Mother's Day on Skid Row with Justin Mayo for redeye.org

River Bennett (Photography River Bennett)

 

There is no lying.

I felt scared the moment I left our car to meet Justin. It was a landscape I wasn't  familiar with, in an area I had only watched documentaries about. To my right was a man yelling profanities and, to my left, a woman, half dressed who was high on drugs. I held a box of groceries. I felt stupid being there. Who was I to walk this street they called home, dressed in my fresh white Adidas and black sunglasses? Was I an idiot to bring my children here? I felt so incredibly white and incredibly privileged. 

Immediately the man asked if that box was for him. Immediately, I said yes - purely out of fear but with a smile I hoped would exhibit some form of love. He took the box and we watched as people scrambled within seconds from everywhere to divvy up eggs and toilet rolls and soap. 

I ached with feelings of hopelessness. The overwhelming need screamed in my ears.  My boys looked on as I wondered what story their minds were conveying to them. I was pleased to have them witness what life on the streets really looked like. But this was no joke. This was a space of humanity who called Skid Row home. 

The average age of children living on the streets in the USA is 9yrs old. That's 1.35 million children. Kids are on Skid Row because their parents are there. Addiction, spousal abuse, poverty, physical and mental illness, substance abuse, lost jobs, lack of affordable housing. The fatherless and drug-induced mothers with nowhere to go. It's where sex offenders and human traffickers loiter in the shadows.  It's a notorious nightmare. 

Justin finally met us at the gate to his loft. I instantly felt at ease. He knew these streets. He knew its people. He was like a flame of light in the darkness. 

Justin’s non-profit work, Red Eye, had recently moved from the suburbs to Skid Row to work with amongst the homeless people.

"It's a bit crazy out there isn't it. Sorry I took so long to meet you." 

As he led us through high security gates I gazed up towards the barb wire keeping his apartment block safe. 

We entered his new office that reigned peace with all class. I lost my mind instantly at how amazing this creative space was. Those classic LA loft windows and stylish concrete floors that led to a rooftop overlooking the beauty of LA. It was a dazzling view up there.  The multi-million dollar corporate buildings sparkling against the horizon. It oozed wealth and glamor and a feeling of wanting to be ‘somebody’. 

"You want to see the apocalypse?" Justin said instantly arresting my daydream. 

He led me to the view on the other side of the rooftop. 

"See that? Looks like an end-of-the-world zombie movie doesn't it." 

That was exactly what it looked like.

Hollywood didn't need to look far for inspiration. I had to remind myself this was no movie. This was real. People yelling, smashing glass, digging through trash cans, police cars circling and helicopters hovering. 

The contrast of lifestyles hit me like a ton of bricks. 

Only moments before I was wrapped up in the glamor of LA, the sparkling lights and the loft living – now I was witnessing the mess of humanity that was coexisting only streets away. 

Slapped in the face with the state of humanity again I began asking questions. 

I wanted to know about Red Eye - Justin's non-profit organisation that prides itself on creating social cohesion for two of the most isolated demographics - connecting the celebrity-and-wealth (or the "up and in" as Justin phrased it) to the down-and-out. I wanted to hear Justin's heart and vision to see change on the streets. I wanted to know about the mothers and children, and the programs he had initiated for Mother's Day in the projects. I wanted to hear about his invitations to celebrity parties, the White House and the U.N. and how people were taking notice of his effort to bridge the gap in society.

He was a man on mission. A mission that was not for the faint-hearted. 

Justin is like a wild untamed genius. His life is lived at a breakneck pace. The more you get to know Justin the more you realise how perfect he is for this job. Talking with him for this interview was like talking in a sitcom. One minute, you are peeled over laughing as he tells you his latest crazy reality of unbelievable circumstances, and the next you are wiping tears from your eyes as you hear stories of immense heartbreak he has seen. He lives in extremes and yet somehow finds the balance. 

 

My childhood was …

oh man, first question and I am already stumped!

My mother always told me … 

something about lighting a candle in the darkness? But I can’t exactly remember how it goes.

Red Eye is … 

a community of creatives that create social cohesion between the up-and-in, and the down-and-out. It provides a 24/7 community for culture creators, influencers and leaders to empower their lives, support their dreams and develop their own talents, as well as those of the next generation. While reaching out to help humanity and mentor those in need, we connect one cultural extreme with another, and change the world along the way.

Humanity is …

my next-door neighbour.

The main thing my job has taught me … 

failure is my friend.

I wish people knew …

 failure isn't fatal.

The love of my life … 

has probably gone on Global Tour right now so it doesn’t even matter.

First impressions are … 

overrated. First impressions are so ‘yesterday’.

Using your platform to invest in others is … 

common sense. Terry Crews (actor) actually said to me the other day, “What’s the point of being a celebrity if you can’t make postive impact and invest into others?” I thought that was kinda cool.

I never knew … 

that failure actually mattered.

The best advice I was ever given … 

It’s not what you say but how you make people feel when you walk away.

My defining personality trait is …

being ubiquitous. 

I'm obsessed with … 

my first thought is people, and then my second thought is slap bracelets.

I'm happiest when … 

I’m full. Also, when I see a friend thriving in their purpose.

Best meal I ever had … 

anything not vegan. Don’t tell the people of LA, or I could get in trouble for that. Ha. Which reminds me of a party the other night. There were 20 men dressed up in white, pounding drums while you walked down between them to a tiger that awaited at the end under thousands of balloons. It wasn't vegan either! My life is lived in extremes. My dad always said I need to live a balanced life. So my life in extremes seems to balance each other. No clue what that has to do with the best meal I ever had but, oh well... 

Things that keep me awake at night … 

So I recently moved to Skid Row. I hear pretty crazy things at night, like one lady was yelling at another lady last night, “I don’t have your money!” so it ranges from people shouting, police cars and helicopters, oh, and Beyonce. I love Beyonce.

The last pinch-me moment was … 

Dakota, my adopted wolf finally pooped in the right area. People with children will appreciate that. And I would have to say when the White House and the United Nations contacted me to meet the President to speak at the UN, I didn’t believe that the email was real. So I didn't respond. They fortunately didn't understand why I didn't immediately accept and asked again. Ha.

I know I'm home when … 

my key opens the front door.

I love my mum and this Mother's Day I want her to know I love her because … 

she is mine. 

Red Eye’s Mother's Day Makeovers on Skid Row is …

a day where women are celebrated for who they truly are and not how they typically feel on the streets. We give them full make-overs, we do their nails, makeup, hair styling, clothing, red carpet photoshoot with print outs and simply celebrate who they are! Over the years the people that have shown support have ranged from Drew Barrymore to this year Miss America is hosting the event, the Kardashians are donating product and we have some other fun surprises for these amazing ladies!

Mothers should always feel … 

validated and not forgotten because mothers seriously kick butt.

 

There is a flame that burns in the middle of Downtown LA daily. It's a flame that brings necessary light into the choas, disarray and grit that street living brings. This light burns with a sense of acceptance, validation and respect and hope to the men, women and children who live on Skid Row. 

This flame is Justin Mayo, or as he says, "Creating a better tomorrow, TODAY."

 

 

For more info on Red Eye head to:

Redeye.org

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www.facebook.com/redeyeinc

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@redeyeinc

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@redeyeinc