Yesterday Los Feliz and East Hollywood were both treated to an open mic night hosted by the Beautiful Gate community. The event brought together singers, dancers, poets, and other artists from all over L.A. for an unforgettable evening of expression; as a photographer for the night, I counted nearly three-hundred shots of people of all ages and colors enjoying each other’s company. No strings attached.
The Beautiful Gate is a faith-based movement that launched earlier this year. Unlike many faith organizations, however, the Beautiful Gate aims to “change the way people experience Christ and the church,” according to Samuel Theophylus, the organization’s main visionary.
In theory, this means rather than following and enforcing a strict code on Christianity, the Beautiful Gate’s main priority is welcoming people with open arms and elaborating on their relation to faith later. In practice, this means meeting at 5 pm on Sundays at an informal setting for conversations, storytelling, and other efforts at community engagement such as Sunday’s Open Mic Night. The result? Gatherings that don’t feel like a traditional church as much as they feel like neighbors getting together for a celebration!
At the same time, this particular way in which the organization reaches out to Los Feliz and East Hollywood makes their work like that of any artist’s efforts at reaching the masses: a struggle, but an adventurous one at that! For this, the Beautiful Gate has more than just my respect, but my admiration; naturally, I see a lot of similarities between the way I serve JT and the way they serve their faith. In essence, both are one and the same efforts at developing a community.
What’s more, everybody loves open mics! And I was totally up for the event even before learning that I’d be shooting photos for it. In addition to the usual cast of characters up on stage, the night also featured a rabble-rousing performance by some local break-dancers. Can anyone say, hip-hop?!
Needless to say, no one saw the dancers coming, but the house loved it all the same! After the event, one of the featured artists, Jon Wahl, thanked Samuel for the afternoon, calling the Beautiful Gate’s mission “absolutely important work.” In fact, Jon liked the gathering so much that he insisted to be kept on the mailing list! By that point in the evening, hearing this was no surprise. After witnessing the day unfold with so much expression of love and support for the arts, I realized that connecting people and exceeding their expectations is what the Beautiful Gate is all about.
In addition to over seventeen other artists, the show also featured a potluck, as well as the return to the stage of one of L.A.’s finest poets, Kim “Kalayaan” Mendoza. Kim took a break from spoken word nearly four years ago to the day, citing a difficult situation at home with her family, as well as health issues stemming from activist “burnout” during her time organizing for movements at Pasadena City College and UCLA.
Kim’s called this time away from the “spotlight” a time of recovery, during which she’s organized a different kind of movement: one involving herself and her health before everything else. It’s been a difficult process, but she’s received love and support for her recovery from friends and family who have been moved by her dedication to health and wellness.
And this past Sunday, as a result of the last few afternoons that Kim’s spent with the Beautiful Gate, the community’s love and support there inspired her to step up to the stage and rock it once again.
In the moment I saw her go up, I was truly proud; not just of her as my friend, and not just of the Beautiful Gate as a community, but I was proud of Los Feliz and East Hollywood, and of all of Los Angeles for teaching me about the miraculous stories I love to share with others. To call it important work is just the start; in my opinion, the future looks bright for each of the characters from last night’s Open Mic, and as the days go on, I will surely stay tuned to share more about them soon. You should stay tuned for it too! Of course, on none other than JIMBO TIMES!