Can A Story Make A Difference?
By Erika Duncan
Can a story make a difference? Can it wake a sleeping heart? What will it take to allow something that happened particularly to us, to be engraved in the memory of another person, in a way that will motivate them to act? Can our words form the images that will allow us to experience our collective memories so that we can truly journey together?
These were the questions that gave birth to Herstory’s “Stories for Liberation” nine months ago — the time that it takes for a newborn baby to come into the world — a story a week, each one with its own indelible image, never to be forgotten.
Nine months ago, 65 poets, writers, organizational leaders, students, teachers, and activists gathered in Patchogue for a Freedom Forum, with the goal of generating new stories for change. Teachers who were present asked for the stories of the young people who crossed the border by themselves that were read that day to be collected into a book. And so, our book Brave Journeys was born, making its way into one classroom after another, and into more and more school districts, wherever there was a need to teach empathy and give young people a voice.
What would happen if every art teacher asked their students to read a story a week, as they appear on this website, creating their own illustrations in a way that would allow them to experience each story in their hearts? What would happen if every instructor teaching English or English as a New Language had their students read these stories, in order to write their own stories as a response? What would happen if every Social Studies teacher used the stories to teach our nation’s history, celebrating those present day heroes among us, alongside the heroes of the past? Could these stories become engraved in the hearts of both newcomers and those who have been taught to fear the newcomer?
As I think of these questions, my mind wanders back to a moment more than 10 years ago, when I was driving with one of our Herstory writers, trying to navigate between my broken Spanish and her broken English while I took the wheel. I couldn’t see the expression on her face as she told me how she had gone to visit a neighbor that morning, to join the family for breakfast and find the newborn baby crying inconsolably. His mother had been taken away by ICE in the middle of the night, and his heart seemed to know it, as one person after another tried to rock him or feed him a bottle, but nothing worked.
Finally, the father had taken off his T-shirt and put the baby to his nipple. That was all—but an image was ineradicably engraved in my heart, that took my work to a much more urgent level. I can still see that father with his baby every time that I think of the cruelty of family separation and every time a new story crosses into my heart.
Corazon was the first Spanish word that I learned from the storyteller, as we strained to understand one another’s language. Keeping the word in mind, we stretch to understand and get to know one another in a way that will help us take action. I had been working for immigrants’ rights before, but — I cannot explain it — something happened when I heard that story, changing me forever and making me unable rest.
So, I close with a wish and a hope that if you have a story that might change another person’s heart or impart the energy it takes to more fully engage us all in this struggle, please reach out to us and work with our growing cohort of story shapers for this series.