Story of the Shoe Store Pink Slip

November 20, 2009 3 Comments

I heard a wonderful sacred story yesterday. It was shared by a member of SEIU’s in-house training arm (SEIU is the union representing service workers — janitors, custodians, parking attendants, homecare workers, etc.) in a conference I was asked to attend as a guest faculty member on behalf of IISC. The day began with a brilliant invitation to share personal stories exemplifying  “change” in our lives. The true story that follows was just one of many captivating, poignant, death-defying stories my ears had the pleasure of taking in yesterday. What an experience it was! Herein The Story of the Shoe Store Pink Slip (title mine), as told by “L”:

L’s dad was a shoe salesman during The Great Depression. Things were so bad that the store owner decided to have a Going Out of Business Sale. To help with the burst in customer load, L’s dad asked L, a youngster, to assist at the store.  Excited by the bustle of heavy customer traffic, L’s dad was quick to dampen the mood by pointing out: “If these people had just come beforehand, the store would not be going out of business.”

Soon thereafter, Dad lost his job, and was unable to get work for some time. He “turned in on himself”, becoming bitter and abusive, even blaming L’s mom for things that were not her fault. Their household, and L’s childhood, was never the same.

What Dad was unaware of, however, was a prior decision of the “City Fathers”, as L referred to them, to build a wall around the perimeter of the city to pave the way for national franchises. L’s dad’s lack of awareness and understanding of the broader context for the shoe store closing perhaps fueled his focus of frustration and anger  inward, and upon his loved ones.  L believes that if their dad had an appreciation of the external, systemic conditions that played a part in their family’s personal calamity, things might have been very different.

L shared that it is for this reason that L spends their own life working towards structural change and alongside workers,  like his dad, to help them fight social injustice in constructive, systemic ways.

Imagine how life might be different if the story Dad told himself were another one. Imagine if Dad had encountered storytellers who put a different spin on The Story of the Shoe Store Pink Slip. Imagine how L’s life today might be different if the narrative  lived out before L’s young eyes were of a different content and scope?

Can you attest to the power of story in your own life? How can stories serve purpose as agents of change? How might we wield stories with wisdom?


  • Linda says:

    Great story Melinda! And I wonder whether L would be engaged in structural change work if his father hadn’t told this version of the story! Systems, systems, systems….

  • Cynthia says:

    Thanks Melinda. I’m planning to share this story with folks at Boston Public Health Commission and Kirwan Institute–both involved in racial justice work from a structural perspective.

  • Melinda says:

    Fabulous, Cynthia! Just what I hoped…share stories and tell stories and so on , and so on an so on….and we co-create and re-cast narratives in the change making process. Tell it!

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