Kelly VanPelt

James Raby

James Ozone Raby

June 21, 1982 – January 17, 2010

When I started working with United Steps, one immediate change that I recognized taking place in my life is that I answered the phone regardless of who could be at the other end.

Answering phones unconditionally used to be a normal practice before technology advanced with caller ids and answering machines. So now, my reason to answer my phone when these unknown numbers appear is because once I started engaging with the homeless population of Los Angeles, I was taught how important, expensive, and valuable phone minutes are, so why screen calls? Every person matters in this world, and if they are calling, it is for a purpose, even if they dialed the wrong number. Just another friendly reminder that we are not alone. Now, rather than being bothered or scared, I laugh, I smile and I say hello, how are you? I’m Kelly, nice to meet you.  And if only for a minute, so be it — that one minute could change someone’s life.

When the phone rang Tuesday, January 19th, an unknown number appeared. I answered it like I always do— with open ears and an open heart. I had just returned from a lovely time at the Farmers Market. I was preparing to make a delicious organic dinner and relax in the comfort of my room for the evening. Very quickly, that unknown number revealed a saddened recognizable voice and a phone call I never expected.

James Raby, or by most know as Ozone, a beautiful artist and human being, had taken his life Sunday morning, January 17, 2010.

I fell to the floor. Confused, shocked, gasping for air as tears streamed down my face— every emotion flowing through my heart, my blood, my being. A young woman who is residentially challenged and was staying with me witnessed this course of events unfold. She did not know what had happened and from only hearing the conversation thought that my brother had died.

In more ways than one she was right; a brother of mine had died

A brother who walked into my life just two months prior, and in one decision, one phone call, was gone.

My relationship with James grew from similar perspectives of the world and our commitment to raising people’s levels of consciousness. Soul to soul, heart to heart. We connected on many levels, so when I say brother, I mean brother, a familial bond like no other.

Being a transient person myself, I was accustomed to living with limited possessions and fortunate to have a roof over my head. When I moved to Los Angeles and after two weeks of free housing ended, I found myself sleeping in a tent in a friend’s backyard near Venice Blvd and La Cienega Blvd. Eventually, I saved up enough money and I moved into a house. Yet, I never lost sight that my home was a tent for a solid month. In the eyes of many, I too was “homeless”, due to the lack of solid structure surrounding me during that time, but at that point in my life I did not feel like I needed anything. I had shelter, food, love, a job- my basic human needs were met and I was content.

James reframed what homelessness is to me.  If he can open up my eyes, I hope his message reaches you too.

What James taught me is that there is no such thing as homeless; it is only a perception, a point of view. We do have a home, he reminded us; mother earth is our home, the trees — the moon — the stars — the sun. We own nothing and nothing owns us.  How we choose to live is how we can best give:  to ourselves and to each other.

When someone takes their life, one can look it at as a really negative occurrence and fall into a dark black hole. These past few weeks of my life, I’ve been crawling out and falling back into that pit of despair.  Yet, I continue to move forward with James’ view of life as a constant source of inspiration. As each day passes, I breathe in fresh air, give thanks to life, and walk with more purpose and direction. Fully understanding that he was brought into my life to deepen my love for myself, this earth, and each and every being that fills it. James shared so much light and love with all of us, much like a light bulb would to help us find our way in the dark. Yet sometimes, the brighter humans shine, and the more they are used, the more likely they are to burn out. We must sustain our greatest resources, human beings, and not let our leaders burn out. We are all one. When We start encouraging and respecting each other this world will be a brighter and better place.

I challenge you all to change your lives by giving more compassion, more hugs, and more love.

“Poverty exists because we teach our children not to fully extend a helping hand. We must correct this by showing them how to love unconditionally. This includes ourselves, as well as others.”

– James Raby