Storytelling From The Soul: Black Women’s Stories Matter

By C. Imani Williams Air Media.org is hosting a Full Spectrum National Storytelling Intensive in Brooklyn, New York, from Dec. 14-18. The...

By C. Imani Williams

Air Media.org is hosting a Full Spectrum National Storytelling Intensive in Brooklyn, New York, from Dec. 14-18. The conference is of interest to storytellers, artists, mid-level journalists, and those with backgrounds in technology and multimedia. I wanted to know more about the opportunity and who would be sharing information that addressed where and how this new thing can help empower Black people.

As I scrolled through the conference information web page, my enthusiasm began to wane. Not one person in the eight-person lineup of conference facilitator bios was Black. Not. One. I read the bios while thinking for the billionth time that organizations that use people of color in their advertisements should actually be held accountable for stepping up their work on inclusiveness and intersection on staff rosters and in programming. Multimedia and technology in storytelling gives us another way of preserving Black history. Furthermore, we can use technology and multimedia tools to dispel the many lies told about us and supported by white supremacy.

Case in point: it is important because these untruths deny our real stories of survival, love, and greatness from being properly shared around the world. Instead, Black women are still being blotted out and ignored or shown across media as loud, controlling, ball-breaking, miserable beings. These tactics work in making us both invisible and forgettable.

However, Air Media has more than 900 members. That's 900 active voices telling news stories, sharing accounts of people's lives and events. Someone might have thought to suggest Black, brown and native voices be included as subject-matter experts. In fact, Black people should receive “Superstar Storyteller” recognition for being magical enough to carry and retain our history and stories from Africa across the diaspora.

Stories of Mother Africa survived in the spirits of stolen Africans, making it across strange waters. In America, Africans found a way to communicate with brothers and sisters already indoctrinated with the expectation that they would die as slaves. When Africans shared stories about villages and life where we ruled as queens and kings, I imagine some felt a jolt in their spirit, a prickling under the skin that planted the seed of rebellion and a desire to “get free.” Our stories matter, not the distorted history purported by white supremacy.

The art of oral storytelling, informally and formally, is rooted in Africa for Black people. Writers as artists offer stories through poetry, prose and spoken word art performance. The rest of us share what we’ve received from elders during porch conversations and family gatherings. Check out the family reunions where elders are honored and ancestors are called in. Those are our stories and when they are passed down, we learn about the resilience and faith of Black people. Black women make excellent storytellers. We’re keepers of culture so we handle the roles of gathering, incorporating, and sharing our collective hers/his/stories while advocating for Black love and unity.

Thankfully, youth are receiving opportunities. During the White House Science Fair last March, President Obama announced a commitment of $240 million for STEM programming. This gives Black youth exposure to careers available in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. There are even STEM programs for toddlers. (It starts early, folks.) It is in our best interest and that of Black communities to ensure our kids are prepared to successfully compete with kids who grew up on STEM.

Thankfully, there is also always someone looking out for the kids in financially strapped urban centers. It is always promising to hear of a sister stepping up with a viable solution. The lack of Black positive images in media moved Ateya M. Ball-Lacy, a Maryland middle school principal, to create and serve as executive producer for Hood Smart: The Urban STEMulus Project. The family reality television show features Black youth selected for their excellence in STEM. During the eight-week show, youth compete for the big prize: college scholarships. This encourages excellence and dispels the ludicrous myth that Black kids can't learn math and science. It shows kids that it is okay to be smart. It reminds parents that encouragement and support can turn out amazingly creative and talented kids.

And as for those who are mid-level professional and Black women? There is funding available for storytelling on a multitude of platforms. We can fight the struggle of seeking inclusion at “their” events or create our own venues. Either way, now is the time to move forward. More than the method, it matters that we are organized and committed to changing the images assigned to us by others.

It's likely the conference planners haven't given much thought to the importance of our contributions and the storytelling movement that has existed both informally and formally throughout Black communities. They probably don't know that today's Black storytellers are a fierce group. They've overlooked how Black people gather and share information that matters to us. They remain unaware that fire spits from spoken word artists about new-day consciousness and the Matter of Black Lives.

Today's movement for civil and human rights is different from the 1960s. This time, the movement for Black freedom is being recorded electronically with the ability to reach millions from a cell phone and Internet connection. Multimedia and technology provide a kick-azz mix. Yet Black elders, who witnessed positive social and racial change, now watch with dismay as the system works overtime policing Black communities in the fashion of Jim Crow. Their stories need recording. The graphic stories of single mothers in poverty, doing the work of two parents in a welfare trap system designed for participants to fail, need to be told. Shaming people for being poor, after creating situations making upward mobility all but impossible, is a bit of a mind fu*k. The ills need acknowledgement and resolution. Too many Black lives are affected from the fallout.

Aligned with tools and a plan, Black women have the power to replace the unimaginable weight of being made to feel invisible with positivity. We're through being ignored. We're over being reduced to black body parts. We're tired of having thousands of Black women college graduates, professionals and entrepreneurs ignored. We’re tired of having those with less education but big azz hearts, who desire to uplift and empower, being further disenfranchised.

We need to understand the implications behind the large number of Black families with one parent (and sometimes both) doing time as the direct result of systematic oppression and racism. In a united community call-to-action, our stories have to reflect where we’ve been, where we are presently, and where we are headed. Working to end black-on-black crime has to be a priority. Equally important is consciousness around police brutality and living in a police state. Both threaten well-being on a multiple levels.

Domestic violence, inferior education and housing, and lack of jobs and preparedness create a cycle of poverty that is hard to break. Poverty is real and so are the Black and brown lives living without safety nets. Our collective stories are for future generations and should be treated with care and maintained at all costs.

So yeah, Air Media organizers, the $850 price tag to attend the upcoming Storytelling Intensive is an outrageously high cost to pay to be ignored. You need to get in on some realness.

Black women and our stories matter. Pay attention. Black women work things out as evidenced by the deft precision Black Twitter used in handling the privileged rant of Nancy Lee Grahn, an actress on General Hospital. The soap star made some nasty tweets towards Viola Davis, her Emmy win, and her acceptance speech.

Davis held it down. She presented a powerful and moving acceptance speech while making herstory as the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama. Grahn couldn’t understand why Viola Davis called Harriet Tubman into the fold of the moment. Black women didn’t have to wonder. We carry the spirit of Mother Harriet in our blood. Davis, knows that because she, too, is a recipient of fierce boldness and courage. Her win and her voice matter to the fabric of our stories as Black women and to our legacy in this country. Davis saying “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity” resonates. This is the message Air Media.org needs to get.

Photo: Shutterstock

C. Imani Williams is a freelance writer and social/human justice activist. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction writing from Antioch University Los Angeles and a Masters in Guidance and Counseling from Eastern Michigan University. Her work has been published in Between the Lines, Tucson Weekly, The Michigan Citizen, Harlem Times and with various popular culture, health, news blogs and magazines. C. Imani is a regular contributor with ForHarriet.com.

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