I know I am not alone in my feeling of angst and rage over the death of Michael Brown , yet another unarmed Black male slaughtered. I also knew I was not alone as I searched and prayed and prayed and searched for the ONE THING I could do.
Over and over I tried to come up with something. What is there for me to do as an African? What is there for me to do as a storyteller?
Some have taken to the streets to express their anger and frustration. Some are organizing and planning. Where are the storytellers in this crisis?
I reached out to the storytellers’ storyteller, my mentor, Baba Jamal Koram. After talking to Baba I felt more settled. I began to get some inkling of an idea of what story to tell. After talking to my other mentor, the one many of us call “the storyteller’s scholar”, Caroliese Frink Reed, the idea was fleshed out some more, but not fully enough to articulate to anyone.
Then I went and read my internal artistic mission statement.
“Words are how I metabolize life. What is produced from that metabolism is stories, songs, and poetry that help me make sense out the senseless, heal from unimaginable pain, and love again and again and again. The sharing of those stories, songs and poetry helps my audience do the same.”
To be a part of the healing around Mike Brown’s death and the thousands upon thousands of others, I do not know if I have to create a new story or song or poem. I do not know if it is an old story or song or poem. I DO know my work to do is in words.
During the protests and outcry after the death of Trayvon Martin , I told an old story to middle school students in Philadelphia. I set up the story by saying, “The story I am about to tell you is a hard story to tell. It is a difficult story to tell. You will find it hard to understand. You may remark ‘Things were crazy in the olden days!’ This is a story about four 18-year-old teenagers who risked arrest, assault and even their very lives on Feb. 1, 1960, when they made the choice to sit at a snack bar.”
Immediately, I could hear rumblings from the youth in the audience confirming for me that they thought the story was hard to believe. I then said, “Thirty years from now you will be about my age; and you will have to explain to some young people how a 17-year- old could be shot and killed near his home while talking on a phone to his friend and after simply buying Skittles and Arizona ice tea.”
What I heard next was a mixture of shock, understanding and disbelief all rolled together. But I knew I had them!
And I knew this auditorium full of middle school students were ripe and ready to not only hear the story of the Greensboro Four, but now they could also probably see themselves at the counter. Now they could possibly see themselves in the street protesting inequality not just then, but now.
I concluded the story by saying that any meaningful change that has ever happened in the world has happened when young people were organized and galvanized to fight for change.
I then sang the words of freedom fighter, Ella Baker, “I believe young people come first. They have the courage where we fail.”
Yeah, I do not know what has to come forth from my mouth at this time for this healing, but I do know that something will come. What say you, storyteller?
TAHIRA’s name is legally spelled with all capital letters to serve as a reminder that a storyteller has a HUGE responsibility to the community. TAHIRA, a Featured Teller for the 2014 National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. “In The Tradition” Festival & Conference, she is also the current treasurer and past president of Keepers Of The Culture, Inc., a NABS affiliate. To find out more about TAHIRA visit her website at www.TAHIRAproductions.com