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Adelaja Simon: Living in Service to the Whole

Adelaja Simon: Living in Service to the Whole

Two sentences.

That’s how much he spoke when I first met him.

I don’t remember what he said, but I walked away with the memory of his long, grounding hug and light yet steady presence.

“It’s very difficult to introduce someone who you love so much,” Kanchan described. After all, it’s difficult not to be touched by someone who soundlessly exudes such care for all around him.

On last Saturday’s Forest Call, we got to peer into Adelaja Simon’s incredible strength of heart as he shared his illuminating journey from business school to permaculture, from experiences at rock-bottom to his quiet resolve to walk his talk.

The son of immigrant parents (his mother from Haiti, father from Nigeria), Adelaja witnessed the dedication that his mother went through to provide for her children. Being on the receiving end of her 12-18-hour days, Adelaja would pitch in at home wherever he could. From a young age, he did the laundry and woke early to iron his mother’s clothes before she left for work.

Seeing the struggles that his mother faced as she pursued the “American Dream,” Adelaja developed a strong desire to help immigrant families. He wanted to make it easier for them to receive a quality education and housing.

So in 2006, he decided to study business.

As a student, he found himself in the business of acquiring foreclosed homes. He acquired his first house in a small town in Pennsylvania, where the majority of the population was very poor, and the town was ridden with addiction.

“All I saw was, okay, I can make a profit off of the people in this town,” Adelaja recalls, “with the idea that in the future, I could help people in migrant communities.”

Yet with the financial collapse and mortgage crisis in 2008, he had the chance to witness the very people whose homes he was acquiring. He realized that these were the same individuals whom he intended to help later down the line. The irony of his situation, coupled with a growing discontent with the economic system he was learning about in school, led him to re-examine his concept of money and the way it influenced his pursuits.

Adelaja left business school and headed to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where he found himself in massage therapy school. At the same time, he was introduced to meditation and yoga. A student of humble means, Adelaja worked a job unloading trucks at UPS. The work was physically demanding and took a toll on his body. Even though he knew it was damaging him physically, he found himself stuck:

“My body said: Stop, you can’t do this anymore. But my mind said: No, you’re almost done with school. UPS is paying for school. So I pushed past the bodily marker of not continuing with UPS.”

Eventually, his car broke down, and he spent all his savings to fix it. Then, his car gave out again, and he had no funds left for repairs. With no car, he couldn’t get to work. With no work, he couldn’t pay his bills, and from there he spiraled into depression, ate mostly junk food (“which was all I thought I could afford”), and was evicted by his landlord.

In the dead of winter, with no money, job, car or roof over his head, he walked the frigid four miles to the courthouse for his eviction case. Mid-walk, a voice called out:

“Freeze! Put your hands up!”

Surprised, Adelaja stopped and put his hands up. Out of nowhere, a police officer pulled up beside him and began to pat him down.

“What happened? Why are you patting me down?” Adelaja asked, a little dumbfounded.

“You fit the description of someone who was brandishing a gun at the local elementary school.” the officer replied.

“Okay, it wasn’t me,” he explained.

Another two police cars came. One officer kicks his legs apart and in the process, ends up smearing mud across his pants.

“At this point,” Adelaja recalls, “I couldn’t help but break a little bit and smile. Because I was in a space of wondering what else could be thrown at me in this moment.”

With nothing left to hold on to, he found himself in a surprising state of calm. Upon encountering everything that could possibly go wrong, his fears dissolved, and all that was left was acceptance.

He smiled.

“It was very opening, and I believe it has carried me forward to this moment. Because I smiled at that officer, even though he was treating me harshly, and thanked him for the job that he perceived himself to be doing. And from there, I moved into the courtroom, and smiled in that space. I let the lawyer know that I’m leaving, I don’t know where I’m going, but I know this is where I need to go. From there, I received a call from a friend, who lived right around the corner, and invited me to stay with her.”

Adelaja began to focus on the basics: What is it that I really need? How can I focus my efforts on learning and growing what I need?

He began to think creatively about the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter, and started researching how to grow his own food and vegetables, and build things for himself. At the time, he found another job and began to save money as he explored permaculture and farming. This brought him to the Free Skool in Santa Cruz, and eventually to Oakland, where he came to meet Pancho and live out his beliefs with the Canticle Farm community at Casa de Paz.
Listening to Adelaja share, I was struck by the steady poise with which he recalled the various turns along his journey. His soft voice was saturated with a sense of calm, and a quiet humility, that mirrors the way he aims his life in service to a greater, collective whole.

When Ashish asked what challenges he’s currently facing, Adelaja candidly responds, “I believe the hardest things human beings have to do is—we can send things to outer space, we can travel and go be amazing things, yet, we can’t speak with each other, we can’t connect with each other on a relational level.”

Living with a roommate or even a significant other is hard enough, but coexisting peaceably with housemates in such an intentional community is no small feat.

“As this community grows,” he notes, “there are more and more conflicts, which are beautiful opportunities for us to grow and deepen together.”

But what pushes him past the moments of discord is his unwavering dedication the bigger picture:

“When I can recognize and identify with larger wholes speaking through me, and I can engage in these conflicts with love and intention and intensity—wanting to uncover the wisdom that’s beneath them rather than shrinking—I’ve found that engaging in conflict is one of those things that’s a challenge and a deep gift for me.”

In hearing Adelaja speak, I was reminded of a story of Gandhi—who had a practice of being silent on Mondays. One Monday, he stepped off a train to a swarming crowd and was approached by a reporter, who shouted, “Gandhi! Give us a message!”

Gandhi took out a piece of paper, scrawled some letters on it, and handed it to the reporter as he continued on to his destination.

The report stopped and opened the paper. On it, were five words:

My life is my message.

In that same spirit, Adelaja Simon is one who shows rather than tells.

He uses his body and life as a vessel to lift others up. Whether he’s farming, cooking food for weekly Awakin gatherings, meditating at a volatile demonstration, speaking at schools, or accompanying you on a walk, he is one of those rare souls who consistently stands up for his beliefs, and in such a gentle, unassuming way that he instantly touches your heart.

Adelaja Simon lives in East Oakland, where he is an active permaculturist in the Canticle Farm community, on the Occupy Farm Committee, and beyond. Casa de Paz is located between two gangs in Fruitvale, Oakland. Learn more about its shared values here.

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