I remember being on a float in a parade in Fauquier County. My cousin had talked me into portraying one of my collateral cousins, who happened to be a known historic figure, Dangerfield Newby. My cousins dressed me up as close to a period costume as I could get. I had never done this sort of thing before but I had been in parades, in fact, I was once a Grand Marshall in a parade. Civil War reenactors passed by my float and greeted me as "Bro. Dangerfield. "Did you bring your family north yet?" I had some letters in my hand and answered , "No, but I'm meeting up with a man named John Brown, we might be able to help each other!" After the parade, I was scheduled to sit and talk with interested visitors, as Newby, at an old restored inn in downtown Warrenton, Virginia. Several folk attended as I gave a first person account of my family, my activities, my relationship to Mr. Brown, and to historical events of that time. After the event, one gentleman praised my presentation and encouraged me to continue to do this kind of work. Well, I'm still working putting myself in other peoples shoes, such as Robert Small, a prominent South Carolina African American who escaped captivity and held several public offices. I've introduced (with story/poem/and music at Chautauqua events) Malcolm X, and Jackie Robinson reenactors. Yet, still, my first and intentional purpose with an audience is to say, "Once upon a time. . .
At the National Museum of the American Indian during Pres. Obama 1st inauguration
Washington DC public libraries
An Elder's Voice
What is an elders'voice and approach to storytelling? It's actually quite simple: Bring joy where there is little. Breathe life where the air is still. Come with empty hands and an open heart. Allow the timbre of voice to be soothing, the instruments rhythmic; the feedback generous; the contact genuine all with the understanding that this is not a job, but it is life unfolding as sharing/teaching/ allowing mutual growth. Seems like I've been an elder for a long time. Even in my 40s folks were calling me an elder. Perhaps it was because I walk with a limp, or maybe it was because of my longevity and geographic resume in the storytelling world that brought about a certain aura of wisdom. Maybe.
Years ago, I was brought into an African dance production as a narrating elder and I fell in love with that aspect of the spoken word. In later years, this scenario played out in Kwanzaa Productions in Philadelphia, museum stage productions in Baltimore, and for several years, at the Miller Outdoor Theater in Houston, Texas with Amandla Productions. In recent years, I've, performed with the Soul in Motion Dancers in the Maryland/DC areas as seen in the above photo with Devin Walker.
Childcare centers, Montessori Schools have had a yen for an elder's voice and in every opportunity I've had to share with the young ones, it's always been a time of joy, curiosity, singing, listening and drumming. From my early days in Charlottesville, VA at the Gordon Avenue Library, where mothers showed up with carriages and lap babies; and in Baltimore at the New Era Child Development Center, where we made the front page of a New York Sunday magazine section, and in the Maarifa School.with our beloved Mama Kay Stancil (PBUH), and in dozens of elementary schools from New York to North and South Carolina and in the far west and mid west, it's been a journey with an elder's approach to life.
Somewhere in all of that is THE STORY. This reminds me of the four year old in a daycare who saw me in the office and went running down the hallway shouting and repeating; "The storyteller's here!" Or the ninth grader who said to me, "I wish you were my father" Or maybe the incarcerated young man in West Virginia with his mountain dialect , who after three days in my workshop said ; "You're like the father I never had." Or maybe it's the teacher who said, "Not in thirty years of seeing programs has there been anyone here like you. No fanfare. You are a storyteller. A storyteller came' round here today. . ." We laugh, we drum, we sing, we tell. There's a place for an elder's voice where you are. . . Invite a storyteller to come around where you are.
In Honolulu Hawaii at the "Talk Story" storytelling festival