Yesterday Los Feliz and East Hollywood were both treated to an Open Mic night hosted by the Beautiful Gate community of the Los Feliz neighborhood in North-Central L.A. The event brought together singers, dancers, poets, and other artists from all over Los Angeles for a jam-packed 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 with relatively few 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 head visionary.
In theory, Samuel explains to me, this means that rather than preaching and enforcing a strict code of Christianity, the Beautiful Gate’s first priority is welcoming people with open arms and touching on faith second. Applying this, he tells me, entails meeting at 5 pm on Sundays in an informal setting for conversations, storytelling, and other forms of community engagement like 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 in the backyard for a celebration.
At the same time, this particular way in which the organization reaches out to Los Feliz and East Hollywood’s locals makes their work like that of any starving artist’s in L.A: it’s a struggle to get a buy-in from people, but an adventurous one at that. For this, the Beautiful Gate has more than just my respect, but my admiration as well; 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 their set, the dancers thanked Samuel for allowing them to show off their skills, calling the Beautiful Gate “an important space.” By that point in the evening, it was a common sentiment from many of the performers. And for me personally, in witnessing the evening stretch into the night with so much love support for the arts, it became clear to me that connecting people and exceeding their expectations is what the Beautiful Gate does best.
In addition to over a dozen artists, the show also featured a potluck, as well as a return to the stage for one of L.A.’s finest poets, Kim “Kalayaan” Mendoza. Kim accepted an invitation from yours truly to check out the Beautiful Gate a few weeks after I met the organization, and in no time, we were both big fans of the team there. For her turn on stage, Kim explained to attendees that she had actually taken a break from spoken word nearly four years ago to the day due to challenges at home with her family, as well as with health issues stemming from activist “burnout” during her time organizing for different student movements at Pasadena City College and UCLA.
Kim called the time away from the “spotlight” a time of recovery, during which she’d focus on a different kind of movement: one involving herself and her health before everything else. She explained that although it was a difficult process, she nevertheless received love and support from friends and family who’d been moved by her dedication to a new form of well-being for herself.
And in the moment I saw her go up, I was truly proud of my city, not just for Kim as my friend, nor just because of the Beautiful Gate as a community, but I was proud of all of Los Angeles for giving me a shot to breathe in yet another fun story about my town 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!