The Power of Storytelling Among Our Dear Neighbors Today
By: Elizabeth Powers
As a writer — throughout the second day of the 2022 Federation Event — I was immediately struck by the power of storytelling. We started the day with the amazing keynote from Olga Marina Segura, What Can Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Abolition Teach Catholics About Liberation? In her talk, Olga shared her personal story of being awakened to how colonialism and white supremacy has shaped our world, and how the work of feminist abolitionists and the Black Lives Matters movement opened her to new ways of thinking. Olga spoke about the work that needs to be done in order to bring about what needs to change to create a better world for all people, especially people of color and all those who are marginalized.
During the panel discussion that followed, storytelling also played an important role. Dr. Siabhan May-Washington, Ed.D, shared stories of her experiences as the president of St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City, Missouri. What her talk brought to life for me were the personal stories of ways she is open to communicating with all the members of the school, from the students who convinced the administration to build an apiary on the roof of the school, to the parent who spoke with her about her daughter’s safety if she wore braids to school.
Nina DuBose, a recent St. Joseph Worker-Los Angeles volunteer, shared the story of challenges of living in community and being vulnerable and open in relationships. “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” encapsulates a way of meeting people where they feel important. No one will forget the Snickers commercial after today.
Sr. Thuy Tran (Orange) shared stories from the pandemic, and how the hurt she experienced as a member of the Asian community led to the creation of LOVE (Love for Our Vulnerable Elders). As a result of COVID challenges, Thuy shared that great partnerships and collaborations with others resulted in actions and responses far beyond her imagination.
Casper ter Kuile told the story of how the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text came to be, and how the individuals who related to the podcast, and formed their own online communities, helped and supported each other through difficulties during the pandemic. Casper gave everyone new and exciting ways to think about co-creating communities that respond to emerging needs and new populations.
From each of these speakers, we were told inspiring stories that offered us important insights into the way communities can, and sometimes need to, be transformed. But it is only through true and active listening that we are able to learn the importance of what they have to tell us. The impact of storytelling is only successful if those hearing the story take it to heart, and work to make the changes needed in themselves and their world. Just as we heard on day one, attentive listening to each other is so important.
So how do we unpack these stories of community and radical love? What else can they teach us about the needs of our world? It is not enough to hear these stories and be inspired by them. We must take action, to do the work that lies at the core of the storytelling we experienced today. We must all look at our own stories and determine what must change in our narratives to answer the call to love and serve all of our dear neighbors in the ways they need us to today.
[Elizabeth Powers is the communications manager for the Congregation of St. Joseph]