Sharon Jones, one of our two 2012 Vendors of the Year, rises before dawn every day to sell Real Change outside Top Pot Doughnuts. Last week, on Sept. 20, speaking to a cheering crowd of more than 500 people who came to our 18th Annual Breakfast, she exclaimed: “Before the door opens and the cock crows, it’s Real Change time.”
It sure was Real Change time at the breakfast, held this year at the Washington State Convention Center. This year’s theme was “Connecting across Class,” and the guests personified that goal. More than 45 Real Change vendors joined a room full of donors, volunteers and community activists for a morning that hummed with energy and hope in the early morning light.
Author, activist and scholar Chuck Collins delivered a riveting keynote address, using personal stories to debunk the myths that perpetuate inequality and calling the audience to action. Collins’ new book, “99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It,” focuses on the structural causes of inequality and the policy solutions that can reverse them. But at the breakfast, Collins spoke of the human costs of inequality, saying that we live in a “Hunger Games culture” in which it’s assumed it’s our nature to compete and dominate. He called this a myth, citing emerging brain science that shows we are hardwired to be connected.
It has become the norm in society to turn away and shut down when we see pain, suffering and poverty. But in fact, it’s not our nature to harden our hearts, and neural pathways literally light up in our brains when we feel, when we care, when we give.
Collins asserts that our capacity to change and transform is infinite and that we are waiting to be called into compassionate action. To hear the call, we only need to be willing to have our hearts open. He lauded Real Change as an organization with tremendous potential for transforming relationships and opening hearts.
Indeed, it was the human connection that was most memorable about that morning’s breakfast. Everyone who spoke shared from an open heart. The always entertaining Rosette Royale emceed the affair, sprinkling yoga poses into his poetic interludes. Tim Harris gave his annual address, provocative and prophetic as usual. Past Board President Pam Raphael gave a tender testimony to her experience with Real Change and our vendors. And we presented awards for Volunteers of the Year to Annie Lusk and Mike Wold, Change Agent of the Year to Jarvis Capucion and Vendors of the Year to Addis Michael, Jr. and Sharon Jones.
The glimpse into the lives of the Vendors of the Year and the joy on their faces when they accepted their awards was mesmerizing. “I’ve never won anything in my whole life,” Sharon said to one attendee after the breakfast.
It was a great morning, not just for Sharon and Addis, but for everyone in the room. People walked out of the door with their hearts open, smiles on their faces and orange Real Change tote bags on their arms. It was, indeed, Real Change time.