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Nobody Ever Asked: 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.

Nobody Ever Asked: All Together Now Civil and Human Rights – by Arlene Goldbard

Ary Smith

Philadelphia is a long way from Elizabeth City, North Carolina, but Lisa Haynes was thrilled to make the trip this past weekend to co-facilitate the very first half-day Storied Session in our free All Together Now series of civil and human rights workshops.

To the contrary, Lisa knows how important it is to bring the generations together for these groundbreaking conversations. “The stories that were around that table,” said Lisa, “we could have been there for four days getting very significant, rich stories about their experience in Elizabeth City dealing with racism and the civil rights movement. There is such a need to talk and have exchanges. It's just so unbelievable to me how deep the well is. The older people were like, ‘Oh, I can't wait to give this website to my grandchild so they can see.’ That's what they all wanted. The younger people left that workshop that much more empowered, understanding the history of this, that this is not the first time these challenges have happened. You can't discount that sort of exchange.”

This is the fifth in a series of StoryCenter blog posts that share voices from All Together Now. To apply to take part, or find out how to sponsor a workshop, please visit our web site. 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 powerful Elizabeth City stories will be posted soon, among them two stories turning on the saga of the Little Rock Nine whose bravery in integrating Central High School in 1957 shook the nation. One storyteller offers an ancestral apology; the other unearths the tale of black soldiers who were sent to protect the students and prevented from doing so. And this is only the first set of stories in the series!

Krystal Fuller, a student at Elizabeth City State University, was one of the workshop’s younger-generation participants. Fifty years or more after some of the workshop storytellers marched, she is on the frontlines, protecting the right to vote. She was one of a group of students the NAACP campus chapter organized to show up for early voting last week. They all brought more than the required documentation of residency, but some were still denied the right to vote, and attempts were made to discourage them. “It’s not as broad like back in the day, when someone would actually tell you to get out,” Krystal told us. “Today it’s intimidating words. When we went to watch the polls last Thursday, a lady asked one of my peers, ‘Are you sure you want to abandon your home and not vote back home in Philadelphia?’ She used the word ‘abandon.’ It was kind of like a trigger: if you say something like that, it's going to make you feel like, ‘Well, abandon, I guess I could go back home.' But who's really going back to Philadelphia to vote when you go to school down here?”

Elizabeth City was featured here on September 11th, when student activist Montravias King and veteran activist Hezekiah Brown were interviewed about earlier attempts to deny students the right to vote and run for office in local elections. On Saturday, Hezekiah took part in the All Together Now workshop. “The students who tried to vote on Thursday were told to come back on Monday,” said Lisa. “And so it was really great to hear Dr. Brown talk to the students and say, ‘Listen, you have got to make sure that you gather those students up on Monday and go back just like they said, because we've experienced this over the last 50-plus years. This is the game they play, thinking that you're not going to go.’ And then he told them, ‘I'll be making a phone call on Monday to the voter registration folks.’ Just to watch the students have this exchange with Dr. Brown was just so wonderful.”

Lisa, a highly experienced storytelling facilitator, had a special feeling for this workshop. “I love doing this work. I don't care who I get to do it with, but particularly for this community, it’s such an honor, because it doesn't happen. And I know the stories are there, right? The stories are there but we have not collected them in this manner. If we don't collect these stories, if people don't know, you're only getting half the picture.

“A lot of times we are segregated in that way, the old folks and then the young folks,” Lisa told us, “but to have them in a setting together, it was intense. People are really ready for it. They really welcomed the opportunity. The older people said, ‘Nobody ever asked us. They never asked us what happened.’” Krystal affirmed that: “You hear the famous stories, but you don't hear actual people in your local community's stories about their experiences.”

We are asking for your stories now. 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 Storied Session. 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 Revolution, Austin Coming Together, Kennedy Heights Arts Center, Dominican University, Elizabeth 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!