MY PRESENT JOURNEY: EXPERIENCING YELLOW 2017
I’ve been a fan of Yellow for years, but this year was the first time that I was able to attend the conference. I had some idea of what to expect, but nothing could’ve truly prepared me for what it would be like to experience Yellow 2017 in person.
To be honest, I was apprehensive to come to Los Angeles for the conference. In general, I love cities. I enjoy the architecture, the diversity, the food, and the hustle and bustle. But for me LA represents stress and sadness. Several years ago, fresh out of college with a degree in social work, I started my career working in the foster care system for LA County. Of course the traffic wasn’t my favorite, but I got used to it. However, the sadness and isolation of my job combined with the tragedies I saw on a daily basis were too much for my sensitive heart to handle. I was burnt out. So I left. Even though I now only live an hour away (without traffic of course), I’ve only returned to LA on a few rare occasions.
While I was genuinely excited to come to Yellow 2017, I was less than thrilled to be in Los Angeles. But what happened this week during my return to this city blew me away.
The theme of this year’s Yellow Conference was The Present Journey. So instead of dwelling on my past experiences and feelings associated with LA, I made a decision to live in the present, and I am so glad I did.
When I walked in the door to 440 Seaton, I saw the now iconic (and ever Instagrammable) “Spread Goodness and Bloom” yellow neon sign. Further in the entrance, I walked up to a gigantic board with the instructions to pick one of the tiny cards from it and see how the word on it would be a part of my experience. The word on the back of my card was “humor”, which I almost put back because I wanted something “more meaningful”. But, I decided not to cheat and committed to find humor in the next few days.
Entering the main conference space was like a dream! Alexis Andra of The Shift Creative worked her magic, creating a huge macrame chandelier, an amazing stage back drop, and several more art installations. She even made a complete guided experience entitled “You Gotta Start Somewhere”, covering the themes of Wander, Tension, and Resolve. The dreamiest lounges, made with furniture by Archive Rentals, created space for connecting with others and brought a softness to the warehouse’s brick walls and natural light flowing through the skylights.
Arielle Estoria, our conference emcee, kicked off the day with a spoken word piece that declared, “You are right where you are supposed to be.” Turns out she was right. As she spoke accompanied by a group of dancers, the energy in the room filled the room with anticipation of all the goodness that was to come.
The founder of Yellow, Joanna Waterfall, greeted everyone by saying how excited she was to share the next few days with 500 of her best friends. Joanna is authentic in the best way, and truly meant that from the bottom of her heart. She went on to share that the name Yellow was inspired by bees – they all come together, do their thing, and create goodness that is bigger than any one of them. I loved the reminder from her to do what we were created to do, as it is all a part of The Present Journey.
Golriz Lucina of Soul Pancake opened the conference, speaking on how limited resources inspire creativity. She also explored how truly impactful the art of connecting people to their emotions and to others around them is. Kohl Crecelius of Krochet Kids followed, sharing the importance of recognizing the humanity of each person we interact with, and the empowerment that happens when people are seen, heard, and known.
After Joanna’s announcement of the Yellow Collective 2.0 launch and a lunch break, we were welcomed back by a panel of do-good movement founders. Each one inspired us to consider how to keep doing our best work and focus on what really matters. Moorea Seal took the stage next to talk about the importance of self-care, and recognizing that what we do does not define who we are.
Lisa Gungor’s talk closed the day with a message on the power of truly seeing the beauty in life – especially when what lies in front of us is different than what we hoped for. Our lovely emcee, Arielle, summed up the day well by asking,
“What do you need to look at a little more closely to see the beauty in?”
A poignant reminder for me as I was just beginning to see both myself and LA in a completely different way.
After the sessions, I spent a little time exploring the Do-Good Goods Marketplace — a market filled with amazing products, each one changing the world in its own unique way. It was a joy to talk to the vendors, hear their stories behind their work, and purchase a few goodies… because, obviously. The market even included a live screen printing station by Trust Print Shop, where each attendee had their conference t-shirt printed right in front of them!
Speaking of goodies… the Yellow swag bag was unreal! The intentionality of each and every product that went into this bag is mind blowing. Each company represented inside is remarkably creative and are all doing great work in their own ways. The bags themselves, from Cause Gear, were made by women in India who have been freed from human trafficking and extreme poverty.
When I opened the bag, it was like my birthday times a thousand! Among the highlights were a beaded bracelet from Ethic Goods, a full-sized candle from P.F. Candle Co., a sunglasses case from Hiptipico handmade by artisans in Guatemala, the first ever copy of the Goodnewspaper celebrating the good happening in the world, Erbaviva organic body wash, a Genuine & Ginger keychain stamped with the words “embrace the journey”, Ooly gel pens, a Happy Planner, an eco-friendly toothbrush by Bogobrush, a subscription to Fab Fit Fun, a Bright Books journal, and socks from Richer Poorer.
After my stroll through the land of Do-Good Goods, I returned to the main space which had been transformed into a dinner party for several hundred women. There is something amazing that happens when people gather around a table and share a meal. Strangers become friends, laughter flows, and there is space for meaningful conversations and personal stories to be shared. I made a few new friends and wrapped up the day with a full heart (and a belly full of tacos).
Friday morning started with an incredible dance performance to the song “7 Years (Rewrite)”, choreographed by Gigi Torres. A beautifully diverse group of young girls and women of multiple ages and ethnicities filled the space dancing as Melissa Katz sang. With lyrics like, “I wanna make a change, make this place a little better, we need to live within a world where everybody matters,” it was no surprise that they got a standing ovation with many of us weeping.
I cried during the entire performance and pretty much every time I’ve tried to talk or write about it since. (Speaking of that. Be right back, gotta go find a tissue.) As I thought of my two daughters at home, I was overcome with gratitude for the women that have gone before us, the women there in that room, and the women around the globe that are doing hard and beautiful work to create a better future for us all.
After this incredibly moving performance, I wiped the mascara from my face and listened to Natalie Warne open the sessions for the day. She spoke about how we can incorporate advocacy and activism into everyday life, and how true movements are made up of many “Anonymous Extraordinaries” who do whatever they can for a cause.
Holley Murchison came next, compelling us all to consider the power that lies in how we share our story with the world. She told us,
“Good stories create change, and the world needs your story. Now.”
The whole room was jotting down notes as fast as they could as she led us through an exercise on how to tell our individual story. If you missed her talk or want more of this goodness, don’t worry, her book Tell Me About Yourself comes out this month!
Ashley LeMieux, Founder of The Shine Project, bravely spoke of how she started taking action in the midst of (and sometimes because of) incredible personal hardship and grief. She closed by encouraging us, “Today is your day to start, because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.”
After lunch, Joanna hosted a panel on “Overcoming Mental Blocks” where four highly successful women bravely spoke about their journeys in mental health. As someone who struggles with depression, I was incredibly thankful for these women who were drawing awareness to an issue that is often surrounded by so much stigma.
To wrap up the conference, Maggie Doyne, founder of BlinkNow, shared about her heartbreaking observations of children’s experiences in Nepal. She shared how she was compelled to action as she asked herself, “How did we let our human family get this way?” Her answer was to become a mom to many of the orphaned children she came to know. To close her talk, she asked us all to take care of the children of the world, because they are all our children.
Over the course of two remarkable days, it became so obvious that each speaker has used their unique gifts and personal experiences to step out into the world and create more goodness. Now, their stories and this experience is part of my own as I consider my unique role in this world and how I can use my gifts to benefit my fellow humans. The words of Holley Murchison continue to ring in my ears, “If we aren’t adding, we are subtracting… We don’t live in a time or space where we have the luxury of subtraction… So, become who you are.”
In this place called Los Angeles where I used to find sadness and heartache, I found beauty and hope, and saw love and passion this week. For me, Yellow 2017 rekindled something inside of me I can’t quite convey – a boldness and a light that had been hiding.
You know that “humor” card I chose at the beginning of the conference? Well, I find myself laughing pretty hard that I can now say, “I love LA!” So it turns out I selected a pretty meaningful word after all.
Photos by: Cacá Santoro