On Saturday, August 4, about 60 people crowded into Froggy’s Heart Lodge to celebrate ten Topanga women, selected for recognition by Shakti Rising International (SRI) and its co-founders, Deja Cross and Azmina Kanji.
Both women received prestigious awards this year for their international contributions, and aspired to share this spirit of giving, appreciation, and recognition, starting with Topanga.
Like many people you think you know, it’s not until you hear their history that you learn the depth of who they are.
Marsha Maus—is accurately but inadequately described as “Canyon queen, community icon, and Messenger girl,” for her work distributing the local newspapers, starting in 1990 with the Topanga Messenger and currently for the Messenger Mountain News. All of this is true, but anyone who knows Marsha, knows she is far from being defined as any one thing. Most of all, “she favors fun and amusement, magic and mischief, and aspires to having a good attitude and huge gratitude. The bottom line, she says, “is to have fun.”
Julie Levine—Raised in South America, Julie witnessed U.S. policies that supported dictators and left children hungry. In her quest for justice throughout her life, she has raised more than $80 million for the needy nationwide. After a near-death experience, social reform shifted to a spirituality-in-action tactic that inspired a chapter in Andrew Beath’s book, “Conscious Activism.” She urges people to “Do what you care about and ask what steps you can take to have an impact right now.”
Lin Wood Ilsley—is committed to making positive change in the world through her work with Topanga Women’s Circle, founded by Arlette Parker in 2002. For 16 years, TWC has provided families moving into transitional housing with kitchen, bath, bedroom, personal care products, and age-appropriate toys for the children. Just before they move in, TWC volunteers completely accessorize the space, guaranteeing a warm welcome to the family. Appreciative of the award, Lin gave high praise and credit to the volunteers who put in the hard work to make it happen.
Kathleen Gildred—In 1975, as an entrepreneur, Kathleen turned the old gas station next to the Inn of the 7th Ray into Bridge Building Books, which she ran for five years. As an environmental activist, she wrote the first “Personal Action Guide” for the United Nations’ Environment Programme. Her follow-up was the “Planetary Agenda 2000,” proposing environmental solutions for government and business. Her environmental activism took her to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Earth Summit, and President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development. Locally, she worked with Southern California Association of Governments, and founded the Southern California Council on Environment and Development. We, who never knew that about Kathleen, know her now as the owner of Gorgeous GoddessWear.
Claire Denis— Fourteen years ago, Claire acquired Café Mimosa, a nurturing space, whose open doors are the venue for exhibits, readings, concerts, local handicrafts, and charitable events. “I do acts of love and kindness in everyday life, being open and present, and trust whatever the Universe is giving,” she says.
Carolyn Day—Topanga knows her as the founder of the Children’s Organic Garden at the Topanga Community Club. Before Topanga, she ran away to the circus and became a trick rider/acrobat in an equestrian production called, Cheval Theatre. She was also part of the original creative team for Cirque du Soleil’s “Cavalia.” In 2005, she competed as a surfer in the first-ever Women’s Pipeline Surfing Championships in Hawaii and, most recently, won the coveted “Call to the Wall” surf contest in Malibu at Surfrider Beach in July.
Melanie Kareem—Born in Pasadena to a family of international folk dancers, Melanie established her first School of Middle Eastern Dance before she was 20. Today, she and her dancing tribe have been called the “feminine soul of Topanga.” Dance in her studio is a transformative exercise, engaging all generations. She sees the divine in each dancer, convincing each of her personal worth and power. She also founded the Topanga Ukulele Revival, a musical hee-haw, open to all, created as an homage to her late father.
Gail McDonald Tune—She defines herself as a “shape shifter,” a name that manifests in a heroic civic resume of volunteerism wherever she’s needed. She found in Topanga a camaraderie and passion that she is determined to echo. “The community groups interconnect and altogether are the voice of Topanga, she says. She apparates between organizations. Leading from behind the veil, she finds the perfect person who will help in a crisis, and when the situation stabilizes, quietly spirits to the next point of need, eluding titles. “It’s not about being President,” she says.
Lola Babalon—As a visionary, nurse, yogini, astrologer, and herbalist, Lola works to heal and empower people’s hearts and follow the innate calling of spirit. Her readings provide nsight, meaning and good counsel during challenging times. She adheres to and promotes good-old-fashioned hippie values like radical honesty, transparence and integrity. These days, her passion is Tango dancing.
Azmina Kanji, Co-founder SRI, International Philanthropist, Fashion Designer. Born in Uganda, Azmina immigrated to the U.S. in 1974 to escape the dictator, Idi Amin. A decade later, she co-founded American Bullion and Coin, the first American company to partner with the Soviet Union in the fine arts and precious metals industries. She designed a coin symbolizing unity between the two countries that was minted by the Leningrad Mint. The project became a catalyst for talks that led to the IMF treaty. She would later channel her fashion company, Azmina International, into philanthropy by paying for education for impoverished children giving micro-loans to women to start their own businesses.
“I express myself through fashion design, but self-expression isn’t enough to satisfy me. I find true satisfaction by making an impact that will improve lives in local communities for generations to come,” she says.