Rachel’s Re-Awakenings & Reflections-inspired by National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival, Part 4 of 9

This is the fourth of nine parts to focus on each of the nine days of the National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival that occurred May 30-June 7, 2020. Enjoy biggest moments and action items as a result of the experience for Story Crossroads and on the storytelling world in general.

9-Parts for the 9 Days:

  • Part 1 – May 30, 2020 – Pre-Conferences/Preparations – REVEALED
  • Part 2 – May 31, 2020 – Official Day 1 – REVEALED
  • Part 3 – June 1, 2020 – Official Day 2 – REVEALED
  • Part 4 – June 2, 2020 – Official Day 3 – TODAY
  • Part 5 – June 3, 2020 – Official Day 4
  • Part 6 – June 4, 2020 – Official Day 5
  • Part 7 – June 5, 2020 – Official Day 6
  • Part 8 – June 6, 2020 – Official Day 7
  • Part 9 – June 7, 2020 – Official Day 8

The drive to help the world and find social justice for all was strong on this day…

Susan O’Halloran personifies “social justice” as do so many storytellers. All that they do and who they are exude the feeling that bridges can be built and understandings can be met if we take the time to listen to each other. The timing of the social justice concerts and workshops was phenomenal as people struggled on what action to take ever since George Floyd’s death.

To add to this charge to better the world, we experienced storytelling from South America as well as the North Central Region of the United States.

So be prepared to be wowed.

Events of June 2 and Reflections–

10:00 am CDT: Performance: A Showcase of Social Justice Stories with Susan O’Halloran (Emcee), Sheila Arnold, Laura Packer, Archy Jamjun, Jasmin Cardenas, Rives Collins, Diane Ferlatte, and Arif Choudhury, Can stories make a difference in how we see the world and each other? Come hear a sample of social justice stories by eight diverse tellers whose repertoires include stories that artfully raise awareness and motivate action about pressing social issues.

Was anyone supposed to experience these stories without crying? Storytelling can be flooded with crying, especially when you have true experiences as shared by Sheila Arnold. She is always a happy and supportive person, and she kept that smile amid her own tears while telling when her 31-year-old son faced a dangerous situation with law enforcement. People need to see this story, which you can find by clicking here. So far, there has been 228 shares on Facebook and 8,900+ views to give an idea of the impact of her story.

Sheila Arnold had me cry for a different event hosted by Story Crossroads called “The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities” when she portrayed Oney Judge, maidservant of Martha Washington. The heart-wrenching injustices of the past can still be seen today though called by other names.

Laura Packer shared an experience that felt familiar. She was violated as someone searched through her hair for horns because she was Jewish. Thankfully, I never had it to that extreme, but I had a time when I was collecting money on my newspaper route and this tall burly well-groomed old man accused me of having horns because I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nicknamed many times as Mormons). I have no idea how that was even brought up. Maybe I was wearing a Brigham Young University t-shirt? Was I singing a hymn, as I do love to sing–and did sing–while on the newspaper route? I don’t know. The fact that someone truly thought I would have horns is beyond my ability to reason. The fact that Laura had someone so convinced that horns would be upon her head? The amazing, caring, and poignant Laura? Oh, I wish I could have traveled in time and been there to defend her as a child…and perhaps giving me the strength needed to face my own demon at the door.

12:00 pm CDT: Workshop: Social Justice Stories: Edutainment at Its Best with Susan O’Halloran, Noa Baum, Nancy Donoval, Charlotte Blake Alston and Judith Black, You have something to say in a story, but how do you say it without sounding too pushy, opinionated or downright boring? Noa Baum, Nancy Donoval, Charlotte Blake Alston and Judith Black join Sue O’Halloran for a panel discussion exploring the craft of social justice stories. How do you combine education and entertainment into social justice stories that respect, enlighten and emotionally move your audiences? This session is perfect for non-profit and organizational leaders, ministers and storytellers of all experience levels.

This workshop brought back what Elizabeth Ellis shared in her keynote. “You can’t build a bridge out of soap boxes.” This is always a risk when delving into social justice stories.

Nancy Donoval’s approach was awe-inspiring. She said, “I couldn’t talk first, I had to listen.” She had the horrific experience of being date-raped. It took at least 15 years before she could tell the story. She eventually had the courage to listen to the stories of the young men who were part of the same fraternity of her attacker. She listened before sharing her part, her story. That act alone opened them to what she had to say.

I was disturbed by what Charlotte Blake Alston experienced while being a “Person of Color” at a formal sit-down event in the 1980s. The people sitting down were white. The people serving were black. The way people addressed each other was different with the attendees being called by full names with titles and the servers called by first name as someone would call a little kid. She pointed out the inequities. She suggested that it could be a buffet rather than a catered meal, The organizers would not hear of it. She was told, “You don’t have to come if you don’t feel comfortable.” Oh, that boiled me up! Then I thought…has any of that happened through Story Crossroads? What would be an audit, a formal review of our organization and events be like? I would be open to anything to help avoid the blind spots that we all have in one way or another.

I could go on with the eye-opening moments. Always, I wondered, “Is it I?”

Have you asked that question before? Often, we don’t want to hear the answers.

Susan O’Halloran asked, “How am I like what I am wanting to change?”

This workshop could have been a full day, a full week, or a full semester. No matter the length of time, I hope my re-awakenings stay with me forever.

1:45 pm CDT Lunch Meet & Greet with Storytelling in Organizations

I went into spy mode while attending this conversation with people connected to Storytelling in Organizations, special interest group of the National Storytelling Network. Julienne Ryan, SIO Chair, invited people to share thoughts and experiences. Some people wondered “How do I break into that business world?” One person said it can be hard to “make it” as some organizations won’t allow to be mentioned or for you to use pictures or videos in promotional materials. Yikes!

With Story Crossroads, our main focus is on teachers and students. We are more educational-based between our storytelling workshops or the feed-in-festival that have in and out of school residencies. Then, for the Festival itself, we have field trip offerings. Except for wanting corporate sponsors, we have not done much in this business world.

This gathering reminded me of the many industries and professions in the world…and all need the benefits and strength of storytelling. The potential is dizzying.

3:00 pm CDT: Workshop: Stories for Social Change: Mobilizing Narratives to Cultivate Agency & Social Entrepreneurship in Global Development with Sara Surani, This session explores how storytelling can cultivate agency, inspire entrepreneurship, and improve development outcomes. Based on workshops with youth in the Amazon, this workshop equips participants with how to facilitate and sustain storytelling workshops in a community, and steps required to mobilize these stories to encourage empathy and reduce disconnect between programs and people’s needs.

It was fascinating to see Sara Surani’s approach as she considers herself as a story enthusiast rather than as a storyteller. It felt as if she was unprepared to be with a whole room (virtual room) of people who are almost all professional storytellers or who use storytelling constantly. Despite this impression, she had a remarkable and amazing activity where we needed to take three pictures. She gave us a few minutes to do the task. We needed a picture to represent our strength, our challenge, and our dream.

Here is what I took:

The old-time phone is actually able to be used in modern times. I felt my strength is in combining the old/traditional ways of things with the new/modern times. The phone also links to the ability to communicate.

The ripped Barbie RV instruction paper was the challenge, the divisions all around. People were protesting in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah and throughout the nation and world due to the injustices of George Floyd’s death.

As for a dream, I had a picture of “Eternally Ever After” to be with my family forever. We adopted all three of our kids and are sealed together. The dream is to be together beyond this time on earth.

Sara works with 20,000+ youth in the Amazon and Nicaragua with these exciting activities. I must reach out to her and find out more. With Story Crossroads, we work with youth all the time, and we could help each other. I am sure of it!

5:00 pm CDT: Voices From Latin America with Tania Castro Gonzales, Natalia Dávila (Supay Warmi), Maria Elisa Palacios, Valentina Ortiz, and Jennifer Boni, Voices of Latin America weaves the stories of popular and ancient tradition of Ecuador, Colombia, México and Peru. Five women of great experience in the storytelling world of their regions, will unite their words to salute Mother Earth from the ancient knowledge of the Andes and Aztec people, give voice to the wise women of the indigenous worlds and honor their African heritage.

I have been lucky to travel to the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls. I went on a cruise because my husband’s parents celebrated 50 years, and I got to travel to Greece, Montenegro, and so much more for the first time. I certainly have never been to South America. Yet, I did through this wonderful concert.

I was soaking every moment from learning about the Quechua indigenous traditions to discovering the recipe and significance of a sacred beverage from Ecuadorian Andes. I was most impressed by Valentina Ortiz, who used the musical instrument…of herself! All over her body was a place to emphasize different characters and actions. I was mesmerized. I wanted her to continue this story music.

7:00 pm CDT: North Central Regional Spotlight Performance, Emceed by Megan Wells, Featuring Julie McGhee, Darrin Crow, Jeff Doyle, Richard Rousseau, Sadarri Saskill, Beth Horner

My attention was captured by Sadarri Saskill with her animation and techniques. Though, I was also remembering when I saw her and her daughters perform…maybe 15+ years ago? She is also from Wisconsin, and that is where I grew up. I longed to step through the screen and give her a hug and reminisce. I wanted to find out what her talented daughters were up to and hopefully hear them tell as well.

I reflected on the importance of a mother–a parent–who supports and teaches the art of storytelling. We need more parents, grandparents, family members of all kinds, to respond to the call.

Thank you for taking part in this re-awakening journey for me. Please post comments, and we can continue the discussion.

We did this 9-part Blog Series in anticipation of the Digital Library being put together by the National Storytelling Network. Whether or not you attended virtually, you can still access the recordings through pay-per-view options. More details to come soon and will be at http://www.storynet.org/virtual-conference/.

See our already-streamed/recorded The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities with three options to watch it featuring our panelists: Dr. Caroliese Frink Reed, Sheila Arnold, Darci Tucker, and Brian “Fox” Ellis. We are grateful to funding from Utah Humanities.

See our 5-video playlist from the Story Crossroads Spectacular by clicking here