I was born in 1961 during a time when our country was in an internal war around race relations and segregation. I am the byproduct of a white mother and a black father who were caught in a tug of war of the times. My father was a charismatic entertainer and my mother was a wide-eyed young woman infatuated by his charm. When she became pregnant with me my paternal grandmother told my father, “Son you laid down with that girl, you are going to stand up with her and marry her.” My parents married and I was born.
Their marriage was short lived and one day my mother took me to a friend of hers to babysit me and she never returned. I was somewhere around the age of three. My life was never the same. From that day on I lived with my father and my paternal grandmother. I was tossed back and forth between living with my father and staying with my grandmother at her home. My father was very unstable at the time. He was caught up in a life of riotous living. He turned in his instrument as a drummer in a band, to dice in his hand. He became a gambler; a petty hustler of all types and I was caught in the middle of his ways and I eventually became a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of my father with no mother to protect me. By the age of six, I was abandoned by my mother and sexually abused by my father.
As far back as I can remember my grandmother, also known as Mother Dear, taught me the importance of family, community, and church. She made sure that I respected my family and my elders, and was involved in the community and attended church. My grandmother was born around 1900 and migrated West from the South. She didn’t know how to deal with the lifestyle of my father and the only way she knew how to protect me was to keep me as busy as possible. I began to see church and community as my haven. I enjoyed the love and support I received from being involved in the church and the community that I did not get from parents. I felt like I found my safety net. One of the things my grandmother emphasized to me as a child was to pray for my parents. She would tell me that the bible tells us to honor our parents and it doesn’t say to do so only if they act right. This was my first step towards forgiveness.
When I was a junior in high school my father had a heart attack. I remember clear as day when my grandmother told me that he was in the hospital and that I should go and see him. Honestly, I didn’t know how to feel at the time. I loved my father even despite what he did to me, but I wasn’t upset that he was knocked flat on his back. Truth be told, they weren’t even sure if he would live and I was numb about that statement. My father was in the hospital for quite some time and when he was released, he came to live at my grandmother’s house to recover. This was strange because now my father was living in the house where I felt safe, but it was also the house where he was raised. His journey to recovery was more than just a physical journey, it was also an emotional and spiritual healing for him.
Over the years people who knew my mother would often say to me that I looked just like her. I found this fascinating because I didn’t really know what my mother looked like and I didn’t even have a photograph of her as a reference. This piqued my curiosity and I wanted to know who my mother was and where she lived. When I was in college, I began my journey to find my mother to hopefully reconnect and get to know her. What was interesting is when I found my mother, she lived less than thirty miles from where I grew up my entire life. This truly represented the saying, so close yet so far. When we met there was such a gap in her emotions, I didn’t know whether to call her Mom or Karen. It would take another 12 years before we would come together.
I met my mother when I was 18 years old, when I was 30 I received a call from her telling me her husband had passed away and she had nowhere to go and she wanted to know if I would help her. I told her 'yes' and she came to live with me. Remember, my grandmother told me I had to respect my parents. She would be part of my life for the next 11 years. I took care of her until she passed away. During this time my father was going through a metamorphosis in his life. The same Christian foundation that my grandmother put into my life she also put into my father’s life and he returned to his roots. This time he answered a call to ministry and eventually became a pastor of a local church. My mother was living with me at the time and she began going to church with me and my family and she eventually accepted Christ at his church. Her first husband, my father.
Remembering the foundation that was placed in me by my grandmother as a child and experiencing the life struggles with my parents, I was motivated to start an organization called Forgiving For Living (www.forgivingforliving.org) to provide tools to help people forgive and hopefully live a better life. From this process, I developed what is known as, “Healing Without Hate: How to Forgive to Live.” 10 Steps to Forgiveness.
1. Prayer or Meditation – When you are praying for someone it is difficult to hate them. When hate is not in your heart it helps you on your path to forgiveness.
2. Counsel – Don’t be afraid to seek the help and counsel you need to heal and forgive.
3. Confront – It is important to be willing to confront the truth. Know when to look in the mirror and see if you are at fault on an issue and know when to look through the window and see when it is someone else.
4. Release – In life there are times when we must learn to just release and let some things go. There will be times when we will never understand why certain things happen.
5. Forgive – When you say you forgive someone do you “parole” them or “pardon” them? When we parole someone there are strings attached which means they still control you. When you pardon them, you release them from the bondage of having a hold on your life. This does not mean what they did to you is okay, it just means they can no longer control you, what you do and how you feel.
6. Attitude – It is important for us to always embrace an attitude of gratitude no matter what we’ve been through in life. The fact that we are still here means we have another chance to have a better life and help others.
7. Joy – When I was a little girl growing up in church, I was taught that joy is about what is inside of us that no one could take away. We must all learn to find that core inside of us that is our center and balances us through it all.
8. Goals – When working on forgiveness or getting over something it helps to have something to look forward to. Goals give us hope for a better future. Set goals that you can see and measure your progress.
9. Give – I always tell people we all have something to give to others. When we take our eyes off our own problems or off ourselves, we find joy through giving. Whether it is our time, money, resources or the gift of helping someone get through something we overcame, remember we all have something to give.
10. Live – Finally, I encourage people to try and live each day to the fullest. Tomorrow isn’t promised and we must embrace life today and just do our best. Our best is often what others need to see to be encouraged to get through whatever they may be facing.
Healing Without Hate: It’s a Choice, It’s a Lifestyle, Pass it On! Forgiveness is a decision and a choice we make every day. Are you willing to go there to have a better and happier life?
I’m Candy Washington – I’m a content creator, author, actress and at my core, I’m a storyteller.
The most powerful story of forgiveness that I’m a part of would probably be with my father. He wasn’t really present in my life and I had to learn how to accept that and see him as a person, not as an ideal and forgive myself for thinking that I was less than without him.
To me, forgiveness means having compassionate accountability for yourself and for others. That really creates a space to let go in a way that removes guilt, blame and shame.
I think forgiveness is challenging because it makes it seem as though you are agreeing that what the person did was ok or that somehow that you were hurt by isn’t justified. So I think sometimes it’s difficult to forgive because you that you are giving away your power but the truth is that it’s the opposite, you are actually empowering yourself with the ability to move on and to let go and to take that negative energy and turning it into something positive that you can use and move forward with.
I think it’s easier to forgive people because if you feel that you have to be forgiven you have to admit that you did something wrong. I think sometimes when you have to admit that you did something wrong it can bruise the ego because the ego wants to stay in the state of ‘I’m right and you’re wrong.’ So to be forgiven means you have to acknowledge that you made a mistake, that you did something wrong and that your actions hurt someone else and that you have to be accountable for those decisions. Sometimes people ask for forgiveness but you can tell it’s very surface like 'Oh yeah I’m sorry' or 'I’m sorry you felt that way' - being kind of dismissive, I think it takes a bigger person to say, 'Please forgive me for what I did.'
For me, being able to ask for forgiveness has really come from a place of self-reflection and self-awareness and acknowledging that you don’t have to have judgment around what happens to you or what you do. We’re all humans and by design we make mistakes. Being forgiven and asking for forgiveness is just a part of our human experience. When you don’t personalize it like, 'I am wrong,' 'I am bad' or 'I am awful' and you kind of allow yourself to have a healthy distance from where you did something wrong and I made a mistake but I am not that mistake and that doesn’t make me wrong, the event and the act is wrong. When you can separate your person from the action it’s much easier to say please forgive me for what I did because you know who I am.
I think it’s imperative that we think about forgiveness not just in our individual lives but also when it comes to the collective consciousness of the world and what’s happening locally, nationally and internationally. I think we need to forgive people who we think are going against what we believe, what we think is right, what we think we should be doing. Once you’re able to forgive past actions and past transgressions then you open up a space for healthy dialogue and you can say this is what I believe, this is what I think, let me actually hear and listen to your perspective. As long as you’re defending your position, you’re not listening and your're not open to learning about a different perspective or someone else’s experience. I can have my opinion and you can have your opinion and they both can coexist without one person being bad and one person being good. As long as we think I’m always right, you’re not growing and you’re not moving forward. I think a lot of our leaders are stuck on 'this is the way we’ve always done it,' this is the way we’re always going to do it that they’re not actually thinking about what’s best and most beneficial now that will create a better world moving forward.
I use forgiveness to move myself forward primarily through self-forgiveness. I tend to be really hard on myself – I always want to get the A+, I want the gold star. I have a lot of inner critic chatter that I have to check so the way I do that is through self-forgiveness. The tool I use is really simple, two words, ‘so what’? I didn’t book that gig I really wanted, so what? I’m still here, I’m still alive, I’m still moving forward, I still have my friends, I still have my family. The world is still spinning. When I’m at peace and happy with myself then I’m showing up for my friends and my family and my audience. I’m showing up in a full way because I’m full first.
The way I nurture my capacity for self-forgiveness is through journaling. I like to write down things like how am I feeling right now? What are the reoccurring thoughts I’m thinking? What are patterns are showing up and looking at them in a loving way and not a critical way? I also meditate – I’ll light a candle and count down and get really still and centered. These are things you can try out this week and see how they work for you!
It’s PAY IT FORWARD MONTH!!!!
This is one of our favorite times of year here at The Giving Keys. In celebration of International Pay It Forward Day on April 28th, we are making it really easy for you to Pay It Forward to people in your world with our all-new classic key sets featuring a key for yourself and one for FREE to give away. In 2017 and 2018 we generated more than 3,000 pay it forward moments each year (yes, that’s for real!) and, with your help, in 2017 we spread 26,000 letters of kindness and encouragement all over Los Angeles. This is the third year we’re celebrating with a month-long campaign this time called “Go There. Be There.” and we are inviting you to join us in Paying It Forward with our vintage-inspired Patina Classic Key necklace distressed in black, white and turquoise and featuring four words that just might change your life.
There are internal and external boundaries that hold us back from unlocking the full potential we have to make a difference in the lives of everyone from those close to us, to people from our past, to the strangers we encounter. “Go There. Be There.” takes us on the path to realizing the things inside of us that impact the relationships around us. The themes we are inviting you into this April are Forgiveness, Empathy, Gratitude, and Courage, and The Giving Keys’ challenge is to go there – to that person or that part of yourself that you have put on the backburner, that person or that part that is going to transform you and be there – show up for yourself or someone else, stay there, see it all the way through! This could be a reset with the ones you might be estranged from or challenging yourself to understand the difficult situations of others to expand your ability to love or communicating gratitude for someone who has loved you and finally – it may be the courageous journey of finally tackling your fears.
We will be sharing inspiring stories from founders, actors, executives, mamas, creatives, students, philanthropists, and thought leaders to give you real-world ideas on how to receive and give all four of these qualities in your life. We will offer insights and suggestions on ways to strengthen our shared human connections in our emails, on our social channels and through our website. Start the journey with us now by watching the video below to see how are themes resonate with some of our favorite people. Then get your own 2-for-1 Patina Classic Key set in your theme, pay it forward and join the conversation by sharing your stories with us by using #GoThereBeThere.
The Giving Keys invites you to take on the challenge and join our campaign to create another 3,000 Pay It Forward moments this April. We invite you to Go There AND Be There!
I chose the word joy because I believe that joy is essential to living a fulfilled life.
I have learned that joy is not always based on circumstances, but rather a choice to spread happiness no matter what I am going through which in return brings me joy.
One of my favorite quotes by Pope Francis is “joy springs from a grateful heart.” I try to incorporate finding moments in each day that I am thankful for giving myself a chance to practice gratitude. This moment instantaneously fills me with joy.
Lastly, I chose the word joy because it is contagious and simple like a smile. I believe we are all capable of spreading joy and I have found that the more joyI spread, the more I receive.
Life is always better when we are giving and I have found my life to be more meaningful through spreading as much joy as possible to the people in my life.
- Raquelle Stevens, Influencer (@raquellestevens)
I want women to know they're fighters.
Yes, there are going to be hard days. Yes, there are going to be some seasons where it feels dark and heavy. But I believe we are all stronger than we think and, in times of adversity, we need to tap into that inner strength- that inner lion inside of us- and fight harder.
As a mental health advocate, I believe fiercely in fighting against the stigmas that come with mental illness, and I am passionate about reminding women that mental illness does not define you nor does it hold you back.
You're a fighter- no matter what tries to hold you down.
I think the greatest lessons I've learned have come from other women acting kind and always being willing to help someone who might be a little bit behind them in the journey. People can easily talk about being good to others, but I've been inspired by women who show up and do good- no matter the cost. I am inspired by them to always act before I speak and to let my actions speak for my character.
“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” -Cheryl Strayed
To other women- do not to belittle your small and humble beginnings. Just show up and keep showing up. Do the work, even when no one applauds you for it. All the small things add up- they are truly a part of your becoming.
Author, TED Speaker, and Founder of More Love Letters
I don’t know exactly what drove me to obtain a Giving Key, but I think it might’ve been the idea of conquering something greater than myself.
I chose the word “FEARLESS”.
I wore it for about a year before giving it away, and at least once a day someone would comment on it or ask what it was. I felt proud in each of those moments to be able to share the story behind “FEARLESS” and about The Giving Keys. I wore it pretty much every day, and on the days I forgot to put it on, someone would notice. The word on the key became a part of who I was.
I had always wondered how I was going to give the key away, who I’d give it to, or if I’d even part with it at all. A close friend of mine had recently been struggling with her friends putting her down and trying to change who she was by putting her character to the test. She stayed incredibly strong, and that very night after hanging up an emotional phone call with her- it couldn’t have been more clear. I didn’t think twice, I just looked at my key and knew that she needed it more than I did in that moment.
So the next day at school, I read her a note I had written about why I was giving her the key, what it meant to me, and how it changed me. It was such a cool and special moment, and knowing that I did something to help my friend embrace everything about herself was an amazing feeling.
She still has her key, she wears it always, and I hope she embraces “FEARLESS” as much as I did. I can’t wait to see who has it next. For now, I’m on to finding another word, another challenge for myself, and I couldn’t be more excited.
The mark I would hope to make is to encourage women to be comfortable with who they are.
I think it’s really easy, especially when you’re younger and with social media, to get caught up in this black and white idea of girls needing to fit into certain types: dresses or jeans, makeup or no makeup, girly or tomboy, happy or sad, etc… but I think that most women (and honestly just most people in general) are never just one thing, they’re a collection of many things.
For example, I myself am a hopeless romantic some days and others I’m the world's biggest cynic. Somedays I want to wear dresses and feel “girly” and watch The Bachelor, and other days I want to listen to pop punk on repeat and only wear band t-shirts.
I’ve come to learn that people are ever-changing, and I think it’s important to embrace every part of yourself, the bad and the good, and let it all live confidently on the surface. It doesn’t matter what others think, because at the end of the day, they are not the ones spending every waking moment with you, you are.
Talk to yourself and treat yourself like you would a friend you care about.
Shouldn’t you like the person you hang out with 24/7?
I think the greatest lesson I’ve learned from other women is that it’s important to speak your truth always, and that you can be respectful while doing it. Let people know how you’re feeling, say it from your point of view and be honest about how things make you feel, but be sure to also try to see things from the other person’s perspective. You’ll have a better chance at getting how you’re feeling through to others. Progress is made when everyone can understand and respect the opinions of others.
Be you, be different, be honest, and be nice to everyone you meet, you never know what people are going through.
I like to tell myself, “Be you, be different, who cares about the rest,” because at the end of the day, both the good things and the things you might not like about yourself make up who you are. Embrace them.
Singer, Songwriter, Musician
A couple years ago I went through an extremely difficult breakup with someone I loved for 3 years, but knew it wasn’t right with. Two of my precious girlfriends gave me my “COURAGE” key, and I hardly ever took it off.
In moments when I felt I couldn’t breathe, looking down at my word reminded me of the COURAGE that, I believe, God instills inside all of us if we allow Him to draw it out.
Fast forward to spring of 2018, a friend of mine had suffered through a physically abusive relationship for over a year, the second boy to do this in a string of codependent behaviors. I’ve encouraged her over the years to find the courage to break free.
One day, she did.
I gave her the key on a day when, on her lunch break, she was sobbing in a parking lot, not knowing if she could handle staying away from him. Sometimes the people who hurt us the most are the ones we think we need. I gave her my “COURAGE” key in that moment, which she hangs on her rear view mirror as a daily reminder that she can overcome.
When I think of women that inspire me, I think of my Momma. She’s fierce AF and never gives up. From losing my father in a car crash, to losing her business in the housing crash, to losing her home when hurricane waves came crashing in, she’s experienced a lot. She might lose her balance and get knocked down temporarily, but she always gets back up and stands stronger. I know part of what motivates her is to be a model for me. (Crying) I’m so inspired by her perseverance.
I empower myself by being radically honest. I’m an avid journaler, and every morning, I connect to the page to be real with myself. A few years ago, I went to a workshop with Cheryl Strayed, and she said, “Do you tell your journal the truth?” That hit me in the gut. So long as I’m telling myself the truth, and I’m acting and living in accordance with that truth, I feel empowered.
In terms of how I empower others, I take these truths and I write, speak and make art about them. A core channel for me right now is Instagram. It’s a playground for me to test ideas and turn complex topics about feelings and being human into simple illustrations. When something really resonates, I’ll dive deeper into it, and turn it into a workshop or a talk or a chapter in a book.
I want young women to know that you don’t need to have it all figured out. You don’t need to have all the answers. In fact, the whole point is to NOT have the answers. Life is a journey of asking questions and living to experience those answers. So get clear on what questions are guiding your life right now, and make sure they are worthwhile ones.
Is it, “How do I not mess up or disappoint others?” or “How do I make mistakes and put myself out there so I can learn and grow?
Is it, “How do I figure out what’s next?” or “What is my calling? What am I most curious about? How can I pursue that?”
Is it, “How do I get rid of these uncomfortable feelings?” or “How do I turn down my feelings to understand the message beneath them?
I’m ROARING for feeling our feelings and embracing our entire selves. Our culture conditions us to shut down and not feel, especially uncomfortable or “negative” emotions. Our power is in our feelings, and my work serves to be a bridge for women to tap into their intuition, feel into their bodies, embrace their full spectrum of emotion, and access the immense wisdom found in these places.
I want to be remembered for courageously walking the pathless path — facing fears, embracing curiosity, and opening doorways of possibility — all while empowering others to do the same.
“Don’t die with your gifts still inside.” — From my book, Choose Wonder Over Worry
Artist and Bestselling Author
As the receiver of this key, it is my duty to pass it on to someone I believe deserves the title FEARLESS. So many triathletes this year conquered fears and struggles to succeed and cross that finish line only three days ago.
There is one that struggles with physical limitations for over a year that could have crushed her spirits enough to give up and not even try again. Cheering for me and all the other TIFL athletes while she was most likely in pain both physically and emotionally, I remember the tears in her eyes.
This year, she started training while still on the mends of another injury, but she kept with it and trained and trained and trained. I wasn’t able to see her cross the line, but I am certain the joy and accomplishment she felt overshadowed all of the fear and doubt she had for the past 13 months.
I pass on the FEARLESS key to Mona.
No one tells you that when you roar, your whole body might be shaking in fear. Shaking at what’s actually coming out of your mouth and also being terrified of people in earshot of you respond to it.
With the push and pressure, at times, to stand boldly for the things we believe in, to defend our values, and proclaim our stance on issues du jour - I don’t think we talk enough about how frightening it feels to do that any of that.
I’ve found that in time as both a community organizer and government advisor that there is one wall between what we really want to say in any given situation and if we actually ending up saying it. That wall - fear - manifests itself in different ways:
- The fear of being ineffective - This is one I feel a lot. It’s led by the question, “What if I muster up the courage to say something I feel is deeply important, but nothing ever happens - or I create the opposite reaction of what I desired?”
- The fear of offending someone - This seems pretty straightforward and is closely tied to the first, but actually points to us valuing other opinions about our experiences over our own.
- The fear we’re the wrong messenger - The imposter syndrome creeps into our voice - doesn’t just stay in our head. It comes out in the question, “Who am I to say this statement?” Its when you believe there must be someone who has the same ideas as you and is smarter/more eloquent/more entitled than you to say it.
- The fear of our own voice - For some of us, we’re so used to keeping our thoughts and feelings inside, that when we finally voice them out loud it feels awkward, unfamiliar, and flat-out uncomfortable.
I don’t share this list as a brave guru or Obama-like public speaker. I write this as someone who has often had to share a hard opinion or unpopular thought, with my throat dry, my knees shaking (this really happens!), or with the blood draining from my hands.
If you ever see me at a speaking engagement and my voice has dropped three octaves, it’s because I’m pushing past my wall. My throat as lost all moisture and I’m speaking more slowly and intentionally to keep from coughing.
I’ve learned over time that anytime we say something from the heart - anything reflects our truth - it requires courage. It requires courage because what we’re actually doing is being vulnerable, open-heartedness is vulnerability.
In a world that feels increasingly judgemental, I think we all have an inherent sense that if we open our hearts and show what’s inside, it could lead to rejection and painful critique.
Here’s what I’ve learned speaking to decision-makers and government leaders all across the world:
- My opinion, perspective, and voice is inherently valuable...as is yours
- The more I hear my own voice out loud, the more comfortable I become with it
The more I hear my own voice out loud, the more comfortable I become with it
Each time I fight through the brick wall of fear, the more effortless it feels to hop over it the next time. Fear hasn’t ever really gone away when I speak on something important to me - especially to people of stature that I respect, but the choice to push past it has gotten easier.
This year, I am challenging myself to let my voice live outside of my head and put what’s in my heart out into the world. (This blog, for me, is an exercise in doing that.)
To you, the reader, my hope is that this year we all make the choice to stop being scared of our own voices. May we each become familiar, may we become friends with our unique sound. May we make breakthrough fear whenever it presents itself and encourage others, even show others, how to do the same.
Happy International Women’s Day!
Gabriele Almon is the founder of The Storyteller’s Summit which brings creative, entertainment, and influencer communities together to collaborate with do-good storytellers. Gabriele also serves as strategic advisor to numerous humanitarian organizations, government agencies, and Fortune 500 companies around the globe.
Her passion project is Rise of the Bulls, which bring creative thinkers together to solve our nation’s most pressing issues.
When I think of how I want to ROAR, I would love to first make an impact on my own children. Both my daughters and sons. I truly believe it starts in the home. My goal remains to raise Feminist sons and daughters. To raise good humans who will lead with love.
My mother has been one of my main inspirations. She has always raised my sister and I to have a forgiving and loving heart. To continue to be examples as WOC (Women of Color) and Christians.
Something that has driven my success would be the true belief that no is never an option. That there’s always another option instead of giving up or giving in. This quote comes to mind,
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou
To other young women, I would advise this: remain resilient and powerful. Choose you over and over again. Choose what feels right and not forced- whether that’s a career, relationship, or truly any decision. Make sure you love yourself so strongly that others know how to love you based on how you love yourself.
"Sweetheart, marry your goals; remain committed to success; be loyal to your dreams. It's OK to choose yourself."
Doula, Creator of Sincerely Mama, and Co-founder of Moms In Color