Featuring: Denise Valentine (Posthumously)
Story Mama, Historical Teller and Chautauqua Extraordinaire, Keeper of Traditions
Denise Valentine – Story Mama – had much to share around the world as museums, libraries, and schools opened their doors to her. She said, “My purpose is to build storytelling skills, tools and techniques needed to: reclaim their ancestral names and homeland, reclaim their stories and the authority to become the “storyholders” in their communities.” She traveled to South Africa and studied folklore traditions and then jumped to Jamaica and performed for festivals there. She often welcomed her audiences in more than one language and got people dancing before even getting to the stories. She delighted in being a member of the National Association of Black Storytellers and was also part of a delegation in connection with the National Storytelling Network.
Denise was 60 years old when a heart attack came upon her, and a message went out for extra prayers. Our family sent out prayers as many all over did. Then, I learned that on March 22, 2020, Denise had passed on. I remembered those last hugs when Denise took the plane at the end of our 2018 Story Crossroads Festival. For most of the time, she was herself and at the very end of it all, she became Sojourner Truth. She sang with that lovely voice of hers and thrilled my heart in wanting to know the words of that song as well as she did.
Now a Denise Moment:
When Denise Valentine from Pennsylvania came for the 3rd Annual Story Crossroads Festival, we had her stand and be recognized by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (since renamed as The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square). She specialized in West African stories of her ancestry. Amazingly, the Choir also recognized the President and Board with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Beyond the Broadcast, the Choir did the negro national anthem. Denise was moved to tears. We both got to shake hands with the President of the NAACP, who was interested in Denise’s work and she invited him and the Board to the Festival. The Salt Lake Chapter said they would post it on their webpage. Later that same day, Denise mentioned to me that she is Buddhist and felt that Utah was such a welcoming place of all cultures.
Then, the next day was an article in the Salt Lake Tribune that I shared with Denise so we could reflect on those lovely memories: https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2018/05/17/after-a-historic-meeting-mormon-prophet-russell-nelson-naacp-president-call-for-greater-civility-and-an-end-to-all-prejudice/
More Impressions with Denise:
The Utah Cultural Celebration Center block-booked Denise Valentine on behalf of Redwood Elementary in the Granite School District. I watched as the 4th-6th graders ate up all her words. When Denise announced her time was up, the students all groaned, “No!” When I checked in with the principal later, she said that this outreach performance in the morning was so impactful that she heard kids still talking about Denise at lunchtime.
We invited many congressmen to the Story Crossroads Festival. Mia Love was in Washington D.C. though sent Mike Squires on her behalf. This representative said he fell in love after the first words spoken by Denise Valentine. He was convinced to linger longer and also experienced our self-led Story Walk and was “adopted” by an elementary class for that activity.
I was privileged to attend a 5-hour Intensive Workshop led by Denise Valentine entitled “Walking in Their Shoes: Living History and Storytelling.” We met in the home of one of our Board Members and enjoyed a heart-to-heart on why we delve into historical pieces in the first place. She taught a process that she called “unforgetting and reconnecting.” She had a skill with archival materials such as maps, plantations diaries, and oral histories. As she studied these items, she connected odd coincidences of people, places, and objects. Then, she expanded this further to parallel the past with the present. It was mind-boggling stuff and I wish I could remember all the fascinating details she tumbled out of her mouth. Obviously, I already understood and experienced extreme research when telling historical tales. Though, taking the time to delve deeper—whether it made it to stage or not—can affect how you perceive and take meaning from the world around you.
I wish to honor Denise Valentine more so than this blog post. Tossing around in my mind is the possibility of having a Zoom Panel to honor her as well as feature historical/Chautauqua tales and why we as humans are drawn to presenting in this way. This is still in brainstorm mode, though any details will be shared through Facebook and our website. We will likely use a Zoom Webinar where people can register for free and then be given the link after that registration.
The news of Denise Valentine’s passing is still fresh for me and I want to have the blessing of her family before anything is set in stone.
Remember…Death is not the end. We miss her here, though Death is the beginning of her new adventure. I know she is making those unforgettable connections and having people drop their jaws at her discoveries there. I can imagine a reunion with her friends and family who have gone before and also a special visit from Sojourner Truth herself. I picture her singing, too. Now “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” will have even greater meaning to me. I look forward to when we all see each other again.
Where You Can Hear Her:
We do have footage of her performing and presenting through Story Crossroads, though this will take time as we want to go through her family before anything is available.
I appreciate Denise for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in storytelling and her authentic and beautiful spirit of love.
Denise still has a story. You have a story. We all have stories.