Stories have always been our way of knowing ourselves… as individuals, as families, and as communities. Stories hold and reaffirm our past, our strengths and challenges, our hopes and dreams. With each re-telling, stories shape the world anew.
How might we embrace stories and storytelling as a practice for remembering and re-activating community, especially amidst the disparities endured by people of color? How might stories help us understand the way through the problems that confront us—the problems that persist? If we should look to stories as a way forward, whose stories will we seek out and lift up to be heard?
In Chicago, the Egan Office of DePaul University and black and brown parents from two adjoining communities have explored these questions through a project called the Family Engagement and Coalition Initiative on Chicago’s Westside. The initiative brought together community residents from the two Chicago neighborhoods that have been impacted by crime and gun violence, lack of access to health care, homelessness, under-resourced schools, and lack of job opportunities.
Although the communities geographically border one another with one predominately Mexican and the other African-American there has a cultural divide and a culture of distrust between the two communities. This conflict has overshadowed the two communities’ similar histories of racial oppression and socioeconomic struggles that impede positive relations and the prospect of coalition-building.
The project convened the residents in a series of discussions, and engage them in several storytelling projects to build solidarity. Filmmaker and Story-catcher Seed Lynn worked with the Egan to capture and share stories from residents from both communities. This process has allowed the residents to SEE each other in a much different light. By recognizing and each other’s experiences and perspectives we allow a community to be not only about the things we have in common but what makes us different.
Below, Shavon Coleman from North Lawndale and Carlos Heridia from South Lawndale (La Villita) share their rich stories below.
John Zeigler, Director of the Egan Office, observes: “No matter who you are or where you come from, the human spirit needs to be validated. The juice that nurtures an asset-based approach is the power of the story. It’s important to find ways to allow others the opportunity to discover humanity and the necessity for full citizenship for black and brown bodies in this country—and a tool to do that is storytelling.”