“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”- Margaret Mead
This article is not here (only) to showcase these individuals. It’s here to say, “hey, maybe it’s fun to get involved in my comunity” — and more importantly, that it’ normal to be involved!
Communities tend to react to “aberration” with distrust and ostracism. This ostracism can result in an individual or group being perceived as responsible for the problems in the community, greedy consumption of charitable services they don’t need, behaving in a manner the majority of the community feels is unacceptable, and having an unacceptable appearance.
We in the body modification community have all experienced this ostracism for being “different”. People think we’re violent, mentally ill, unemployed, and addicted to all sorts of illicit drugs simply because of the modifications we’ve made to our bodies and how we dress. Our appearance seems to give those who don’t understand permission to label us with various negative and undeserved attributes.
Historically, while community service and volunteerism has always been a valued trait, actual practice has lagged in recent years, and organizations in need of volunteers often find themselves short-staffed and under-funded as a result. Since his inauguration, American President George W. Bush has issued repeated challenges to the American people to increase the amount of volunteer work being done in the country. Nothing much happened, although the events of 9/11/01 saw volunteerism rates peak for a few months and then slowly decline to the present.
People in the mainstream tend to expect the modified to be among the least likely people to provide any type of community service or volunteer work. However, a surprising number of people involved in body modification feel the motivation to give back to their communities; communities that to a large extent tend to discriminate against them. The people in this article go above and beyond to provide invaluable volunteer services in a variety of areas to the communities in which they live.
They have not only helped their communities but they have gone well beyond the expectations of others by founding a variety of charities and organizations and continuing to work in the non-profit or volunteer sector while maintaining active participation in the modified community. While non-profit work and volunteering isn’t for everyone it does strike a chord with these individuals. At the foundation of all of these people is a willingness and desire to help others through any means possible.
BME: How did you originally get involved with non-profit volunteer work and what was your role in the groups you were with?
Kyle: I never really did much charity work, just the usual stuff they made me do at school: cleaning up roads, picking up litter, and so on. I went down to Toronto once for three days to help feed homeless people and help out at some shelters as well. Up until when Skate
4Cancer was started, I had never really done anything on my own time.
My friend, Rob Dyer, and I started Skate4Cancer together back in July of this year. He originally had the idea about two years ago, and actually tried to start it up but it never took off because he didn’t really have anyone helping him. He mentioned the idea to me during the summer, and I decided I really liked it and offered to help him out by building a website. From there, it just sort of progressed into what it is now.
Skate4Cancer is a charity that was started to raise youth awareness and fund for cancer research. Starting in March of 2004, we will be skateboarding from Los Angeles to Toronto. The entire trip is roughly 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) in length.
My role now is maintaining the website, and I continue to help plan what we will be doing and helping out as much as I can at fundraisers and various publicity events. Once we get started on the trip, I will principally be the bus driver and webmaster of the site.
Liz: In 1999 I co-founded a group called Fanseverywhere as a result of the rapes and sexual assaults that happened at Woodstock ’99. I still, to this day, answer email from young girls and women who have been sexually molested and raped at rock concerts.
“I was so offended by what was happening to the women at Woodstock ’99.”
The police weren’t any help and women (some as young as thirteen) were being assaulted while crowd surfing or sleeping in their tents. It was outrageous and these women needed somewhere to go to, someone to speak with. I was the Co-Founder and main contact for these women. I conducted letter writing campaigns to NOW and RAINN to alert them of the issues and to record labels and concert promoters urging them to be aware of what was going on at many shows.
Nick: I serve as a Board Member on the NYC City council, for community Board 9, I serve on the Landmarks committee for Manhattan, NYC District 9. I am completing my Police Officer Training, and will serve in the NYPD auxiliary program, walking a beat as a cop in Manhattan.
“I wanted to give to my community.”
BME: Have you been involved in other non-profit work other than what you described above?
Kyle: Honestly, I have never done anything like this before. I mean, I’ve given to food drives and donated some money before, but nothing really significant to a non-profit organization.
Liz: I started working with the Milarepa Group to help the Tibetans in 1996 working at the Tibetan Freedom Concerts in SanFrancisco, NYC and Washington DC. I moved on to help an agency called the Tibetan Refugee Health Care Project. I was motivated by my desire to help people in need. I know that I am lucky to have the things that I have and some aren’t so fortunate. I felt compelled to help out where I could.
I volunteered my time with the Milarepa Group from 1996-1998 and assisted with the development of the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. I worked with the Tibetan Refugee Health Care Project from 1998-2000.
The Tibetan Refugee Health Care Project is a non-political organization funded entirely by private donations. It was created in response to the dire and growing need for public health care for the Tibetan community-in-exile, living both in resettlement camps in India, and throughout the world, and to be a support for The Tibetan Government-in-exile, His Holiness The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Department of Health. All projects are reported to them.
Its mission is to facilitate medical treatment of the Tibetan people as well as to educate them about disease prevention. One of the goals of the project is to encourage Tibetans to learn skills that enable them to help other Tibetans. This is done by training qualified Tibetans so that they may become practitioners, skilled laborers, or volunteers who go back to work in their communities. I volunteered my time to help with anything that needed to be done. I sat in protest of the Chinese government. I ran sound and lights for speeches. I coordinated email campaigns. Helped in the offices. Passed out flyers. For Milarepa, I donated my time to help coordinate other volunteers for the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. This came out to about fifteen hours a week.
BME: What originally prompted you to choose the groups you ultimately worked with?
Kyle: I chose to become involved with Skate4Cancer because I felt it was a worthy cause, and I believe that we can make a difference in the world. I decided early in my life that I would not just be one of those people who graduate high school, maybe go to college and then work a desk job for the rest of their lives. I feel that this might be something I could do for the rest of my life, and this will allow to wake up every morning believing that I have a purpose in my life and I ’m making a difference in other peoples lives.
Liz: Passion. Passion to try to make things better for someone other than yourself. Bring issues to the public eye.
Nick: My architectural background enable me to help the landmarks committee, and the community board, I really wanted to prove to myself that I could become a cop, and am just about complete with my training.
BME: Have you ever had any memorable reactions to your modifications during your volunteer work?
Kyle: Besides the, “Oh, cool tattoos!” comments that are fairly usual, I personally haven’t, but I know Rob (the co-founder of Skate4Cancer) has. I know he’s experienced some negative reactions to his tattoos and even the way he dresses.
Liz: Never anything negative. I would say it has been pretty neutral territory as far as my charity work has been concerned.
Nick: Well, the NYPD did ask me to remove a lot of the metal, but I was more than willing to do that! For my police training I keep the tatts generally covered as much as possible.
BME: Have you found that your modifications have helped or hindered you in this work?
Kyle: I think that they help more than they hinder, because we’ve found what’s key to making Skate4Cancer work is getting the kids to notice it, and then they tell their parents about it. Tattoos are noticed alot of the youth of today because they are ‘in’, most of the youth think they are cool, so they may notice us for our mods, then hear about what we are doing and really like the idea, then helping us spread the word. But on the other side, they have hindered us at times because for the most part, the older generation isn’t too keen on body modification, and thus they don’t think we are serious about it, making them reluctant to donate or preach to others about us.
Liz: Definitely helped for Fanseverywhere. The girls would see the tattoos and would feel comfortable because I was “one of them”
Nick: Neither really. I like trying to break though peoples perceptions of what a tattooed person should or shouldn’t do. But actually no, no problems at all. Everyone remembers me, and that might not be bad!
BME: Why do you donate your time, energy, and resources? What is the primary reason?
Kyle: The main reason I do this is to help myself feel good. As I mentioned before, I want to make a difference to people in my life, and I think this could be something that really changes people and makes them examine themselves.
Secondary to that, I believe that cancer is an epidemic that has to be stopped. SARS was made into such a big deal by the media, but it wasn’t as bad as they made it seem. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m belittling SARS, but on average 185 Canadians die of cancer each day. That’s just in Canada, just think of how many die worldwide. I don’t think many people realize how bad cancer really is.
Liz: I am fortunate in my life, and sometimes someone just has to show you the way up and out of a bad situation. I hope that I have offered that kind of assistance to just one person. Life is what you make of it.
Nick: I love to help others!
BME: What is one thing that stands out that you have learned from your volunteer work that has helped you in other aspects of your life?
Kyle: I’ve learned that no matter how bad my life seems, there is always someone who is worse off then me. I shouldn’t complain about the little things that don’t matter, when my little things are a life-or-death matter to someone else.
Liz: Compassion to others. You never know when your situation is going to become bad and you will need the help of kind strangers. Everyone deserves a chance.
Nick: That I’m a really fortunate guy!
BME: If you could create your own charitable organization what would it be?
Kyle: I haven’t thought about creating other charities at this point, one is enough work right now! but we have a couple ideas on how to expand Skate4Cancer after this initial run, and that should keep me and everyone else busy enough for a little while at least haha.
Liz: To provide inner city school children with all the resources they need to learn music and art. Those programs are being taken away and need to be given back to those who could benefit from them the most.
Nick: I would like to create a foundation to help people to decide to do the right thing, so they can have productive lives.
The people we’ve talked to above are only a brief mentioning of the many volunteers we know that are also BME members. It seems despite the undeservedly grim and often outright bigoted opinions in many articles published in the mainstream media it seems that the modified are doing more than just volunteering in their communities; they are starting organizations to help others, extending their own resources to give others a chance.
They are most definitely not apathetic or “not playing the game of life” as has been suggested, but are instead giving back in ways the “average person” seems either unwilling or unable to do. The communities to which these individuals belong would do well to respect, admire, recognize and aspire to the shining example these people represent not only to their communities, not only to the modified, but to humanity in general.
[Ed note: This is an abridged version of this column; click here for the "director's cut"]
Copyright © 2004 BMEzine.com LLC. Permission is granted to reprint this article in its entirety as long as credit is retained and usage is non-commercial. Requests to publish edited or shortened versions must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published January 9th, 2004 by BMEzine.com LLC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.