Storytelling at Work
May 11, 2020


This just in from Burrill Crohn. Thank you, Burrill. So moving!

The spirit guide, Emmanuel, once said, "At every moment we have the choice between love and fear." Easy to say, harder to do. A constant, difficult practice, not an immediate panacea. And yet, there are those rare moments when a miracle -- the direct result of choosing love -- can manifest on the spot. Here's one:

It is the summer of 1964, in Jackson Mississippi. I am there working on an adult literacy program through the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), and The National Council of Churches, as part of the effort to overcome state imposed obstacles to voter registration.

This is "Freedom Summer" with hundreds of college students flocking south to work on similar projects. And while there is a great deal of love and idealism involved, there is also an overwhelmingly larger amount of fear: white Mississippians resisting change to their customs, resenting those who tried; some among us chased, beaten, jailed (and there, often, beaten again) just for being seen in an interracial situation; and -- its largest and most chilling manifestation -- the brutal murders of civil rights workers, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman hardly before the summer even began.

So it is within this context I am part of a going away party for a SNCC worker in the ground floor apartment of a black housing project. An evening full of stories, laughter and hugs, but now coming to an end and -- as always -- those remaining (about 10 of us) stand in a circle, join interlocking hands, and begin singing We Shall Overcome.

Suddenly, several choruses into the song, the front door bursts open and three State Troopers, in full combat uniform -- helmet, shields, weapons, ammo bandoliers, black boots -- stomp loudly into the room.

They are big, very big, giant Michelin Tire men in armor, their presence seeming to suck up the energy of our small space, appropriating power and leaving many of us shuffling our feet in fear and confusion. Yet our hands are still interlocked and, out of nowhere, one woman with a clear as a bell, startlingly beautiful voice, begins to sing...

We are not afraid/we are not afraid, today/Oh, deep in my heart/I do believe/We shall overcome, some day.

Alas, print is a poor substitute for the actual tone, diction, and strength of the sung words, but it sounded more like: We shall overcome, s-o-o-m-m-m-e day-y-y-y-y.

And with the song, a burst of energy, like blue lightning, streamed through our hands.

Now it was we who glowed, became large, filled the room. And, in the corner, the State Trooper Michelin men seemed as if deflated by a giant pin, small and disempowered. Now it was their turn to shuffle around in confusion before stumbling back out the door, barely able to move on shaky legs.

We leave soon after. The police are still outside, but in their cars, doing nothing except shining their high beam searchlights on us as we walk to our vehicles. None of them follow us. None of us experience any police harassment as a consequence.

All this was long ago in another time and place.

And yet, the memory remains as vivid as the experience itself, an amulet in the face of fear, a reminder that however terrifying, it's just those three guys in puffy suits -- and that choosing love opens the possibility of miracles.

Burrill's bio
Photo: Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at May 11, 2020 09:48 AM

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Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

Order the book:

Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling for the Revolution is Mitch Ditkoff's newly published book about the power of personal storytelling to elevate the conversation on planet Earth. Provocative. Evocative. And fun. YOU have stories to tell. This book will help you tell them.
Storytelling at Work
"The world is not made of atoms," wrote the poet, Muriel Rukeyser. "It's made of stories." Learn how to discover, honor, and unpack the stories of yours that show up "on the job" in Mitch Ditkoff's award-winning 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.
Do you want to know more about the book before buying it? Click here for Mitch's response to frequently asked questions about Storytelling at Work – the perfect book for people who think they have no time to read.
The Workshop
Storytelling is an "unconscious competency" – an ability we all have that all too often remains inaccessible to us. Enter the Storytelling at Work workshop – a simple way to activate this powerful, innate skill.
Wisdom Circles
Want to establish a culture of storytelling in your organization or community? Looking for a simple way to help people to share their meaningful, memorable stories with each other? Here's how.
Podcasts & Videos
Click here to view and listen to a series of interviews with the author of this blog. Go beyond the written word. Listen. Feel. Elevate the conversation. Understand what the big deal is about personal storytelling.
Blogs 'R Us
If you like this blog, you might also like Mitch's other two blogs: The Heart of Innovation and The Heart of the Matter. Mitch is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.
Idea Champions
When Mitch isn't writing, he's captaining the good ship Idea Champions, a leading edge innovation consulting and training company based in Woodstock, NY. What their clients say.