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.
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, it's been a journey with an elder' joyous presence.
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 a predominately white West Virginia institution, 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. We get quiet. There's a place for an elder's voice where you are. . . Invite Baba Jamal, to come around.
In Honolulu Hawaii at the "Talk Story" storytelling festival