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When You Can’t Help Yourself, You Help Others: On Why I Started Open Borders

Can we not be of assistance to others? Can we not find work with avenues of selflessness and compassion? Is it all about money?

I once had a boss, back in New York City, who asked me what I wanted to do with my life.  I simply replied that I wanted to be of service to others.  She laughed loudly throwing back her head and said, “Yeah right — that’s what we all say.”

It cut to the bone.  These days, I still wake up thinking about it — wondering if it’s true that my vision for my life is complete bullshit.  Can we not be of assistance to others?  Can we not find work with avenues of selflessness and compassion?  Is it all about money?

February and March were pretty traumatic months in my life.  Two family members of mine died, I had suffered a massive panic attack and I realized that the person I was dating was probably not the right person for me at the time.

I was struggling with every aspect of my life — mentally, physically and emotionally- – truly, one step away from throwing in the towel.  As women (especially women of color), we’re brought up to bottle in our deepest pain and keep going.  “You can’t let them see you sweat, girl” my old landlord in Harlem used to say when I’d break down and cry on his couch.

I’ve felt the same way these past few months.  I’ve struggled to keep it together, but I’ve damn well made sure they didn’t see me sweat.

Until I found myself seated in the Emergency Room in Turin one night, waiting to see a doctor.  Paola, a close friend of mine, sat next to me with her arm wrapped tightly across my shoulders; her husband, Giancarlo — a man whom I had come to call my brother –walked around to the triage room to see if he could expedite the process.  He’s all about getting things done, and in this case, he wasn’t going to let me suffer on my own for four hours.

It wasn’t until later on that evening when the three of us were driving back from the hospital that I realized that I could no longer help myself.  I was done playing the role of the “strong black woman” and I did in fact need others.  I needed my family, I needed my friends, but most of all I needed to find a little peace.

I’ve always felt that when you can’t help yourself, you need to start helping others.  Change focus.  Stop thinking about what’s wrong with your life and focus on what others need.

Credit: Open Borders

On March 19, 2019, I launched Open Borders, a social enterprise focused on storytelling for impact.  A three-part initiative, we are a Writer’s Workshop geared towards helping all people, regardless of their backgrounds, represent themselves and re-present themselves through narrative non-fiction.  We are also a creative agency called “The Lab” focused on helping non-governmental insinuations, non-profits, philanthropies, civil society  and companies tell their story in impactful, inclusive and creative ways.  Finally, at Open Borders, we run a magazine with the same name for migrants, refugees, Italians and foreigners — poignant stories from the men and women who live these extraordinary lives, alongside beautiful photography and innovative graphic design.  We invite artisans of all mediums to participate in our seasonal issues, in the four languages spoken by the minorities and majority in Italy: Italian, English, French and Arabic.  The magazine is free.

The goal of Open Borders is to use storytelling as a tool to help people take back the narratives of their lives by restoring their voices, but also to build community by fostering inclusivity and collaboration.  We’re a start-up, in all senses of the word.

I can’t even begin to tell you how tied to my cellphone and email I am in this period of life, as I await the greatest Executive Assistant of all time.

Credit: Open Borders

Though I am the boss and lead a team of five, it’s a collaborative effort in and of itself and no idea or question is ever invalid.  I want my employees to feel empowered, to feel that they are growing and to feel that they can, in fact, contribute to the issues of migration, economic injustice, integration, racism, and trauma.  We’re a young team, but we are as ferocious as they get — we put in mad hours and it’s only been a few weeks.

From facilitating community development meetings with migrants, refugees, citizens, and document holders we’ve learned that we have a lot of work to do in the areas of trust building and social capital.  We truly believe that we are filling a gap and responding to a need — it’s storytelling action.

This weekend, with an invitation from Fabrica, we shall join the 36 Hours of Con-Fusion in Treviso, Italy to talk about migration, race, integration and anything else that comes to the table.  We’re open, we’re ready to learn and we’re ready to pour back into the community.

We start our official Writer’s Workshop on the 9th of April at Toolbox Coworking — one of the premier and collaborative spaces for idea incubation in Turin.

As we begin the preparations for our first issues of the magazine, launching in this summer, we are focused on helping men and women shed their fears and expose their emotional scars.  We plan to tell our first Open Borders story from a place of compassion, fragility and hope.

Credit: Open Borders

Recently, while working with my Lead Visuals Specialist, Matteo, he mentioned how empowering it felt to do something like this.  To work closely with the people affected by migration, to understand their perspective and to help them tell their stories.  Each one of us is not the same person as before we started this journey, and we know we will ultimately come out transformed in the end.

I knew that once I tossed out my own self-interests, self-looking and self-worries I would be in trouble.  When you can’t help yourself and so you start helping others, you run the risk of becoming overly ambitious about your efforts.  Thanks to a wonderful group of Advisors, we at Open Borders feel tempered, guided and grounded as we put in the work.

It’s a tall order for a bunch of young kids, but who else will solve the issues of our future if not us?

To learn more about Open Borders, visit our website here:  www.weareopenborders.com

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