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"If Not Us": Intergenerational Storytelling and Theater Focused on Civil Rights History and Present-Day Social Action

Case Studies

"If Not Us": Intergenerational Storytelling and Theater Focused on Civil Rights History and Present-Day Social Action

Emily Paulos

The rich legacy of the civil rights movement was commemorated across the country in 2013, which marked the 30th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington. To honor the work of activists in the 1950s and 60s, several groups in the City of Denver, CO developed a project to encourage awareness and present-day engagement with civil rights issues, as part of StoryCenter's All Together Now initiative. 

As a starting point for the project, we led two, one-day storytelling workshops, supporting youth from Denver's East High School, and elders from the community, in sharing stories of a time they stood up for somebody or something ... or a time when they didn't, but wished they had. Afterwards, we created one-picture digital stories, using recordings made during the two sessions. Next, project partner Warm Cookies of the Revolution facilitated an intergenerational mixtape event with the storytellers, inviting each person to reflect on and present a song that spoke to their activism and their generation. Finally, with guidance from the Buntport Theater Company, the participating students used all of this material – stories, reflections, and music – to create an original theater production. The students presented their performance at the high school – all performances sold  out.

Colorado Public Television filmed the entire process and produced a documentary about the project. Shortly after its release, the violence and activism in Ferguson, Missouri, erupted, and students from East High School walked out of their classes to march in protest of the Ferguson Police Department. Many of the students who led this march had participated in the storytelling and theater project; for some it was their first public participation in an act of protest.