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Meet Nabwire Butali of Spirit Awakening Foundation in Santa Monica

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nabwire Butali.

Nabwire, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am a current board member of the non-profit “Spirit Awakening Foundation” which serves at-risk youth within the juvenile justice system in and around Los Angeles County through writing, arts, meditation and other life-skills offerings.

I was drawn to this organization after meeting its founder and CEO, Akuyoe Graham, more than six years ago. At the time of our meeting, I’d been working my way through the “grind” as a TV producer in Los Angeles. It had been a winding road since immigrating to the U.S. from Kenya. I had spent four years in the U.S Air Force before separating to attend college and finally worked my way to Los Angeles in pursuit of my dream as a storyteller. Despite my personal milestones, I found myself a bit empty as I pondered on the purpose behind the opportunity I’d been afforded to create a life in one of the epicenters of creativity. I felt a bit fraudulent having assimilated into American life, which at the time felt like stepping further and further away from my roots in Kenya.

In an attempt to find my new “tribe” and a renewed sense of inspiration, I began attending Agape Spiritual Centre in Culver City, where I was quickly drawn to Akuyoe who serves as a practitioner there. I first encountered her giving a reading which she followed with a prayer in her native Twi language from Ghana. I was struck by the fact that she had created/found a space in which she could serve her community while proudly injecting her own cultural authenticity, which only enriched the experience of others around her.

It was inevitable that we would cross paths, and in time I was even awestruck and impressed that she had been using her love for artistic expression to serve at-risk youth. It was a perfect example of how I, too could use my background, culture and love for storytelling to serve youth and my new community in Los Angeles rather than lamenting over feeling removed from my own culture.

It didn’t take much convincing for me to agree to support Akuyoe and Spirit Awakening in any way I could and to be honest, I never quite feel like I’m doing enough.

The youth impacted by SAF are testaments to how much work is needed, but also to how stories can help shape positive beliefs, provide a space for release and healing and inspire hope and change.

I continue to be challenged by the needs of the organization, driven by the immense love that binds its members and supporters, and inspired by the sense of hope and transformation embodied by the youth we serve.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Every victory and progress made has definitely been met by challenges, and gratefully so. As a non-profit, it is always difficult to raise funds especially given the sheer number of non-profits with similar goals. Some years are better than others, but we’ve had to constantly shift gears in order to bring attention to the youth we serve. There have been years during which the founder and a handful of people, many of whom are volunteers, have sacrificed salaries and living wages in order to serve the youth.

Another area that’s still difficult to navigate is the justice system in which we operate. It is still unimaginable to be confronted by children facing decades and sometimes in life in prison for offenses that are really a reflection of a society that has failed them, and then further punishes them for mistakes that are a reflection of failure by adults. In many cases, even the youth who successfully go through rehabilitative programs are then shot back into the very households and situations that caused them to falter as a cry for help.

This year, we are marking yet another milestone by campaigning for what we call “Spirit House” – a transition home that is to serve as a safe space for youth who successfully complete SAF programs. It’s a tall order but we believe it is only a matter of time.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
As a board member, I am a part of the team that gets to vote on decisions and help shape the direction of the organization. However, I also try to bring my experience as a TV producer to the table by finding ways to create media presence for the organization. Every year, I am most proud to be a part of the creative team that puts together our annual spoken word, dance and music showcase, Voices of the Unheard.

Last year, I was most proud of helping produce an hour long talk show that featured Akuyoe and a couple of youth from Spirit Awakening Foundation on the digital platform Fox Soul.

Last year was also significant as some of the youth got to travel to Ghana for a life-changing experience during which they not only enjoy get to tour a place many can hardly imagine visiting, but they also get to give back through volunteerism. While there, I was proud to connect our youth to the Rita Marley Foundation. They got to visit with elders and contribute to renovating a school.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success to me is being aligned with purpose and taking daily steps to live in integrity with one’s truth. I think that the meditative and writing tools offered by SAF help instill a sense of reflection that helps all of us move closer and closer towards our purpose.

I believe when we are most aligned with our innermost desires, we automatically find joy and inspiration to achieve tangible goals and soon enough even the seemingly impossible and unimaginable.

Any positive and lasting impact I can leave on those I encounter is my desired marker of success.


  • Help us realize “Spirit Home” by donating at Spirit Awakening Foundation

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Image Credit:

Event images courtesy of Nirav Solanki, Self-image against ocean courtesy of Greg Hatton

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