Sharing my story at the Transitions Clinic Network digital storytelling workshop last spring was an awesome experience. I didn’t know what to expect when I was asked to participate. I was nervous, and yet I knew this was something I needed to do.
The Story Circle became serious very fast, and empathy was shown very quickly. We all were able to share parts of ourselves and trust that we had to bond and hold each other up, pull each other through, and then choose to become connected. I have met friends for life. Even if I don’t see my storytelling family daily, I know they are there. Yes, I did call them family, because they loved me through my sharing. They embraced me when I talked about my story and revealed parts of me that not even my own relatives know, and as I write this, I smile warmly because I feel really good about my storytelling family. This magnificent process brought me back to a time when I thought I was weak, yet I was strong and managed to endure. As I told my story, what seemed to be tears of sadness became gladness. I understood that if I had not gone through what I talked about in my story, I would not be sitting here today!
Can storytelling help scientists convey even complex and contentious topics like marine spatial planning?
In my experience, storytelling not only helps, it is essential if we want broader audiences to understand and support our work. Revealing something personal about why we do what we do can connect audiences with our messages and disarm adversaries.
Consider the field of marine spatial planning. Here, disconnects between scientists and audiences can be glaring.
My family’s history and active involvement in the Civil Rights movement began four generations ago in Selma, Alabama where my great-grandparents and their children tended cotton fields. As a child, I heard their intergenerational stories about sharecropping, Jim Crowism, and “Daddy King” around the dinner table. My grandmother, who recently turned 92, participated in the Bloody Sunday March with John Lewis and Dr. King. In the 1970s, when Shirley Chisholm ran for president, years before there was Hilary Clinton, my mother and Ms. Shirley took me with them to voter registration events every Saturday. I don’t think I knew what voting was, but I knew Dr. King had given up his life for my right to vote. I also knew that Dr. King and his fight for black civil rights would, in many ways, define me.