden you have achieved so much in such a short time, but what was life for you like growing up in Nigeria?
Eden: Growing up in Nigeria for me was a mixture of so many phases boxed up in a single childhood experience, and I know this is part of what shaped who I am. The good phase. The tough phase. But all taught me strength and resilience among other things.
As a child, so many days I had to place my head and tiny hands on our window, to watch other children play outside. My mum was protective of me because I am an only child, but gradually, she loosened up. As I grew, I began to learn that one doesn't have to be blood related to become family. In the area of Lagos Nigeria where I grew up, children moved from being friends to becoming siblings. Childhood days were beautiful especially having friends turned siblings to play and laugh with. Almost everyone who grew up in Nigeria has a story of strength and resilience to tell. This is just a glimpse of my childhood days and truth.
Tanith: Your love for writing and poetry have driven you to want to do good in the world and I know you’re passionate about changing the narrative particularly for young people in Africa - what’s the message and why?
Eden: I believe change begins from within, and true change is always an inside out experience. As a writer and poet, regardless of the tendencies to talk about diverse social issues, my message always revolves around two things Positivity & Correcting Faculty Orientations.
My message is all about - “unboxing." An average young person in Africa is exposed to much weight and burden, both mentally and otherwise. From issues of corruption, tribalism, religious crisis, to fighting for survival with little or no 'social support.' The negativities around us can get so intense. This is what brings me to the theme of positivity in every message I "preach." Two wrongs cannot make a right and darkness will only birth darkness, so rather than leave my readers in their negativities, I write to uplift. To leave a light "at the end of the tunnel." Because even for writers, it's easy to get carried away by the situations and problems we crave solutions for. I consciously try to leave a light of positivity without deviating from the truth.
The issues of tribalism, religious wars and bad leadership in Africa has its roots in our faulty orientations. So, my message also consciously tries to correct these through the help of relatable storytelling and simply sharing truths hidden beneath poetic words. Finally, the word 'unbox' is deep, wide and boundless. It's about bringing out gifts we carry within, walking away from self pity. It's knowing that we are all that we have. Imagine an Africa with Africans who have refined mindsets beyond the negativities around us. Imagine an Africa where everyone focuses on what to give from 'inside out' rather than only receive. Imagine an Africa where our gifts, dreams, and passions sincerely have breathing spaces to grow. To thrive. 103 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Tanith: Eden you’ve been a Global Youth Ambassador for the last four years what have been the highlights for you?
Eden: Being a Global Youth Ambassador the last four years has been beautiful. I remember I was still an undergraduate when I received the congratulatory email as the first RoundTable Global Youth Ambassador in Nigeria. Being a Global Youth Ambassador opened my heart to bigger dreams beyond my immediate environment. It made me know I could stretch my passions and make impacts globally. The platform also helped me build capacity in diverse ways, especially in strengthening my public speaking abilities and leadership skills. As a poet and writer, I always loved to be in the background and hide between my 'pages' of words without being seen. Being a Global Youth Ambassador really pushed me out of that box and made me shine my light more in dark places. Visiting secondary school children to talk about maximizing potentials, living one's dreams and sharing the RoundTable three global goals is most fulfilling. Another major highlight was when our RoundTable Global Co-Founder, Tiffany, and Director of International Development, Tanith visited Nigeria. I cannot forget the impact of the mini leadership training we got during this visit. Finally, being a judge for the Global Youth Awards for close to three years never fails to leave me in excitement and fulfilment. All these are memories (still counting) that would last a lifetime.
Tanith: As a young person dedicated to making a difference, what is the biggest change you would like to see happen within your lifetime?
Eden: The biggest change I would like to see is the establishment and rise of mentally and financially empowered creatives that come together beyond age, gender, religious and racial differences, to build communities where only pure talent is the currency and empathy, kindness are the dialects. I believe we all have an art, because we all have talents.
Tanith: You have recently launched Hello ICON Magazine to empower and connect on a human level -talk us through your ambition for the magazine and for the future?
Eden: Beyond just being a monthly publication, Hello ICON Magazine serves as an umbrella to many dreams and visions. The mission here is boundless, aside creating global connections among people of all backgrounds. As an art magazine, we are redefining art itself and creating spaces for unheard voices to be "seen" by a more International audience. So the dream of Hello ICON Magazine is beyond Nigeria, but the beauty of it is that 95% of the team members are from Africa. The goals of the magazine includes to empower creatives both mentally and financially. Through partnerships and in-house generation of income, our short term goal is to start paying every creative/contributor of the magazine for doing what they love. Our international partners are working on rebranding the magazine starting which will make each edition come with videos and a flip view. These partners are helping distribute the magazine beyond Africa to Europe and America. We look forward to more expansions to other continents. For the mental empowerment goal we want to create both physical and virtual fellowships for creatives, trainings and even organize award events, healthy competitions and many more. These dreams may look bigger than the team members but with a makeup of team members of diverse backgrounds passionate about the same course, it can only get better. Gradually, our dreams are turning reality by God's grace. ∎
Director of International Development, The Legacy Project, RoundTable Global www.awarenessties.us/tanith-harding Tanith is leading change management through commitment to the RoundTable Global Three Global Goals of: Educational Reform, Environmental Rejuvenation & Empowerment for All. She delivers innovative and transformational leadership and development programmes in over 30 different countries and is also lead on the international development of philanthropic programmes and projects. This includes working with a growing team of extraordinary Global Change Ambassadors and putting together the Global Youth Awards which celebrate the amazing things our young people are doing to change the world.
104 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
JUNE 30 @ 6PM PST/9PM EST TUNE IN WWW.AWARENESSTIES.US/LGBTQ-TALK
It’s all vibration… JONATHAN GEORGE
CEO OF UNLEASH YOUR ROCKSTAR 106 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘UNSUGARCOATED’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY AALIA LANIUS
JONATHAN GEORGE ON BUILDING AN UNSUGARCOATED PERSONAL BRAND In this episode, Aalia sits down in-studio with Jonathan George to discuss personal branding. Jonathan George is no simple cut-throat ad man, however. His company, Unleash Your Rockstar, focuses on personal branding through personal empowerment and telling your authentic story.
Jonathan discusses when he first came to L.A., trying to build a career in music, only to have producers drop him because of his sexuality (4:30). He remembers hitting his lowest point and having to transform into someone who finds the stories of others and helps them brand them authentically and successfully (9:45). Aalia and Jonathan discuss the philosophy of personal branding. How do you create an impact in the digital age (20:21)? What’s the right way to share what you’ve gone through (24:05)? How do you build the brand of your story (29:30)? Jonathan George doesn’t smooth things over for the sake of a sleek image. He delves into authentic stories and flaws (46:00) and uses those to build personal brands. To learn more about Jonathan George and Unleash Your Rockstar, go to www.UnleashYourRockstar.com. ∎
For more information on UNSUGARCOATED Media or your award-winning host, go to www.UnsugarcoatedMedia.com and stay connected with Aalia on IG: @aalia_unsugarcoated and on Clubhouse @aalia_lanius
Novelist, Speaker, Podcast Host & Social Entrepreneur www.awarenessties.us/aalialanius Aalia Lanius is the Founder and President of UNSUGARCOATED Media, a 501(c)(3) media organization. Dedicated to helping survivors of trauma lead mentally healthier lives, Lanius' focus is creating media and events that empower, educate, heal, and inspire another the way it has for her. Lanius is also a multiple awardwinning American novelist, social entrepreneur, and advocate with over 20 years of sharing her personal experiences with audiences of all age groups and diverse backgrounds. Executive Producer and host of the award-nominated seasonal podcast show, “UNSUGARCOATED with Aalia”, a visual and audio experience that features conversations intended to bring value and amplify voices that create more empathy and understanding of one another.
107 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
All I can say is,
Complex PTSD is no joke. LORI BUTIERRIES
AUTHOR, NAVY VETERAN & MOTHER OF 2 WITH SPECIAL NEEDS Artwork by: Tetiana Surshko 108 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘SCARRED NOT BROKEN’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY LORI BUTIERRIES
COMPLEX PTSD, MY SON & ME
THE COPING CONTINUES
Heart racing, temperature rising, ears ringing, breath caught in my chest… I panic when I see the number on my caller ID and decline to answer it.
My son's doctor wants to talk to me, but I avoid her and postpone the conversation until the following day. Tears fall, my body begins to shake, and I fight back nausea and a blackening gaze. My reaction seems extreme, but that fact doesn't stop my mind from succumbing to the anxiety sweeping through me anyway. The stress of this lifestyle is getting more intense.
After thirteen years of living on the edge of an emotional cliff, it takes me longer and longer to recover from the depression that sets in every time I have to make another life-changing decision. But, unfortunately, there are no good options when I have to choose between two harmful alternatives.
Tonight, I KNOW that I will dream of all the other times I could have lost my son to his diagnosis because I feel responsible for giving him a terminal illness. The guilt isn't logical, but it gives me someone to blame. If it's my fault, then maybe what is happening could have been prevented, and I wouldn't feel so helpless - I refuse to be a victim ever again.
109 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
“…I’d gladly continue to suffer for the rest of my life if it meant that my son could stay by my side.”
Regardless, I am angry, and I need somewhere to direct my pain. So, I don't mind taking an internal beating when the rage needs an opponent to obliterate. At least I've stopped cutting and bingeing & purging to punish myself - I consider that a win or a step in the right direction as I continue to learn better coping mechanisms.
However, my therapist would still disapprove of my handling of this latest medical development in my son's care. He'd say that I am doing my best, but I wouldn't believe him because he doesn't see all the times that I have come up short as a parent.
There is no solution to a situation like mine. It's chronic and ongoing, but I'd gladly continue to suffer for the rest of my life if it meant that my son could stay by my side.
If it wasn't for my daughter anchoring me to reality or the comfort I find in my son's happiness and smiles despite his disabilities, I think that I would have lost my grasp on sanity a long time ago.
All I can say is, Complex PTSD is no joke. ∎
Author, Navy Veteran & Mother of 2 with Special Needs www.awarenessties.us/lori-butierries Lori Butierries is a full-time caregiver to two children with special needs, one child being terminally ill and physically disabled. Lori uses her life experiences and the medical knowledge she gained while serving as a Hospital Corpsman in the United States Navy to help others facing similar hardships. Lori focuses primarily on advocating for and educating others about the special needs, mental health, and veterans communities. Her long-term goal is to reduce the stigma associated with disability by talking about it with people of all ages, thus minimizing the fear and the mystery attributed to the unknown in this regard.
110 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
I am scared of the water… ELIZABETH BLAKE-THOMAS
STORYTELLER, PHILANTHROPIST & OFFICIAL AMBASSADOR FOR HUMAN TRAFFICKING AWARENESS
112 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
‘MEDICINE WITH WORDS’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY ELIZABETH BLAKE-THOMAS
A PERSONAL REFLECTION ON WORLD OCEANS DAY “I place my intention into the vast ocean of all possibilities, and allow the universe to work through me.” - Deepak Chopra
I am scared of the water.
Around age 5 I was taught to swim by being thrown into the local public pool on a Sunday morning. It was always cold (England generally is). We would arrive for 9 am. I would get changed in a massive, wet, cold changing room before entering the pool walkway. We had to wear an incredibly tight, red plastic swim hat (taking it off was just as painful as putting it on), and as if that whole process wasn’t torture enough, you had to walk through some kind of cold chlorinefilled basin before getting into the freezing baby pool. It was called the baby pool because it was so shallow, yet it was still deep enough for me not to be able to place my feet on the floor.
From the second I was thrown in that day and told to, “Swim!”, all I could think of was drowning! That feeling of fear associated with water still filters into my thoughts, therefore I’d never imagined I would end up living on a boat.
Yes, you read that right.
The person that’s scared of water lives on a boat in the ocean. I will clarify though that I don’t take “her” out due to the fact that I have vinyls, glass and bookshelves aboard, so it is not conducive to a single wave. She stays docked in the marina in sunny Southern California.
However, I do own a paddleboard and venture out into the water every day. And every day I am scared to get on the board and into the ocean. It is incredibly daunting for me. You never know what the waves are going to feel like. I can’t see what’s beneath me (and yes Jaws the movie still haunts me to this day). It can change at any moment, and God forbid a boat comes past and causes a swell near me!
“…the ocean teaches me something new and educates me every day.”
So why do I live on a boat and why do I paddle?
It’s simple. I love it.
I love the fact that the ocean teaches me something new and educates me every day. What the ocean does for my soul is indescribable. No matter my fear, the deep craving and longing for more always pulls me back to the water. As I paddle slowly into the channel, I look out across the vastness and I realise how insignificant I am. How crucial this ocean is to my existence. And that I must give the ocean the respect it deserves.
113 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Out on the ocean I take a deep breath and I open my eyes…
Sea lions are jumping, with pups and grownups alike playing and frolicking in the water.
The variety of birds have a new mission each and every day.
The garibaldi fish swim by me in the crystal clear waters.
From high in the sky to deep down below, everyone says hello and greets me with a warmth and understanding, as if I’m one of them. I’m accepted into the vast water world.
The ocean has taught me many things, and amongst them, she has taught me to feel F.I.T.
She teaches me to feel fearless.
She reminds me of my insignificance.
She reminds me to take the time, and then to treasure that time.
Do you have a place in your life that teaches and reminds you to feel F.I.T.?
It might be in a forest, or by a beach, or whilst sitting in your garden having a cup of tea.
What space compels you to stop and take a breath every time you are there?
I am so grateful for the ocean, as that is my place. Living on the water I wake up every morning to the constant reminder to feel F.I.T. I am so grateful, especially this month celebrating World Oceans Day, and I promise to remain part of the water world and continue to learn from it everyday.
I truly hope everyone can find somewhere as magical and mesmerising as the ocean is for me. ∎
Storyteller, Philanthropist & Official Ambassador for Human Trafficking Awareness
www.awarenessties.us/elizabethblakethomas ELIZABETH BLAKE-THOMAS is a British award-winning storyteller and philanthropist based in Los Angeles, having recently directed her latest feature film during the COVID-19 pandemic. Will You Be My Quarantine? is a romcom starring Full House/Fuller House star Jodie Sweetin and is set to release in 2021. Elizabeth’s recent film Evie Rose, starring Oscar-nominated actress Terry Moore, is premiering on Christmas Eve 2020. Elizabeth is the founder and resident director of entertainment company Mother & Daughter Entertainment, whose motto is “Making Content That Matters”, putting focus on each project starting a conversation amongst viewers. Through MDE, Elizabeth established the MD Foundation Initiative, a campaign to mentor and employ undiscovered filmmakers through fellow philanthropic pledges.
114 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
FOUNDER OF FREE & EQUAL 116 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
FEATURE STORY WITH FREE & EQUAL
UNITED WE STAND
BRINGING MORE VOICES TO AMERICAN ELECTIONS
FREE & EQUAL PRESENTS THE UNITED WE STAND FESTIVAL Through the lens of mass media, the political divide in the United States is deeper than ever. But what many people may not know is this division is not absolute. In fact, according to Gallup, a startling 50% of Americans identify as independent. Even though most Americans fall somewhere in the middle politically, every election year, only two highly polarized candidates make it to the stage. Free & Equal is looking to change that.
Bringing Independent Voices to American Elections: Meet Free & Equal Founder Christina Tobin
Since 2009, Free & Equal Elections, a nonpartisan political nonprofit organization, has been working tirelessly to elevate independent voices and raise awareness of these candidates.
For over a decade, Free & Equal has organized annual electoral reform symposiums, produced presidential debates, supported election transparency through the development of a blockchain voting app, created its own independent media source Free & Equal TV, and hosted annual United We Stand Festivals.
“Our mission is to open the electoral process through education and collaborative action,” says founder Christina Tobin.
Through the support of the speakers, artists, and independent candidates, Free & Equal’s campaigns have built tremendous momentum behind the movement to bring transparency and more candidate choices to U.S. voters.
The Uphill Battle Free & Equal Is Overcoming
Through determination, resilience and passion Free & Equal has managed to get hundreds of thousands of people to listen to their message. Something as simple as getting an independent candidate on every state ballot comes with more than a few hoops to jump through.
First of all, there’s the incredibly high threshold of requirements necessary to get independent candidates into the mainstream presidential debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates, or CPD, requires independent candidates poll at least 15% across five randomly selected polls, many of which don’t even include the names of alternative candidates in the first place.
Navigating the divisive corporate media, coupled with the power and stranglehold that the CPD has over the presidential debates, is why we charted our own path and created open debates. 117 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
Bringing Great Minds Together At the United We Stand Festival
Reforms may seem impossible, but times are changing. Every day, people come to join the work Free & Equal is doing to create meaningful change in American politics.
Christina and her team remain optimistic that through continued events aimed at promoting awareness of the imbalances within American elections, they’ll be able to generate enough support to reform the system.
To continue that effort, Free & Equal is hosting its seventh annual United We Stand Festival in the beachside town of Cambria, California.
The festival will take place July 3-4 from 11am to 8pm PST and will feature over 40 speakers, activists, artists, and musicians, all united under the cause of bringing communities together to take a more active role in shaping and reforming our country’s politics.
300 guests will attend in-person, and the event will be livestreamed on the Free and Equal website. Speakers and artists include Mike Love, Peia, Cas Haley, Samuel J, G. Edward Griffin, Sean Stone, Cindy Sheehan, Brock Pierce, Dennis Kucinich (virtual), Keith Mitchell, Karla Ballard and more.
“At this year’s UWS Festival, attendees will connect face to face with our community sponsors and national thought leaders for networking and coalition-building to inspire individuals to run for office while giving back to our youth and uplifting our community with music, art, food, and conversation,” says Christina.
All proceeds from the event will go to Skate Cambria to help fund the rebuilding of their local skate park.
UNITED WE STAND CAMBRIA
PRESENTED BY FREE & EQUAL ELECTIONS FOUNDATION
118 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
The Other Half of the Country Deserves Representation, Too
The lack of access to the debates and state ballots for independent candidates is a problem by design — American politics are certainly designed to create the illusion of choice, to placate a nation of people who have all but given up on having their voices heard.
But there is still hope, and the old system cannot stay in power forever.
Together, through collaboration, unity, and the sharing of ideas and strategies, Free & Equal hopes to bring about peaceful election reform that results in a renewed sense of faith in our electoral process, and one that truly places power back where it belongs: with the people of this country. ∎
TUNE IN ON JULY 3 & 4 VIA KNEKT TV
http://uws.knekt.live The Free & Equal Elections Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with a mission to open the electoral process through education and collaborative action.
Learn more by visiting their website:
119 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
AwareNow Official Selections
are a collection of FILMS, MUSIC, BOOKS and ART
that raise awareness for causes with authenticity and integrity.
Nominated by the public
and selected by the AwareNow Selection Committee,
this content is recognized for excellence
in both its positive social impact and production value.
Recognized as 'cause conscious',
all selections are also officially rated 'O'
for original & organic content to raise awareness.
Visit www.awarenowawards.com to submit a nomination and view official selections. 120 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
OVER THE WALL In 12 minutes and 9 seconds, filmmaker Roy Zafrani brought me to my knees with his short film Over The Wall. A must-see for every parent, the film illustrates the truth of our humanity through the eyes and actions of two young boys who learn that what they’ve been taught is different from the reality they’ve found. Equal parts bold and brilliant, the cinematography is incredible and the message is moving. A powerful lesson learned in 729 seconds.
Co-Founder of Awareness Ties
121 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
NASRIN Film, at its best, is a catalyst for change. NASRIN is an example of this.
In this documentary, the story of Nasrin Soutoudeh is told in a way that and informs and inspires through a tapestry of voices that weave a version of reality that most are not aware of but should be.
Co-Founder of Awareness Ties
122 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
FLY And then you come to understand that a person with the right vision and motivation can do anything - even fly.
Lex Gillette has an amazing talent for inspiring people not only on the track, but also in this book.
Blind since the age of 8, he shares a collection of stores that help us all realize there is no need for sight with vision.
Co-Founder of Awareness Ties
123 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
WITHOUT PERMISSION/SAGE GALLON Boldly primal and beautifully poetic, the work of Sage Gallon reflects our shared humanity
with textures of varying emotion and layers of shadowed sentiment.
His paintings tell stories in their shades of lived experiences.
Co-Founder of Awareness Ties
124 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
GENTLE WORDS/NED STRANGER When gentle words go missing, the emotions they carry can slip away as well.
Singer and songwriter, Ned Stranger, has a talent for finding words for these moments.
With smart lyrics and signature vocals, his work is a sort of therapy
for the relationship we have with ourselves and others.
Co-Founder of Awareness Ties
125 AWARENOW / THE UNITED EDITION
THROUGH THESE STORIES WE SHARED
I AM AWARE NOW.
R E A D , L I S T E N & WAT C H
T h e M a g a z i n e , T h e P o d c a s t & T h e Ta l k S h o w