A Backstory written by 7 Billion Ones' Movement Director, Larissa
Intro: What does it take for someone to really believe that their life is important? How many of us have spent so much time feeling unworthy of genuine care and love, that we don't measure up, that our story, our life isn't important or unique? This is something that humans from all walks of life, all over the world struggle with and societal pressures can often be so strong that we believe the lie that we have to do or be something else, something or someone other than who we already are in order to be deserving of love and to be valued. One of the reasons 7 Billion Ones was created and exists is because we truly believe that every single life is important and valuable, that each one of us has the power to make a difference, and that by empowering each other to love ourselves and others well, we can make a radical change in hearts and minds wherever we go.
"People ask me often what my favorite part of my job is, or what the coolest thing I get to do is. Those questions always makes me smile, and a dozen things I love about what we do at 7 Billion Ones flood my mind each time. I think about the incredible people from all walks of life that we have the honor of meeting and sharing the stories of, I think about the amazing partnerships with groups and organizations that want to bring awareness, new perspective and hope to the people they know and serve… I think of the traveling adventures to document stories that range from sitting on a leather couch surrounded by gold statues inside a high-end home in the heart of a wealthy city, to trudging equipment through the woods in the heat of the summer to stand in a tent and hear the story of a man and his dog that have lived there, homeless for decades. I think of the lasting ripple effect that happens when someone opens their heart to share their story with the world, and how that creates this cycle of healing for the storyteller and the people all over the world reading it...
But if I had to narrow that down to just answer with what I love most about my job, what fuels the fire in my soul, what helps me to keep going, what reminds me the power, healing and importance of documenting & stories is...the thing I love most wouldn’t be what people may view as the adventurous, exciting things I just mentioned...I would tell you that nothing beats watching someone’s face change, watching the light in their eyes brighten the moment they realize that they matter. That moment changes everything.
If you’ve followed 7 Billion Ones, Randy or myself for a bit, you know that our homeless friends come into the studio where we work every day (many of them are storytellers in ‘The Road I Call Home’ exhibit featuring the portraits and stories of people that have experienced homelessness, or are currently homeless), sometimes to just visit and catch up, to get away from the outside weather and elements, to rest and refuel and sit somewhere they aren’t kicked out of for simply existing; and then some days too, our friends bring in someone from their street family and friends that they want to share their story. Two Friday’s ago was a combination of those sweet reasons to stop into the studio, and for a few reasons we weren't expecting too… Our friend Caitilin, who shared her story last year as a part of The Road I Call Home, had sent us a message a few days prior, telling us that her boyfriend had committed suicide unexpectedly and she was of course devastated and really hurting. She asked if she could come see us, and so we planned to have her stop in that Friday. What we didn’t plan for, was meeting, photographing and documenting the stories of some of her street family.
Caitilin walked into our gallery and told us about her boyfriend’s funeral, and how she was happy to have the support and love of his family and her street family - who she wanted to introduce us to. It broke our hearts to see Caitilin in so much pain and her eyes tear-filled from the sleepless nights and heartache. We shook the hands of Aaron, Hailey and William and they each set their backpacks down and talked over coffee and tears. Randy (Founder & Head Photographer for 7 Billion Ones) and I asked if they wanted to take a family photo since they were all together, and a series of beautiful and deeply personal family & individual photos later - they were each laughing, reminiscing on good times, poking fun with each other, holding hands, crying. They started off a bit like most people do when you shine a large spotlight on them and ask them personal questions - a bit nervous...stiff and reserved. Then there was that magic moment...the moment that I crave to experience again and again, knowing the lasting impact it has on people...we saw each of them become at ease, comfortable in their own skin...we saw them toss aside trying to “pose” or look any certain way...they stopped trying to adjust their clothes and posture, they spoke from their hearts, they let go...they felt free to be themselves, now knowing that they were in a safe space, reminded that they are important and that are loved.
That’s the power of love. Love changes everything.
Hailey and William (boyfriend & girlfriend) then decided that they’d like to tell their story together, and we set off to record it. I then heard and experienced them laying it out there, as each of them shared about their lives...I saw them being real, raw and honest, and hopeful for their futures, despite their circumstances or the troubles they’ve faced. Before everyone left, there were lots more hugs, tears and laughter, and as we thanked each of them for choosing to share their story and be a part of this movement, each of them hugged and thanked us sincerely for making their sad day brighter...not yet seeing that they brightened our day all the more.
There is such a sense of community, of family, of real hope, and desire to make a difference amongst our friends on the streets...they remind us constantly what is important in life, that we have so much to be thankful for, and that you can have nothing in the eyes of the world, but can still be truly filled with all that you need (love, hope, faith, family). We are honored to be in the lives of every individual that chooses to share their story with 7 Billion Ones, and we truly believe that when you not only validate someone’s existence as important, but remind them that they already have the power to change the world...big things happen, hope and healing spreads, and lives are changed.
When people are considering sharing their story with us, it is so important that we create a safe space and an inclusive culture where storytellers not only feel like they won’t be judged for their past or present, will be accepted unconditionally and seen as they truly are with no strings attached, but that they leave feeling empowered, important, loved and worthy. They become part of the 7 Billion Ones family and we hope that they invite others to join in, too.
Hailey and William’s story will be a part of ‘The Road I Call Home’ project and featured on 7 Billion Ones in the future, as well as a 2nd chapter of Caitilin’s story that she is sharing in hopes to help heal, and to pay tribute to the life of her boyfriend. We are happy and honored to know each of you, dear friends. Let's keep shaking up the world together.