People’s Stories

May 6, 2009 Leave a comment

Sitting in the Atlanta Airport with some random thoughts. Marianne and I worked with a pretty amazing group of LGBT Funders this past Sunday, talking about systems thinking and how it can be used to create strategies to move the community forward in these economic times. It was a wonderful and very inspiring session, in large part because of the amazing people in the room and their willingness to grab hold and go deep right away.

I then went and spent a couple of days with old friends in Birmingham, Alabama – a wonderful time both because Dorothy and Cindy are such amazing humans, because we’ve now known each other for 20 years (we met in 1989 when I was helping bring the NAMES Project Quilt around the country), and because being someplace else often brings new things to light.

One of those was that we went Monday and tried to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (which is, unfortunately for me, closed on Mondays), and instead walked through the Kelly Ingram Park across the street, the former staging area for large civil rights demonstrations where fire hoses and police dogs were set on the demonstrators, most of whom were children. The park is now full of amazing statues of the demonstrators and has been dedicated as “A Place of Revolution and Reconciliation,” words which are read throughout the park and at every entrance. The park is across from the Civil Rights Institute, kitty corner from the 16th Street Baptist Church and around the corner from the motel where King and others stayed in Birmingham. This is important history to me, and I’ve spent much time over the years reading these stories, learning about the people and events. To my friends, on the other hand, these were people they knew – or know now. The father of one of the girls who was killed in the bombing is a photographer they know well. Dorothy’s uncle was one of Rosa Parks’ attorneys – and almost every name and every picture is someone she knew or knows. The stories and people are alive and contextualized as she talks about them. It is not history from a book or a documentary, but a part of her life.

As, when the movie Milk was playing last year, many of the “characters” are people I know. Real people who were involved in making change.

So again and again and again, it is people’s stories that light my imagination, that show that change is possible, and prove that resilience is all around us. I’m grateful for the generosity that allows people to share their stories. And am walking through the airport in a different way right now – wondering what stories these thousands of people, heading someplace or another, carry.

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  • Curtis says:

    Amen! Beautifully put, Linda. Resonates with my growing conviction that we need to do a lot more work around getting people to tell their stories in our work. Melinda and I have been looking into the connection between storytelling and complexity. Good stuff from Dave Snowden on this, as well as http://www.anecdote.com. The story you tell in your post went right to my heart, as well as my head, and think that’s the point!

  • Linda says:

    There’s also some great work done both in psychotherapy and in the conflict resolution world about the use of stories to move individuals and groups forward – examining how our stories keep us where we are and creating future stories that work for everyone in a group.

  • Gibran says:

    I’m with Curtis on this one Linda, so real, specially knowing what I do know about your own story, amazing how in this world of mass-everything, what still matters is the very real, very specific, personal story of the human being affected by history and its unfolding.

  • Melinda says:

    Poignant post, Linda.

    Reminds me the 19th century preacher Phillips Brooks’ famous definition of preaching: “the communication of truth through personality”.

    I suppose a similar analogy could be drawn of the art and telling of Story. Hence, its unique ability to reach into, and across, our hearts.

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