Martin Luther King Jr. said –
“Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service. As we provide the service to others and not expecting anything in return, we inevitably leave something that people will remember.”
My father is seventy three. He tells the story of how he used to get Sears and Roebuck catalogues and look at all of the wonderful stuff in them. It never occurred to him he could own any of it, but he certainly dreamt about it.
Dad: “Do you know why I never thought I’d have any of that?”
Dad: “There were no black people in those catalogues. I thought all of that stuff was just for white people. I didn’t think there was anything in that world that belonged to me. If you can’t see yourself in a place, you have no idea you can get there.
The story many black children are told is the story of “can’t”. The “can’t” doesn’t start with words, it starts with what they see. No matter what we say, children are influenced by what they see in the world. For so many black kids in America, the “can’t” is everywhere.
You “can’t” achieve.
You “can’t” come in.
You “can’t” so don’t even try.
Your options are limited.
There is no place for you.
This is the story of being invisible. This is the story of being unseen. This is the story of having no place at the table.
Our potential begins with our imagination. What do you want? Who can you be? What is out there for you? How will you spend your life?
The more options you can see, the bigger you can dream. The more you can see, the better your chances of finding your own place in this world.
In my father’s day, there weren’t lots of resources for black kids. There are more today.
Books, however, are not enough. They need to see real life proof in their everyday lives that they can be the things they see in their dreams.
As black storytellers, we bring something into a school, library, or community that only we can bring. We call people together to laugh, or think or play. We teach with music and story. We open a world to a black child that they might not have ever considered. We are a gateway into or out of the lives they are living.
We are a lens through which they can see themselves dreaming bigger.
Our presence tells them – There are people who look like you who have mastery over language. There are people who look like you who can bring people of all colors, faiths, and ideologies together to celebrate humanity. There are people who look like you who shine as bright as any sun.
You can be the maestro. You can be the focus.
Don’t be afraid of your talent.
Don’t be afraid of your love of art or music or words.
Don’t be afraid to be smart or well read.
There is a place for what is in your heart.
Don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t.
When black storytellers take the stage, they let every black child know that they can be seen, and heard, and that they are both beautiful and worthwhile.
From October 31 – November 4th 2018, NABS will hold its 36th annual conference and festival in Cary, NC. Storytellers will be in the schools, and working in the community sharing our work with listeners of all ages who need stories.
What we do is important.
What we show is important.
The hope and joy we bring are important.
We are powerful.