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Amplifying Voices for Racial Equity in MD-DC-VA

by Story Tapestries Inc.
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Amplifying Voices for Racial Equity in MD-DC-VA
Amplifying Voices for Racial Equity in MD-DC-VA
Amplifying Voices for Racial Equity in MD-DC-VA
Amplifying Voices for Racial Equity in MD-DC-VA
Amplifying Voices for Racial Equity in MD-DC-VA
Amplifying Voices for Racial Equity in MD-DC-VA
Amplifying Voices for Racial Equity in MD-DC-VA
Amplifying Voices for Racial Equity in MD-DC-VA
Amplifying Voices for Racial Equity in MD-DC-VA

Channeling my inner Mr. Rogers

We are in uncharted and scary times. Like so many all over the world, performers and workshop leaders like me saw our livelihood vanish overnight with festivals, conferences and live school events cancelled everywhere. It has been an emotional rollercoaster and a challenge to gather my energy or feel centered.

Story Tapestries invited me to offer my work in a virtual format. At first, I couldn’t imagine it. 

Not only was I feeling lifeless and not in the least bit creative – but how do I tell stories without a live audience? Storytelling is a communicative event in space and time! It is a relationship.  My style is highly interactive and physical, with audience participation the driving force of the story. How do I create a relationship across screens? And with everyone muted, as they need to be in order for Zoom to function well, how do I hear their reactions? How do I know if they are even listening? If they like it?

Then I remembered Mr. Rogers. He was the first television show I had ever seen in my life. It was August 1968, I was ten years old, just arrived from Israel with my family for my father’s two-year sabbatical at Sandford University in California. I didn’t know a word of English but there he was, Mr. Rogers on the screen, in color, and it felt like he was talking to me! I still remember the sense of connection I felt as he spoke with that gentle voice, his eyes looking straight into mine, inviting me into his neighborhood.

Channeling my inner Mr. Rogers, I ventured into ZoomLand. I welcomed the children and invited them to answer back by showing with thumbs up when I ask a question, to twinkle with their hands to show appreciation. Then, like him, I looked into the camera so to my viewers it would look like I’m looking directly at them. I slowed down. I slowed down a lot. I minimized and gathered my gestures. I was sensing the presence of the children rather than actually seeing them in the little boxes on the screen. I put my trust in my craft and imagination, put my faith in the story and dove into it.

It brought me more joy than I can put in words. All the chaos and hurt of the world vanished. All the worries and fears disappeared. I found myself moved to tears seeing wide eyes children, on a parent’s lap, or sprawled on the couch or bed, smiling or jumping up and down in glee. It wasn't the same as being in a live event, but we were connecting. I felt ALIVE and less alone

To my great surprise I discovered there were gifts in this strange ZoomLand: People who couldn't come to a live performance before showed up across borders and time zones: families from Singapore and India, together with my next-door neighbors and people from other places in the US. 

And perhaps the biggest gift of all: 5-year-old Kavin from Singapore was so excited about the Hebrew words he learned in our session, his mom turned on the camera so that she would capture what he wanted to share: https://youtu.be/UVKTloKZNjE

I am so grateful to Story Tapestries for this precious opportunity to allow me to continue the work I love in a format people can access at a distance so that we are all protected. It is the next best thing to a live show sharing the same space. 

Storytelling is a powerful reminder that we are all connected. Now more than ever we and our students need our stories, the family stories, the ancient folktales from every culture on this fragile planet, that hold so much wisdom and shine the light into the beauty and resilience of our human spirit.

 

***

To hear more stories, join Story Tapestries for our 10 year Anniversary Celebration - ONLINE! Click here to learn more and consider reserving your seat at our virtual table. Our donors through GlobalGiving get 10% by using this unique discount code: GlobalGivingFriend10. We look forward to celebrating with you!

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In 2020 I’m sure we are all on some level trying to define what is “normal." What is our routine? What do we do on a daily basis to create the world we want for ourselves and others? One way we create "normal" is by the stories we tell. One not besieged by the issues us grown-ups see on the news each night and in reality each day. We are always worried about politicizing children. About exposing them too early to the horrors of the real world. We spoon feed them reality while dunking them head-first into a land of make-believe and fairy tales. How can we tell stories to create a new normal? 

We love it when kids start to tell their own stories. That stage around 3 or 4 when they start telling those meandering tales with no real plot. The story line follows the same path as the child's eyes when they are looking up and back, trying to access the creative parts of their brain. Our first reality, where we learn about love and heroism, is in this make-believe. Telling stories affects how we see each other. The stories we know, but never remember being told to us, are the ones that secretly plan out our personality.

As I sit here trying to decide how to write about PreK learning, in a world where all learning is turned upside down because of national events surrounding how we see and take care of each other, I see how storytelling relates. I want the words that I write and the lessons I develop to lead to a world where we care for each other and see each other for who we really are. Many of us are taught to give soul and agency to two dimensional characters we read about that we never extend to three-dimensional real people who look nothing like us. While sitting in my 3 year-old daughter’s room it becomes evident what my wife and I think will help her on that path. Stories of people who look like her, have similar backgrounds, tastes and desires. This is to fortify her in her own confidence and culture. She is also surrounded by books of situations she might never see and people who aren’t in her community. That is to expand her imagination and hopefully make sure she can extend empathy to those who seem nothing like her.

Studies show that children who read develop more empathy than children who don’t. It’s the natural extension of storytelling, where Mamas and Babas tell morality tales to prepare children to be kind when necessary and fearless when it is called for. It is storytelling that will stop children from growing into adults who see people not like them as “others." And it is the lack of diverse stories being told that stunt the growth of the majority and the minority.

I’m reminded of a story my wife Vanessa tells of seeing a white mother and child at a bookstore. The child picks up one of the rare books with lead characters who have obviously African features. The child’s mother tells her to put it back. “Those books aren’t for you,” she says. What an odd and destructive thought. Africans around the world who are blessed to read are usually surrounded by books with characters who don’t resemble them. It’s part of our indoctrination into the dominant culture. Vanessa fears, as I do, that too many parents see no value in their children learning about the rest of us.

Looking at the percentage of stories you can find with Black leading characters at all lets one know quickly which fictional lives matter. In an age of reckoning with the fact that black lives do not matter to a large portion of America, you start to ask yourself why and how you can make a difference. I am horrified imagining that Black households might still be in the 1960’s as far as their children’s book collections. Reading stories helps children develop empathy. It's probably hard to think Black lives matter if they are "characters" you don't even talk about until you meet Dr. King in grade school. What can we do, as parents (our child’s first librarian and storyteller) to create a new normal? Here are some suggestions for great books my daughter has in her collection:

Thank you Omu (Omu is the Igbo word for Queen)

by Oge Mora 

Sing to the Moon

by Nansubug Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn

I Love My Hair!

By Natasha Anastasia Tarpley

Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Please, Baby, Please

By Spike Lee & Tony Lewis Lee

Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

The most important books are the ones my children will write, so I make sure we start doing it as often as possible. An activity I’m going to start doing more often with my daughter is having her create a children’s chap book. It will be like every other beautiful book on her shelf, just written by her on paper bound with staples. A place for her to draw her spirals that are a million things other than that, and to read the words from the letters she has made up or simply doesn’t have the fine motor skills to draw correctly. But at the end of the day she’s written a book. She’s told her story. A story that needed to be told. Another step in normalizing this crazy world.

_________

If you enjoyed this story, consider joining our 10 Year Anniversary celebration, "A Taste of Story Tapestries." 

What will learning look like 10 years from now? What can we do today to make our classrooms of tomorrow more equitable and accessible? As we celebrate our 10 year annivesary, we reflect on the ways things have changed and imagine the possibilities for the future. In the midst of sad, frustrating, and even angering news, we see a ray of hope in a line of poetry written by a 2nd grader and the smile of a parent who discovered new possibilities for their child.

We invite you to join us as we share these rays of hope during our 10th Anniversary celebration on October 16th. "A Taste of Story Tapestries" is a way for us to connect over food and share with you as a community. Learn more about this special milestone celebration and consider joining us. As a supporter of our work, we are eager to hear YOUR stories about where you were 10 years ago, and where you'd like to be 10 years from now. Please make your story part of our history by sharing this special time together on Friday, October 16th.

Thank you for your amazing contributions that have brought us to today as we imagine our tomorrow!

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Amplify Us: Who Will Survive in America: a 2020 Horror Story 

Poetry has the power to capture a moment and our feelings in a few minutes of reflection and we are finding ourselves in a pivotal moment where all of our inequities as an American are exposed. On top of global riots for the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor & Ahmaud Avery. I wanted our workshop to focus on two poems. The first is “Meet The Boss, joseph” by Dena Rash Guzman, an “I am” poem that calls out the patriarchy but also addresses gun violence, borders, immigration. The poem would allow Carolyn Lowery, a brilliant social justice and race dialogue facilitator, and me to assess participant’s political views. The poem has a rebellious, sassy attitude. 

The second poem, “Who Will Survive in America: A 2017 Horror Story” by Ashley M. Jones, speaks to the current problems we are facing in regards to police brutality. With lines like a “raging wreck from sea to shining sea,” we find ways of twisting the superlatives of our country. The poem addresses how our Starbucks orders take precedence and how people feel “woke” cause they fill their home with Nina Simone. The lines “to wake up knowing your brown arms cannot protect you” and the allusion to the magical Negro trope, where a black character possesses another worldly power and is killed off i.e. The Shining. Resonated with the dozen participants which were largely female identified and African American. The poems that were written started with a Dear America Letter and the responses were full of attitude, biting sarcasm, and believe it or not laughter. 

Carolyn Lowery absorbed all of the group’s feelings of uncertainty, doubt and fear, prompting us to create a greeting card to this transition to COVID life and all the changes that we are all going through. I decided to create an UPSIDE DOWN CARE package, since we seem to be living in an upside down world where Time is not Time but a broken function. 

Want to lift your own voice? Join our Community Poetry Project and submit your own lines of poetry here. We have extended the deadline for submissions to June 10.

Be sure to sign up for Story Tapestries' enewsletter to know about upcoming events, workshops and performances - held online while quarantine continues.

From Story Tapestries' Executive Director, Arianna Ross:

We as an organization, a network of individuals collaborating together, commit to creating safe, equitable spaces for dialogue, both in person and online.  We continue to commit to recruiting and hiring teaching artists of color and board members that reflect the communities we stand with and work alongside.  We commit to continue creating a safe, equitable and inclusive work space where all voices are valued.  We commit resources through the Amplify US! Initiative, to create spaces for stories to be told and heard while shifting the narrative of power.   

Our programming now and will always continue to embrace the diversity of voices needed for dialogue, listening, and understanding to occur.

-----

The author, James Baldwin, warned “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

With that in mind, I offer you two poems:

Listen/watch the recording of the poem, "I Am Not A Virus" 

 

I Am Not A Virus 

for Soo-Jin Lee

by Regie Cabico

 

I am the galactic center 

lit up 

like a birthday cake 

 

Stop asking me how old I am 

or my origins 

 

I am a bent nail 

hidden in a shaggy carpet 

you stepped on 

 

That you forgot 

about when you 

colonized my space

 

I am 

tightening quick sand

 

draining  your 

self-perceived wokeness 

 

cause you listen to Nina Simone 

& went to the African American Museum

 

Fall into MY center 

 

I am a cloud  

rootless and so above you  

 

navigating my space & your privilege 

wherever I go  

 

I Want To Survive America

by Regie Cabico

 

When will black and brown people 

Survive the horror story 

Let me be Sigourney Weaver 

And Newt let me be the one to laser shoot the

Gory alien predator 

I want to be the one who gets to stab the racist boogey man 

With a knitting needle 

Let me for once be the white person 

Who gets to be hero 

But today I wonder if I should even try and save 

America when folks  are willing to save a Target store 

Than one black man’s cry to breathe 

Uttering Mama as his last words 

The complicit action by the Asian police officer 

Disheartens me. You care more for your Apple stores than a human life 

It pains me to know that Madonna will post her African song dancing to Michael Jackson

As solidarity 

So you adopted an African boy does not make you woke 

Watching the Tv show Roots or The Central Park 5 is not woke 

Inequities exist in every facet of life 

It is a virus that we can fix not with plastic bullets or tear gas 

But with our hearts breathing and beating at the same time

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Regie Cabico sharing his rhymes
Regie Cabico sharing his rhymes

War and Grace: Spoken Word Residency at William Wirt Middle School 

By Regie Cabico, Slam Poet and Story Tapestries Teaching Artist

Working with honors 6th grade, 7th grade and ESL 8th grade allowed me to try several strategies to engage students in writing and performing original poetry. The 6th-grade class was open to movement and writing poems with their superpowers and or some romantic telenovela type poetry. The range was staggering. 6th grade generated images and worked together and encouraged each other to perform their work. 8th graders generated 11-word poems and built to performing short poems packed with imagery. The 7th graders excelled with their poems by daring to be open about life and courage moments. I owe a lot to the teacher Ms. Anderson, from Bushwick, who broke the story of loss when losing a brother to violence. We dared to share our fear and courage moments. Students talked about mental health. In a time when parents are trying to understand their children. These students are very articulate, eloquent and fierce with humor and courage. This residency had a strong impact on the students. The 8th graders who read at the culminating slam performed with confidence. The 6th graders brought out young women who do not normally come out of their shells. The 7th graders totally rocked out their fierceness. What follows are samples of some of the 7th-grade students. I am also honored to be able to work at William Wirt Middle School during the spring of 2020 to culminate in a Family Night Poetry Slam.  

 

R. R. (7th Grade William Wirt)

My Soldiers March

When I was young

I was a soldier

Marching past anything that hurt me

Except for the time that my dad left

That was the only thing that broke me

 

My role model

Though always in jail

My rock

Even though he was hail

My loving father, who I adored

Even if he’s the reason behind my scars

 

When he left me

The music stopped

The sky went gray

My heart dropped

 

When he left the family 

Nobody cared

But when he left me in the dust

It was a man down

The war was lost

 

He tried to make things better

But I stopped caring

I stopped depending 

I stopped listening

 

That’s when the soldier came back to me

That’s when I got back up and continued my march

 

So I thank him for going

Because if he didn’t I wouldn’t be as strong

 

G. A.  (7th Grade William Wirt Middle School)

The Definition of Grace 

I am a ball of energy

Calm as the blue sky

Fiery like the sun.

 

My life is never an open window, closed to those who want to know.

I am bold and confident, A river flowing of mixed emotions.

Happiness, Anger, Hatred and I am too vague to be squeezed into the barriers of a closed square.

My shots may never be perfect, But I’ll ALWAYS keep trying.

I am a girl of fire, My zodiac even proves it.

I burn with passion, my life played like the strings of a violin.

I am an imperfect heart, with cuts and bruises that tell my story.

 

Many of my dreams I found too unrealistic so I flushed them down the toilet.

 

I am a girl climbing up the creaky ladder of life, and though I may fall, I always pick myself up.

Sometimes, I am a drowning soul, waves crashing on me despite the hurricane that blows my beliefs away.

I am a girl who always keeps glowing, never giving up.

Like the sun in the day, or the moon in the night.

 

 

D. O. (7th Grade William Wirt Middle School)

Love & Hate

I hate how people call me short, I know I am 

I hate how socks get wet, so mushy

I hate people who are Ungrateful, just appreciate what you have 

I hate homework 

I hate how there are only so many hours in the day

I hate Clothes shopping, I prefer not to be naked, I just don’t like the process of shopping

I hate essays

I hate how I’m growing up

But the thing I hate the most

My brother

But that’s okay 

Because He hates me too

The things I love in Life

I love Fridays 

I love tacos

I love pizza

I love my friends

But most importantly 

The thing I love the most

Memes

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Organization Information

Story Tapestries Inc.

Location: Germantown, MD - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @storytapestriesengage
Project Leader:
Arianna Ross
Germantown, MD United States
$2,775 raised of $15,000 goal
 
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$12,225 to go
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