Stark, matte blackbird logo silhouette on whitewashed brick building, and vintage-style cage lighting hung above golden-brown bar and rich, pinewood tables – an environment beckoning us to gather tonight. It is in this chosen space that we discover beauty as perhaps a broadened perspective, as shared tears, the knowing kind of laughter…and total, delicious delight in the joy and the character of the storytellers of the night.

Cylinder, bead-shaped ice cubes bump the sides of glass tumblers of mulled mint and blackberry spritzer…specially made for the evening; it refreshes and lightly clinks as a crowd of 60, some embracing friends, others warmly greeting new faces, anticipate the evening.

Thoughtfully, lovingly and with such grace the tables in the rectangular room welcome all with beauty and comfort and warmth. This is unmistakably Seeds of Exchange. [Here are a few pictures to share the story. Keep reading below for more of the evening’s happenings.]

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Along windows facing the street-side of a soft-gray, cloudy day in the charming urban neighborhood are embellishments on a table from one of Seeds community partners, Threads Worldwide. Life-sustaining support in the form of earrings and necklaces, bracelets and scarves, laid out with care and anticipation. The beads and gold chains, colored Tagua nut pieces and colorful woven threads have travelled far … and arrived with a purpose. The connecting threads of these pieces have come from many places worldwide. Each piece has a voice and creates a deepening in your heart of the interconnectedness of human beings. Women held these in their hands in countries we may never see. We can still reach these women…with partnership. I truly love that. Angela and Kara have made it possible.

Inspired action. Juicy, real, dig-your-hands-right-in and get involved stuff.

At the other end of the room on another table are dhai churas (brother bracelets) and didi churas (sister bracelets) specially made (using seeds!) for the Seeds community by dear friends in Nepal. Amy K. Wright has her rockin’ photography note card display next to the bracelets. Next to the cards, storyteller, Fatouma Ahmed, placed a lovingly shared spread of family photos from Bati and Djibouti, Ethiopia. Beautiful memories and faces looking at the camera lens, holding space in the room for her stories.

Fatouma’s ululation…a long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound resembling a howl brings our focus to the front of the room and our hostess-with-the-mostest, Sarah Jane Davison-Tracy-Badi, begins.

With the introduction of Threads Worldwide founders, Angela Melfi and Kara Wiegand, I was eager to hear more about their story, as I had recently attended a Threads Connect event. With shining smiles and clear passion Angela and Kara drew me in…they got real, and their humor-infused sharing about business partners in disagreement was great. They are close friends who work together. Sometimes they disagree.

The starkness and grit of the moments they shared from today’s workday, of not really ‘liking’ that other person (who, of course, she loves) who she is doing this labor-of-love with, made them even more accessible. Their honest, genuine business relationship rooted the storytelling they began to share.

Each has a deep passion for lifting others out of poverty. For education. Making a real difference. They witnessed extreme poverty in their travels and then…they DID SOMETHING to empower other women.

Now, women in Ethiopia, Cambodia, Equador, and Peru are improving their own communities and experiencing confidence, pride and respect for themselves. Women artisans in Equador are stringing bold-colored Tagua nut into necklaces in a workshop, while women artisans in Peru are knitting fair trade products while cooking and cleaning at home or joining in a group of women artisans to teach each other and make products together.

The partnerships are empowering mothers. They are contributing to their families financially. These women now experience powerful feelings. Confidence. Pride. Respect.

Angela and Kara shared that they move forward together by “Being true to our commitment…” by “…making the best decision given what we know now.” I wrote on my notepaper their words:

Build your community, your tribe. Take a step.

And…I carried it home with me.

The storytelling transitioned and now Julie Geller stood before us warmly sharing about growing up in Jewish culture, about creating music and about the transformation of her relationship with God, “He felt very close and present in times of joy, but inexplicably far away in times of sorrow and despair.” Julie shared her in lyrics feelings of abandonment by God. With a quiet strength she told her story of enduring unbearable pain in the midst of several intense life experiences.

My heart got shattered. I was unable to ever put together again in the same way. But, the cracks in my heart created an openness, such that there is more softness, compassion, even relief, than ever before.

As Julie picked up her guitar that had been resting on the floor, swiftly and methodically placing the strap close around her body, she played and she sang into the room the sound of her beloved, sacred Hebrew and silky notes washed over my heart, all of our hearts. There was palpable, shared tenderness in the air, I breathed it in deeply and out again.

I closed my eyes…I breathed in again, and out once again, as I contemplated the meaning for myself, in my own memories of feeling excruciating vulnerability. As I then opened my eyes, I looked across the table to my friend of many years who months ago, unexpectedly, lost her young son. Julie stirred something in us both with her words. My gaze met my friends’ and we gave a knowing and loving nod with our eyes and the soft room light reflected off of her welling tears.

I was re-grounded tonight. Oh how I did not know the exact gift this evening would bring.

I came into the evening arriving early to help, carrying within me frenetic energy and thoughts of lack and of worry as we all sometimes do. I really was not feeling grounded in myself.

The storytelling and beauty of humanness and true opportunities for inspired action brought me back to center.

At each table. goldenrod colored, postcard-sized paper with the ‘Seed of Life’ geometric pattern in red-orange ink at the corner were thoughtfully laid in round, silver Indian Thali plates on the black tablecloths. I loved this opportunity provided to take notes for myself, to reflect later on the gems from tonight. To carry the ripples from others’ lives home on paper, in a few words that would spark memory of the sacred and celebratory space we all created – together . The beauty of that.

Fatouma, again, along with our dear friend, Rose, from Sudan, called ululations…their long, wavering, high-pitched howls brought our focus again to the front of the room. The final storyteller of the evening. My heart was fully thumping and open and ready. It was my dear friend, Fatouma’s, turn!

Fatouma walked steadily, one foot courage, one foot nerves, another step courage, another step more nerves (‘Ok, I’m doing this’) to the front of the room – to the stage. She was dressed in gauzy, Ethiopian whitest-white, handwoven cotton, with a brilliant ultra-marine blue stripe near the edge of the scarf-hijab covering her head. Now standing before us all, facing familiar and new faces – and with a playful, flirtatious, eyebrows-raised joy-smile.

Ok, guys. My story? It is a long one.

Fatouma was struck by just how many stories she has, she began to tell her story of being a child bride at 12 years old in the countryside and of her escape… she paused to think of another to share and showed relief, laughing when friends shouted suggestions of, “Tell your story about living in the refugee camp in Djibouti!” “Tell the story of meeting your husband, Abraham!”

This woman. She can tell stories.

With comedic-timing and shrieking and animated character-acting, her strong will, determination and full-on embracing of the many truly extraordinary, frightening, physically painful, emotionally devastating paths her life has taken her…she tells it all with that infectious smile and that joy that she carries so fully in her heart. Fatouma’s love for her religion, her dedication to her ritual of prayer, her faith in Allah – they have all saved her, have kept her here, strong, with us, among us, before us, blessing us with unbelievable tales.

Fatouma’s face brightened and she bobbed her head, fluttered her eyelashes and told her story of meeting this man who always wore a long-sleeved white shirt, with a collar, always ironed. He wore a white t-shirt underneath with the first few buttons undone and the shirt open on his chest. He wore pressed, black pants and a beautiful afro. “Oh, this man. He knew how to dress,” Fatouma told us with certainty and delight in her voice. She described, with eyebrows raised, how he slowly courted her, didn’t rush her and how he is now her husband of over 30 years.

Sarah then playfully and joyfully invited the room to support Fatouma in a dream! Sarah placed a drawstring backpack on Fatouma’s back, a strap on each shoulder and Fatouma playfully danced wearing the prop. We were all invited to support Fatouma in finally realizing her dream of learning to drive a car. The room was wild with smiles as Sarah asked if everyone would come up to meet or say hello to Fatouma, to give her a hug while simultaneously placing a note of encouragement or monetary gift into the backpack. These gifts would support Fatouma paying for driving lessons and give her strength learning this new and frightening skill! Bati music moved our feet as I danced Ethiopian-style in a small circle with Fatouma, shoulders shrugging, smiles beaming.

With the fullness of the evening stirring my spirit, I reached out for my husband’s hand to hold it, as he had chosen to join us tonight. On his wrist was a black, leather dhai chura (brother bracelet) from Nepal, which I had earlier purchased and ceremoniously placed on his wrist early in the evening, officially welcoming him to the kula, although he has been a part of the community for years.

I felt the tenderness from Julie still in my heart, still carried my worry, although now I was grounded. My spirit felt lighter and stronger. I left feeling so connected, supported, loved, honored, challenged, grateful and inspired.

-by Kelly Craighead | Kelly took a leap of faith 9 months ago and left an organization where she passionately dedicated almost 9 years of person-centered life skills work with adults and children with developmental disabilities. Kelly is the founder of Invoke Arts, a newborn business, an incubated dream come to fruition. Kelly serves as a teaching artist, providing in-home art education and exploration to individuals and small groups with developmental disabilities. To learn more, email Kelly. | facebook

Kelly’s story is a glimpse of our event: Seeds Storyteller Series – Find Your Story in Theirs | Beauty – Monday, March 20, 201 at Blackbird Public House, Denver, Colorado – USA.  Our next Seeds Storyteller Series – Find Your Story in Theirs | Interconnected is on April 17. Join us in person @ 7 pm or virtually via facebook live @ 7:30 pm MST at Seeds of Exchange.

Together, we are igniting a global community movement, our path well-worn by steps of inspired vision and action… each making mighty contributions to our world’s great challenges, whether in our backyards or distant lands. Join us.

Here are a few ways to ignite your own beautyFULL path + connect you with this month’s storytellers: Inspired Action Resource Guide, March 20, 2017 Seeds Storyteller Series

Sisters + brothers, we’re here for you, with you.  Let’s light it up and do this…together!
GrateFULL you are a part of it. {xo}