Recently I was listening to old interviews by the late Toni Morrison and she made a comment in one of the interviews that resonated with me. It was brief, to the point, and it left it open to the listener to discover their own path to a solution. The question she asked was, “how do you hear the world?” And “how do we each hear the world?”
When I joined Local Voices Network one of the things that excited me most was the charge given to uplift community voices. I enjoy hearing the thoughts of my neighbors both near and far. Regardless of whether or not the stories I hear are of hope, of uncertainty, or even of loss, it reminds me and others that we have more in common than we realize. We all share in the human emotional connection through our stories.
Often disagreements, misunderstandings, and the lack of exposure can create a disconnect that can be easily addressed by taking the time to hear the world around us. We need to pause, gather our thoughts, and become brave enough to not only share our own stories but also become just as brave to learn from the stories of others and thereby form a true bond of community. It is our collective voices that will shift negative narratives, change communities, and even shift policies. Exercising and strengthening our listening muscles creates an atmosphere of clarity to accurately see one another, identify with each other’s pain and provide and create an equitable and safe space of expression. And in that equitable space we are not only invited to dance there but we are also invited to help to plan the party. Local Voices Network has identified opportunities to plan great community parties with the foundation of shared experiences through storytelling.
In the midst of the COVID-19 dilemma, I am honored to have a front-row seat to hearing how the world is being affected. Often the voices I hear bring tears to my eyes, but they also make my heart jovial and bring many moments of great laughter as well. The work reminds me that there is much communication needed across and throughout our communities. From Boston to Birmingham, and from Madison to New York City I have the unique opportunity to engage with the world by opening my ears to lean in and listen to voices such as Lakey in Birmingham who intimately shared how she gained strength and hope from her young daughter in the midst of the pandemic.
Emre of Boston shared his hopes, as an immigrant entrepreneur, of being able to be a part of the reshaping of the community he serves all the while being extremely concerned about his family back in Turkey facing the pandemic. While Victor from Hunts Point shares how the lack of health insurance is especially problematic for people in the Bronx facing the disease. If more listening had been done ahead of time we might have avoided some exposure within our communities. However, listening to the stories of others experiencing the pandemic enlightens us to better ways of handling this unprecedented situation. It also allows us to know that we are not alone, we are each experiencing the same uncertainties and feeling the same emotions together. We are in this together, which is emotionally comforting and keeps us hopeful. Sharing stories at this time creates a kindred spirit within communities, creating a sense of comradery, kindness, and a genuine concern for others and allows us to look beyond our own predicaments to find strength to aid those that need us who are in the communities where we live.
I also believe that hearing stories from everyday people can create connectivity among community members. Because one of the basic needs of the human experience is the need to be heard. To be seen, heard, and valued through the sharing of our own lived experiences brings each of us to an even better place in life. There is a part of the human connection that only sharing can bring. A proverb says, “The tongue can paint what the eyes can’t see.” Let us listen deeper so that we are able to appreciate the beautiful connection of the portrait of humankind. It is my hope that you will join the Local Voices Network and lend your voice so that the world will hear your story as well.