Oct 1, 2018 3 min read

Storytelling for Meaning-Making, Healing, and Identity

Storytelling for Meaning-Making, Healing, and Identity
Photo of Guest, Patrice O'Neill
We don’t turn to story to escape reality, we turn to story to navigate reality. - Lisa Cron

It started with graves being overturned at the Jewish cemetery. Then, skinheads started showing up at a Black church in the local community, and other denominations met, other faith groups met, and they sent their congregants there to stand with the Black church, and the skinheads went away. When a Native American woman's house was plastered with racist graffiti, 30 members of the Painter’s Union came in to paint it over, and one hundred neighbors were there to watch. So, the town started learning what they could do together.  

The culminating event took place when a six-year-old Jewish boy placed a menorah in his window for Hanukkah, and a brick was thrown into the window, and it landed on his bed. People knew that the stakes were getting higher. This was getting more dangerous. So, they started saying, what if we're all Jewish? And they started making these paper menorahs, printing them, sending them to the dry cleaner and the Quick Way. Then the newspaper, the local newspaper printed a full-page banner urging people to put these menorahs in their windows. And that year, ten thousand people put menorahs in their windows, and the white supremacist organizing stopped.  

It’s not that hate has gone away in Billings, Montana, but this was a successful strategy. And we told that story in a film that we did about Billings called Not in Our Town, and the name Not in Our Town came from a sporting goods store and a sign that was on the store during the time when there was so much activity in Billings. It said, “No hate. No fear. No violence. Not in Our Town.” 

—Excerpt from my interview with Patrice O’Neill

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Maybe we could say that a good story is a way to discover our truth.

Stories can be used to remember, heal, and build an understanding of our shared truth. Stories can also be used for inspiration, motivation and to build or re-build community identity.

In the excerpt above, we saw how Patrice O'Neill used her gift for film and storytelling to inspire conversation and positive change.

What I found is that stories of hope and stories that show what people can do in their daily lives to make it better for their neighbors, to really reach out to each other, and find a story that tells the story of us, that is positive, that is inclusive, people are longing for that. And that’s the kind of story that we seek out. We know it’s there. It is there all across this country. It’s being overlooked now, in the face of a lot of scary things that people are dealing with a lot of stress and anger and fear. And yet, we know that when these stories about what we can do together are put forward they carry forward and they help give us some guidance and hope about a new narrative that we can tell about our community. – Patrice O'Neill

What are the stories you could tell about your own community?

Who are your local storytellers, your experienced or budding filmmakers? What stories can you surface that can help you discover your truth and that can give you, as Patrice says, guidance and hope about a new narrative that you can tell about your community? Find those stories. Tell them. Create your own videos, then share those stories in your own screenings. Allow those moments to irrigate the ground of your community, to touch and open hearts, and to be part of preparing the soil for what is to come.

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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