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Meet Them Where They Are: All Together Now Civil and Human Rights – by Arlene Goldbard

STORYCENTER Blog

We are pleased to present posts by StoryCenter staff, storytellers, colleagues from partnering organizations, and thought leaders in Storywork and related fields.

Meet Them Where They Are: All Together Now Civil and Human Rights – by Arlene Goldbard

Ary Smith

Our All Together Nowseries of free civil and human rights Storied Session workshops is about bringing generations together to learn from each other what it means to stand for our rights. But it can be a challenge to make that learning reciprocal: how do you ensure that each generation feels equally welcome to listen deeply and speak truly? How can elders learn from youngers and vice versa?

This is the sixth in a series of StoryCenter blog posts that share voices from All Together Now. To apply to take part in the workshops happening across the country, or to find out how to sponsor a workshop, please visit our website. Whether or not there's a workshop in your town, you will be able to access the growing collection of stories on our Cowbird.com All Together Now page and eventually, to add your own story.

The two people interviewed for this week’s blog work for All Together Now partner organizations. Theirs are very different organizations thousands of miles apart, but the advice they offered definitely resonated, and it all started in Denver, site of the next workshop coming up on October 5th.

Ellen Buchman,Vice President for Field Operations at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, attended last month’s Education Organizing Conference sponsored by the Great Futures Coalition, a partner organization of The Leadership Conference. “It's a wonderful event,” Ellen told us. “I met a couple of young people who made it their business to attend the conference because they wanted to change the conversation. It was explained to me that young people are not given a seat at the table even to come up with the agenda. In their view, they are the most important stakeholder in the conversation about education, so it's ridiculous—their word—to not include them in how you formulate a conversation about it. And that was a little bit of a shock to my system because I was trying to counsel them on how they can be at the outset a little more involved  in what we're trying to do to increase equity in terms of funding for Colorado's public schools; there's a whole effort underway around that. And they stopped me and essentially said, ‘You're not getting it. We're here because we want to have a conversation about our role in all of this as it relates to how we are even considered an important stakeholder.’

“This young man basically said, ‘Here are the three things that I want to do. I want to speak at my school board meeting next week and I am disappointed that they don't even acknowledge that that's an issue. I want to give my state an opportunity to hear what the state of the student is, whether that's an address or some other way to really understand our perspective and what should be done—not for us but with us—and of course I want to do direct action and have protests, but I want you to stand with me, but not in front of me.’ That was a really fruitful conversation for both of us.”

Evan Weissman, Executive Director of Denver-based Warm Cookies of The Revolution, “the world’s first civic health club,” has been offering intergenerational programs for a while. For instance, a “Show-and-tell Intergenerational Mix Tape,” where World War II vets and students (and folks in between) shared songs and objects that symbolized their generations.

Looking toward the Denver All Together Now workshop, Evan counseled, “Connecting the idea of civil rights to everyone is key. When you say civil rights, for a lot of people—especially most people under 50—you think of THE civil rights movement. It's kind of its own thing, such a big part of history but also an airbrushed part of history. Denver was such an important place in the Chicano civil rights movement which is largely unfinished, as is the civil rights movement for the African American community. It's ongoing. There isn't one way to look at it. There isn’t one story. For different people of different ages and different backgrounds to connect, you have to ask, ‘What are the civil rights issues for me? How am I related to it?’”

“And then the challenges,” Evan continued. “How do you get people interested in sharing and thinking about those stories that they might have? If you just say, ‘Hey, we're going to have a presentation on civil rights movements,’ you're going to get people who would come whenever someone says we’re going to do this, most likely. So it's a challenge: how are we going to do this in a fun way? How are we going to do it in a way that people will want to participate and get some folks who wouldn't otherwise? And the power of stories—it’s hard to beat. When so many of our interactions are online, to hear stories, I think it holds even more power now because we interact with other people so much less in general.”

Ellen pointed out that that “nobody can really give someone a seat at the table. It’s incumbent upon us to figure out where they are and meet them where they are in all ways. People need to be given respect in order to want to try for that seat at the table. We can model behavior that would enable people to have an easier time taking a seat at the table. But the transactional approach to young people needs to stop, we all need to start being open to hearing viewpoints that and ideas that they have from the start of any conversation. ‘What are they doing? What are their interests? How do those actions and interests relate to what we're trying to do?’ as opposed to other way around, which is, ‘How do we get them to do what we want them to do?’”

All Together Now is asking for your stories now:stories about human rights, and stories about bridging generation gaps to stand together. This is your opportunity.This All Together Now project is StoryCenter’s gift to young people and elders across the nation. There is still time to apply to take part in a free workshop. What does it mean to you today: the legacy of fifty years ago, and all of the people who have stood for their civil and human rights since? How does your own story connect?

Please join StoryCenter and our great partners—national partners The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human RightsSouthern Poverty Law CenterColor of ChangeEqual Justice SocietyInternational Museum of WomenCowbird, and CommunisPR; and local partners Alternate RootsAmerican Friends Service Committee, DenverHistory ColoradoColoradans for Immigrants RightsGreater Phoenix Urban LeagueDC Public LibraryPainted Bride Art CenterRosa Parks MuseumWarm Cookies of the RevolutionAustin Coming TogetherKennedy Heights Arts CenterDominican University, Intertribal Friendship House, California Foundation for Independent Living Centers' Youth Organizing! Disabled and ProudElizabeth City Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, AARP Pasquotank County Chapter, Elizabeth City Pasquotank County Community Relations Commission, Elizabeth City Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church, Delta Iota Chapter of Omega Psi Phi, and Elizabeth City Hope Group—in this wonderful project. All together now!