By Tamara Juarez, April 2018 Issue.
No matter where you come from or how you identify, you each have a story to tell. Your story, no doubt, is filled with chosen family, celebrations as well as the inevitable obstacles you’ve faced or battles you continue to fight.
The realization that the one thing everyone has in common is adversity is what prompted two local friends to launch a unique endeavor last year.
Together, Bree Pear and Crissy Saint-Massey discovered the importance of storytelling as a path for healing and self-exploration. Allowing people to talk about tough issues and connect with others with similar experiences, they realized, can result in a strong network of support that encourages growth and promotes kindness.
That is how Only Human was born.
As a community organization fueled by kindness and social entrepreneurship Only Human exists to help empower victim of violence.
“We believe in the power of humans coming together to help move us all forward in the ways that truly matter,” according to the website. “Bring your broken parts, your struggles, and your raw selves. All are welcome – come as you are.
Creating A Safe Space
Initially, the business partners worked to create an online presence, distinguished by their profoundly branded merchandise, which evolved into both a global audience and also a platform for making a difference locally.
In the most fundamental sense, Only Human is good people doing good things for good causes. By teaching people of diverse backgrounds how to connect through storytelling, the organization aims to create a ripple effect within communities across the world.
“Kindness is a thread that we see in the community,” Pear said. “If we are kind to one another and kind to ourselves, we can evolve more good in the community by surrounding ourselves with people who have the same goals and values.”
Today, Only Human is more than a business or a brand – it’s a network of individuals who come together to share stories, seek support, overcome struggles and transform their new-found sense of empowerment into a positive force within their individual communities.
And, as of March 1, is also a physical space. The grand opening of Only Human’s physical headquarters and storefront in Phoenix marked a significant step forward in its mission to help people heal and spread kindness.
“This kind of space needs to exist in order for [people] to realize they need it,” Pear said. “You may feel safe behind your devices and screens, but when you’re welcomed inside [the Only Human space] and realize that what you know digitally comes to life physically, that has the power to change lives in deeper ways, because your creating social communities digitally that come to life. We need that in our world. We can’t lose that human aspect.”
Pear and Saint-Massey are not merely the owners and promoters of the positivity behind the brand they’ve created, they’re also humans who turned the adversity of their pasts into good.
Leading By Example
As a little girl, Saint-Massey witnessed domestic violence at home on a daily basis and was molested by someone close to her family, starting at age 4. In her online biography, she shares the trauma she experienced in her childhood and how she dreaded going home after school.
“I’d often leave school, my heart beat pounding out of my chest, and wonder, ‘Is this the day he kills her?’”
Saint-Massey moved countless times as a teen and attended 13 schools in four states before finally graduating high school, which diminished her ability and desire to connect with others.
As an adult, Saint-Massey struggled to cope with her past and experienced depression and severe anxiety disorder triggered by her demanding career, strained relationship with her wife and a miscarriage.
Although it took several years, Saint-Massey was, at last, able to find the strength to check into a behavioral health hospital, where she found a new appreciation for the support a community can offer those in need.
Having attended six schools in seven years – half of which were provoked by extreme bullying – Pear also experienced a troubling childhood, which led to anxiety, fear and a sense of distrust toward people.
It wasn’t until Pear and Saint-Massey realized their pasts were still weighing down their presents that they were able to – with each other’s support – introduce a series of changes into their lives, one of which was establishing Only Human.
The “OH ha” Moment
In recent years, Pear found herself feeling miserable due to the combination of a high-stress career, a toxic relationship and meaningless daily routine – and she decided to risk it all for the chance of finding true happiness.
“I was just really unhappy with my life and knew I wanted to do something I felt passionate about,” Pear said. “I was ready to take the plunge.”
Without giving doubt a chance to set in, Pear quit her job, broke up with her girlfriend and sold her belongings.
With the help of Saint-Massey, who joined Pear after quitting her own job in search for a more meaningful career and healthier lifestyle, the two set out to change their narratives.
“No one else’s opinion mattered at that point,” Pear recalled. “Something inside me said, ‘This is what you’re doing. This is it. This is what you’ve been looking for.’”
In the weeks that followed, Pear realized the importance of healing through storytelling and the need for a community that allowed people to simply talk without the fear of judgment.
“The world is at a tipping point right now, with women’s rights coming to the forefront and voices being raised that haven’t been before,” Pear said. “We’re seeing people stand up for themselves, own their truths and talk positively about … how we want our lives to look like, instead of living in the hate [and fear] that exists in this political climate.”
The Human Element
Currently, Only Human has approximately 1,000 advocates (read: brand ambassadors) in more than 25 countries, and the number is expected to continue growing as the organization expands be
yond the virtual realm.
After completing the online application process, advocates are given access to a private Facebook group where members can share their stories and lift each other up. Saint-Massey and Pear guarantee the page remains a safe space by reviewing all applicants to ensure they align with the organization’s values of love, respect and kindness.
Through daily discussions and a weekly Facebook Live, advocates have the opportunity to grow closer through support and are encouraged to talk about their days – good or bad – with other advocates.
Only Human advocate Rebecca (Beck) Gay came across the organization via Instagram and has joined the movement, integrating its message of kindness throughout various aspects of her life.
“It’s completely changed the direction, outlook … how I carry myself as a person and how I [can] better serve the people around me,” she said. “It’s shifted my life, helped me meet my tribe and realize that kindness and loving big are not abnormal … I love that Only Human takes me for the human I am. No judgement, no conditions. I am human, and it’s reinforced every day that I am part of something bigger than myself.”
Only Human advocate Ana-Maria Garcia, said she feels blessed and fortunate to have found the organization through social media.
“I’m not sure I can adequately express how much it means to me to have that support group,” she said. “Anytime someone is having an off day, someone else is always there to offer support and words of encouragement. Whenever something good happens, someone is always there to congratulate them on their success. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. There’s no jealousy or people putting down others to make themselves feel better. It’s a group of people building each other up in every way imaginable.”
Giving Back to CommUNITY
Only Human serves as an invitation for anyone to begin the healing process in a judgement-free area that encourages all humans to release their burdens, insecurities or past trauma by creating a strong network of support and learning to understand that all humans share struggles.
“The healing process begins when someone is able to look at the world and say, ‘this is who I am, this is what has happened to me, and these are some of my stories. But I’m human like you,’” Saint-Massey said. “Anyone can guide you, but unless you do something, nothing is going to change.”
True to its mission of kindness, Only Human donates 10 percent of all proceeds from clothing and merchandise sales to local and international charities, which have included the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality, The Breast Cancer Research Fund, Polaris, the Gary Sinise Foundation, Take Back The Night PHX, Project HEAL and PAVE – just in the past six months.
Every month, advocates get the opportunity to suggest a charity and shine a light on an important topic. During the month of March, Only Human partnered with La Frontera Empact, an Arizona-based nonprofit that offers free mental health counseling to humans in need of support.
“We want to connect with local organizations, because they are doing great work, and more people should know about them,” Pear said. “Like us, they have a theme of bettering humanity and helping others overcome struggles.”
In the coming weeks, Only Human will have a presence at Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs, March 28-April 1; Take Back the Night PHX, April 6 (where both women will be prominently involved with the programming), Phoenix Pride, April 7-8; Long Beach Pride, May 18-19; and Pensacola Pride, May 24-28.