To contribute to positive community spirit, especially in diverse communities, it’s important to create safe spaces for people to speak and be heard. Listening to community members tell their stories is a crucial part of building a community’s identity and what’s more, storytelling is a great tool to promote greater understanding for each other and for different perspectives we might have on issues.
You might say that this should be the job of local journalism, and indeed, journalists can play an important role in telling these stories. But, there is so much more we can do in collaboration between local journalists, libraries, community centers and local businesses, by joining forces as citizens of the same community to bring more stories from our neighborhoods to life in a meaningful way.
Here are a few scalable ideas for communities that have storytelling at their heart. Please let us know if you seek support in starting any of these ideas and contact us at [email protected]
Pedal to Porch
Pedal to Porch is like a bike tourist tour through your community. Only, there are no important landmarks on the way. Instead, you make stops at residents’ porches and listen to stories from the neighborhood. The whole purpose of Pedal to Porch as Cornetta Lane puts it is to lower the barrier of connection between neighbors and by doing so help communities become more resilient.
The Way We Were
It is fascinating to hear stories of a time when you haven’t lived, and it’s a privilege to have the chance to talk to someone who has. We just don’t take that chance often enough. The Way We Were brings older people in the community together with school kids by setting up an exhibition of artifacts that prompt stories from their childhood.
The project can work in a primary school but also has a great impact when run in a nursing home setting where particularly quieter residents or even those suffering from dementia come to life when engaged with the exhibition.
The Pop-up museum is another idea that is about exhibiting objects that tell stories. You find an issue that would be fun for people in your community to explore together through an exhibition, set a date and a location and invite everyone to come along and bring something on the topic to share.
The theme needs to prompt stories in people so it needs to be concrete and at the same time broad enough to get people thinking of an interesting or fun story to share. Examples could be: “Trash or Treasure”, “Ordinary Miracles” or “Lost and Found”.
The Human Library
There is so much to learn from talking to people who grew up in different places or circumstances, who have different jobs from us, or no job at all, from people who live with disabilities or follow a different religion.
We all carry a lot of prejudices with us and The Human Library is a place where you can confront those and hear directly from people who have experienced things or live their lives in ways you might not know much about.
It’s not just individual people who have to fight stigmas, there are also whole neighborhoods and communities who are often looked at from just one perspective.
Syracuse in New York is one of those neighborhoods that is often in the news in the context of crime or poverty. In order to flip things, the local community center, the university, and contributors from the neighborhood started to organise regular photo walks with a professional photographer. Allowing people from outside or inside the community to look at it through a different lens. Photos are published afterward on a local news site. In this way, a photo walk creates a more authentic and true documentation of a neighborhood.
City Walks with refugees
Instead of getting the historic tour of all the landmarks in a city you get a tour by someone who has a totally different experience of a town: a formerly homeless person or a refugee. There might be more people in your town you could think of who can offer a different perspective and who you could recruit for organising special tours around town.
My Country Talks
My Country Talks is a project that was originally run by journalists from the German national newspaper Die Zeit, who wanted to set up one-on-one discussions between people with completely different viewpoints. They asked their readers to apply to be matched with someone who thinks differently about issues like gay marriage or migration. 12,000 people applied and 1,200 people got met up with someone with totally different viewpoints actually living nearby on one day.
To make the idea replicable they developed the My Country Talks platform which makes it easy set up the project anywhere in the world.
The story of our community is not just the story of its people. It’s also the environment and nature that surrounds it. Local Explorers are community-led walking or hiking tours guided by someone from your community who knows the area well and can give some insights into its heritage.
How do we record all these stories instead of just hearing them at the moment? Story Corps provides a framework for doing exactly that. The general idea is about creating a space where you can regularly bring two people together to interview one another and record the conversation.
Do you know of more ideas that involve storytelling as a means to bring people together and create more understanding and inclusive communities? Or, do you already have any experiences with the ideas above that you’d like to share with the ChangeX community. Please let us know in the comments below or by writing to us at [email protected]
Photo credits: Pedal To Porch