Last month I celebrated four years of living in my awesome apartment here in Hollywood. The date was June 29 2009 when I received the green light for the Housing Authority of Los Angeles to end 29 months of homelessness. July 2 is when I moved in. It’s been an incredible four years.
As many of you are aware, I was over a year into homelessness when I was diagnosed with HIV and another 15 months before I was no longer living on the streets. You also know that shortly after homelessness began back in 2007 I started Project KengiKat (blog & vlog) and Do Something Saturday (an outreach for homeless people living along the beaches of Santa Monica and Venice). Shortly after being diagnosed with HIV I created my Unplugging HIV outreach designed to provide much needed support for homeless and low income individuals living with HIV here in Los Angeles. February 3, 2013 Project KengiKat and Do Something Saturday celebrated six years of grass roots community service to homeless individuals, children, seniors, low incomes families and people living with HIV and AIDS throughout the Greater Los Angeles area.
I wanted to find a way to celebrate the work I created as well as honor all the people from all over the country as well as outside the country who have embraced my message and my efforts to do what I could to be of service to people in need. So two months before my four-year anniversary I started working on the Project KengiKat and Do Something Saturday book.
While working on the book I discovered that I now have close to 60,000 photos on my Flickr photostream and most of them reflect my community work and activism around issues such as homelessness, poverty, HIV and access to health care. But I also have lots more photos that share a closer, more personal and raw look into my own battles through Sickle Cell, homelessness, cancer and HIV. Looking at each picture would take me right back to the moment in my life where things were so very difficult.
However the tears that fell while looking at these pictures and having to relive those days from my past were no longer tears that came from a place of hurt, but from a place of great pride, respect for myself and a true since of accomplishment. Knowing and being able to see pictures that show me clearly where I was and where I am now and what could have been the very thing that destroyed me is just so incredible to me.
Looking over the photos, from homeless people receiving a meal or a bottle of water through the Do Something Saturday outreaches and seeing the smile on their faces is simply awesome. Looking over the photos from the very first Unplugging HIV outreach, knowing how much that outreach meant to them was just so powerful for me.
Having the opportunity to look back and see all the faces of all the volunteers and donations from all over the country and even outside the country to help people who are homeless as well as those living with HIV and AIDS right here in Los Angeles is a true testament that there is far more good in this world then there is bad. That there are far more people willing to do whatever they can to help someone in need without guilt, hurt, harm or shame is so encouraging.
Being able to look back and see that my close circle of friends who have become my family all stem from putting the needs of others ahead of my own and deciding to stand up for something not for the good of me, but for the betterment of others causes my core, my very soul to bow.
I’ve been told several times that my work has no meaning and is useless. I am often made to feel like my contribution means nothing and can only be used when it is to raise funds for another organization. Recently a very large and powerful ASO here in Los Angeles spent over four hours over two days in my apartment filming me, only to collect my story to raise money for services they failed to provide me, then not invite me to the screening of their fundraising efforts saying “we forgot” How in the world do you forget to invite the person in your film? Last month my work was “acknowledged” by yet another ASO here in Los Angeles, but they failed to spell my name correctly.
However, on the other side of the coin I’ve also heard “thank you for standing up for me” and “Kengi you saved my life” so harsh words from my critics and the lack of respect from ASO’s no longer matter because what I do matters to the people I try so hard to serve. This work has never been about awards, pats on the back, celebrity or recognition and it never will be.
Project KengiKat and Do Something Saturday have always been about and will always be about restoring dignity and respect to those who go without it. It will always be about doing what we can for others because it is the right thing to do, not a way to make money. It will always be about loving and meeting people where they are for who they are and not for what we want from them or who we want them to be. This outreach will always be about “connection without bureaucracy” and “humanity before community” It will always be about LOVE.
This week, I had the honor of signing a copy of my fourth published book (Project KengiKat and Do Something Saturday) when two friends stopped by to bring me my antibiotics and pain medication as well as walk Dodger for me.
“We wanted to do something for you Kengi, because you always do so much for others asking nothing in return. Thank you for all you do, even when you don’t feel well.”
Smiling and in a bit of pain, I signed the book “Keep Love Center”
Link to my book.