Less than a block away from Union Square Park sits Bluemercury, a cosmetics store where Godni Amir, a singer, songwriter, and actor, works selling makeup and skincare products.
The beauty world is nothing new to 40-year-old Godni, as he is also a makeup artist and has worked for companies like Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, through which he was able to work with celebrities such as Rihanna. However, when he’s not working at Bluemercury, Godni dedicates all of his time and effort to something that is very close to his heart.
In Brooklyn, only a bus ride away from Barclays Center is where A Free Bird’s headquarters are. The diverse and enthusiastic group of volunteers work every day to help Godni in his mission to help kids and teens who are battling cancer express themselves through the arts.
A Free Bird is a non-profit organization that aims to enrich the lives of children who are affected by cancer by allowing them to live out their dreams. Whether it’s singing, dancing, acting, modeling, writing, drawing, painting, photography, or graphic design, A Free Bird works closely with museums, art galleries, musicians, dance companies, and theater companies to help young, aspiring artists reach their full potential.
Godni explained one the most important things to remember when running a non-for-profit is maintaining your professionalism and being respectful to all individuals. “You have to be objective and you have to see the big picture. You have to understand that you’re running a community now. You have to remember it’s not about you anymore—that’s the biggest thing. It’s not about you—it’s about the children, it’s about the mission,” he said.
Since starting A Free Bird in 2011, Godni has worked non-stop in changing the lives of children. He refers to himself as a workaholic and a perfectionist, who always pushes himself to strive for the best.
When I met with Godni during his lunch break, he explained that he was just recovering from being sick, but his zeal said otherwise.
He greeted me with a vibrant smile and started telling me about a radio interview he had done earlier that week where he spoke about A Free Bird. This radio appearance is just one of the organization’s many accomplishments. Godni would never have imagined that he would be President of an organization that has been named one of the country’s top three arts education organizations by Cancer Today.
As a boy, Godni had a passion for helping animals and the environment. He explained how one of his volunteer experiences deeply impacted his life. “I used to volunteer at a facility for Down’s Syndrome children, Autistic children. And the love that I received from them for just bringing them food or for just coming to hang out with them for one day a week was unbelievable,” Godni said excitedly. At this moment, he began to realize that he had the power to change the world.
Godni moved from Israel to New York City to pursue his dreams of acting, singing, dancing and directing. While in New York, he studied acting for two years at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute. He had the opportunity to fly to California and meet with a music producer who saw potential in Godni’s talents. Although he had once dreamed of being recognized for his music, Godni didn’t think this was the path he was supposed to take. “There are probably more things before you’re going hit the world as an actor or as a singer,” Godni said. Even though his mother urged him to do something with his talents, his heart was already set on making a difference. Godni recalls the force working behind him, pushing him to reach a greater mission in life.
However, before finding the inspiration to start a non-profit, Godni reached success as a makeup artist. His time at Bobbi Brown led him to have his name on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily. This helped Godni further establish himself as a makeup artist, as he was able to get his own agent, work with celebrities, work on television shows, and even have his work printed in O, The Oprah Magazine.
“You get your name on the cover—ok great, but next week you have somebody else on the cover,” Godni said as he ate his quinoa salad. Although he was grateful for this big step in his career, Godni wanted to use this opportunity to create something bigger.
When Godni auditioned for season 3 of American Idol in 2004, he had his long-time voice coach, Gail, by his side. She encouraged him every step of the way and today, she is amazed by what Godni has achieved, telling him that the roles have switched and she now learns from him.
Unfortunately, Gail had to give up teaching her singing students when she learned that her husband was diagnosed with cancer. However, Gail decided to keep Godni as her only student because she considered him family. The news also left Godni in shock, especially after seeing his beloved voice coach break down in front of him. Later, Gail would also be diagnosed with cancer.
Inspired by Gail’s strength and her undying passion for the arts even during a most difficult time, Godni went home after one of his Wednesday lessons and wrote a poem called “A Free Bird”. The poem portrayed Gail’s experience through Godni’s eyes and would eventually become the name of his future organization.
While at Starbucks with his friend Alexa, Godni began developing an idea for a program, which he named Fight Free, in which kids would work closely with a tutor under a unique curriculum which is related to the art form they are passionate about. Today, the program is called Take Flight, and it continues to help children express their creative qualities whether it be through learning to play a new instrument or learning to write their own stories.
When it came time to officially open the non-profit, Godni received help from his friend Mark, who helped with all the administrative aspects which Godni was unfamiliar with. “I started utilizing the internet, and I started reading about marketing, public relations, product development, and administration. I read day and night and did research so I could be the leader that I am today,” said Godni. He not only wanted to help the children, but he also wanted to help those who came to work alongside him.
Among A Free Bird’s three main programs is Dream Big, a program that allows children and their guardians to attend exhibits, shows, and events for free at various NYC artistic and cultural institutions. Godni pointed out that experiences like these serve as a form of therapy and help distract the children. Children get the chance to visit art shows and museums or see musicals and even sports events, because, as Godni described, everything is a form of art. A Free Bird strives to inspire children and give them the confidence to be who they want to be as an artist. “Everything they see on TV and they say ‘Wow, I want to be that!’ I need to bring this to their life,” Godni said.
The third program, Fly Free, supplies children with a “Full celebrity treatment” and allows them to showcase their talents. Program members can sing for big crowds and painters can have their work displayed in art galleries. Through Fly Free children and teens can work towards establishing themselves as professional artists.
In 2016, A Free Bird discovered Falyn Vega, a multitalented singer, actor, and photographer. When she was 12 years old, Vega was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. However, she has been in remission for the past four years. “We’re always looking for people who have accomplished things to inspire other children. She was the whole package,” Godni said. During her time with A Free Bird, Vega has achieved countless, wonderful things.
Vega is currently the face of the I Am A Free Bird campaign, which started with the idea to have one teenager and follow her journey of how she fought cancer through the arts. Through the campaign, the organization produced its single “I Am A Free Bird” along with a music video that was released last month. Vega reached a milestone in her singing career when she performed the song with Godni in Madison Square Garden at a WNBA game. What lies ahead is even more exciting; a musical depicting Vega’s battle with cancer is in the works. A promo commercial about the musical will be released this September.
While A Free Bird and its young artists have reached several successes, there are still challenges to overcome. “Like any organization, the biggest obstacle is finance,” Godni said. Organizations need to become self-sustained, and in order to face this issue, A Free Bird has developed its own perfume. Although only available for pre-order, the I Am fragrance will launch this summer and be sold in various stores.
With several things to look forward too, Godni is extremely hopeful for the organization’s future. “My main goal is to help every child in America affected by cancer, and then later also open the doors to children with any kind of disability,” Godni said, radiating with enthusiasm. In order to reach children nationwide, A Free Bird is working on a project called Dream Wide, where children will be introduced to the arts at Dream events around the country.
Godni left me with inspiring words that demonstrated the love he has for the work he has dedicated his life to. “The most important thing—we change the lives of the children. Children who are just able to be exposed to the arts, they’re lives change. They got empowered by doing the things that they never imagined to do.”