Monday, July 6, 2015

The (storytelling) work I love to do...

Teaching during StoriesLive-5 at Worcester South Community High this winter.
Over the past few months I was invited to teach storytelling skills to nonprofits and communities who will use their stories to make important social change. This is exactly the kind of work I love to do and hope to do more of when I transition from an administrator of a nonprofit to a working artist, freelance facilitator and agitator/instigator. Here are few snapshots of the groups and their work.

Horace Small,
May 16th 2015 Storytelling Workshop for the Howard Rye Institute
HRI teaches young people of African descent to be community leaders, activists and organizers to advocate for themselves and their community. HRI fellows learn the importance of history and how it relates to issues communities face today; develop an understanding of how institutions work and the politics behind them; develop the political and economic thinking that goes into issues and systems impacting our community. In developing the next generation of civic and political leaders, HRI uses experts and prominent leaders from universities, unions, government, business and nonprofits as trainers, speakers and mentors.
It was a warm Saturday and Centre Street in JP was busy. When I arrived  at the church hall, Horace Small, the project director,  told me to head up stairs and he'd be right back after he ran a quick errand. I started as I often do by asking participants what they already knew about storytelling and what they wanted to learn. Next I ask participants to think of an experience they can use to turn into a story. I emphasize that it needn't be a huge event - in fact the lower the stakes, the easier to work on skills and structure.   Horace was back right on time as I said one good story calls another and I asked him to tell a story. I was remembering his telling about being a conscientious objector back in the day the last time we had done this workshop together. But Horace had a more recent tale to tell. "Oh yes, I have a story to tell!" While on his errand Horace had been drawn into a strange altercation. "I saw this white dude punch a quadriplegic right in the face. In the face! Seemed like he may have run over the guy's feet with his chair? Not sure. But this young guy clocked him, right in the face! He hit a man in a wheel chair!!  Right in front of all these people waiting to get into Centre Street CafĂ©,  you know, just past JP Licks. So I step in and intervene. I say 'Hey man, Check yourself. You can't hit someone in wheelchair.  What are you doing?' And I am still talking to the perp when up comes two of Boston's finest.  Without a single question the police come right up to me and immediately put their hands on me! And I stop them. And I start to explain. (The quadriplegic man is well known in the area as a fierce advocate for handicapped rights and is unable to speak.- Ed.) Even with all these witnesses, all these folks waiting for their brunches and all, no one says one thing in my defense." It took a while but Horace says that finally some older white woman spoke up and said, "Why are you bothering him? And she pointed to the young white guy. "He did it."  Horace had work to do so he left that sorry scene and brought back his story, fresh from the racist streets of America. Even in integrated, enlightened Jamaica Plain, when faced with a street incident, by default it always the black man who is at fault. And it takes some time for white people to step up and confront racism.  As you can imagine, some amazing stories followed.

January 2015 - June 2105 Homelessness Speakers Bureau - developing workshops to help advocates tell their stories. 
The Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA) is a nonprofit public policy advocacy organization dedicated to ending homelessness in Massachusetts. Through strategic partnerships formed with government, private philanthropy, business leaders, homeless individuals, and service providers, MHSA works to ensure that homelessness does not become a permanent part of the social landscape. Faces of Homelessness Speakers' Bureau. The believe as we do that "Everyone has a story. Everyone deserves a place to call home. The Massachusetts Faces of Homelessness Speakers' Bureau is a group of currently and formerly homeless individuals who are passionate about sharing their personal stories of homelessness while advocating for solutions to end it. MHSA established the Speakers' Bureau in 2010, supported by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The presentations we give draw upon the speakers' powerful firsthand experiences with homelessness as well as MHSA's years of advocacy expertise. Our mission is to raise awareness, educate on the realities of homelessness, and inspire audiences with a call to social action." When Alex Loghran Lemothe from the MHSA called us and asked for help with teaching storytelling skills to help end homelessness, I was enthusiastic. The right to safe shelter is a human right. According to wiki" "In international human rights law the right to housing is regarded as a freestanding right. This was clarified in the 1991 General Comment no 4 on Adequate Housing by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights." Alex is working with people who work to make the right to housing a reality.
MAHT @ Harriet Tubman House
Since January we set to work making a custom curriculum for MHSA based on my StoriesLive curriculum. I went to some of his speaker's events and on his end, in addition to observing our work in high schools, Alex volunteered as a judge the BigMouth Off and our Regional high School slam in May. We met several times throughout the winter and spring to review his modifications and additions. I hope to have an update to share, soon.
Over the past four years have been honored to be even a small part of the work of these two (MAHT and UMN) nonprofits below who are on the front lines of the fight for social justice. We share space with them at the Haymarket People's Fund building and this has been just one of many benefits of our association with Haymarket's mission and community. June 6th 2015 Telling Your Stories, Saving Your Homes The Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants (MAHT and also the national group, NAHT are our neighbors) At their Annual Meeting they asked for a Custom Workshop for the only resident-run, membership coalition providing organizing and technical assistance to HUD tenants in Eastern and Central Massachusetts. Their mission is to preserve and improve at-risk HUD buildings as permanently affordable housing with a maximum of resident participation, ownership, and control. After a successful event at their national meeting 2 years ago, I was invited to run a workshop at their annual meeting this spring  The participants totally "got" storytelling, sharpened their skills and were so enthused about story they stayed for extra story sharing after the workshop had ended. To get the flavor of some of the stories, below is a short video from the National conference,  that has a powerful 1 minute story about an "Aha" moment of empowerment from housing activist, Charlotte Delgado - (story starts at 00:27).

The principles of effective storytelling...
UMN Public Speaking Workshop - telling your stories so people cannot forget them.  June 17 and June 23rd 2015  The voices of poor people of color are muted in civic life. Without knowledge of the systems at play, communities of color are unprepared to confront policies that adversely affect their communities. The Union of Minority Neighborhoods has several leadership training programs to develop skilled organizers, advocates and new leaders and to increase the engagement of Black and Brown community in the political system. We are creating a training-to-organizing pipeline by incorporating participants from our Institutes into our Institute for Neighborhood Leadership works to increase the knowledge and skills of grassroots activists and organizations of color through a series of trainings held in Boston. Designed for people of color, the Institute for Neighborhood Leadership holds workshops that provide a safe space for community members to speak freely about their issues, concerns, and experiences, as well as training in the skills of organizing and citizen empowerment.campaigns. The Institute for Neighborhood Leadership works to increase the knowledge and skills of grassroots activists and organizations of color through a series of trainings held in Boston. Designed for people of color, the Institute for Neighborhood Leadership holds workshops that provide a safe space for community members to speak freely about their issues, concerns, and experiences, as well as training in the skills of organizing and citizen empowerment. The UMN workshops were really focused on "public speaking " skills.  In this workshop we also grappled with the effects of racism on a speaker of color's authentic voice as well as more general skills. In both of these workshops many of the participants were seasoned speakers who had powerful voices and amazing presentation abilities which they shared with those who were less sure or who were less aware of their skills. Their stories of injustice and courage were inspiring.
...are the same, everywhere.  Storytelling is for humans.
Story Telling Workshop at Sunday Members’ Meeting June 28th 2015 EPOCA:Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement - Working together to create resources and opportunities for those who have paid their debt to society EPOCA Membership Meeting Sunday, June 28th 4:30- 6:30 p.m. Guest Speaker: Norah Dooley, Storyteller & Author Norah will lead a Storytelling Training to enhance our one-to-one intentional conversations. 4 King Street, Worcester MA 01610. 508-287-8430 Cassandra Bensahih was a participant in the MAHT workshop and she invited me to teach a workshop for her group. Ever since a young friend of mine was involved in the aptly named "criminal" justice [sic] system 19 years ago I have been painfully aware of the true nature of the prison-industrial-complex. From the view of a young man imprisoned under a mandatory 10 year sentence to a maximum security prison in MA I saw through his experiences the "criminal" justice system and its predatory nature. I learned how the prison system attacks people of color and the poor. I saw, up close and personal, how all this has a disastrous effect on our civil society. Again I was honored to be a part of this important social justice work at EPOCA.

It is a great joy to be able to use storytelling to help good people, help themselves. I look forward to doing more.