Our Stories, Our Lives

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By Cree Noble
Team Coordinator

Maya Angelou once said, “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Creating a series of workshops for youth to express their creative genius, the 2021 Chicago Peace Fellows created a platform for young people to share their stories on their own terms.

Our Stories, Our Lives was one of the six projects that this year’s Fellows collaboratively designed and supported using a dedicated pooled fund for violence prevention this summer. The purpose of this project was to give young people ages ranging from 8 to 20 a platform to tell their stories in different art forms with no expectations. The youth met twice with core members, Messiah Equiano, Nicole Davis, and Rashada Dawan to plan the public presentation of their stories.

The first meeting happened on October 9th, where about 14 youth participants and the core members came together via zoom to discuss logistics of the project. With very few parameters surrounding the youth’s creative storytelling they had roughly two weeks to complete their project. Messiah Equiano of CHI-RISE expressed his enthusiasm for the first meeting:

“The first meeting was incredible. The participating teens were vibrant, transparent and excited to be a part of Our Stories, Our Lives." -- Messiah Equiano

The first meeting lasted for an hour, students introduced themselves, gave background information about themselves and told us fun facts about themselves. Nicole Davis, of the Talk2Me Foundation, echoed his sentiment, “I agree with Messiah. The first meeting was outstanding, powerful, and exciting to watch and listen to."

"Our Stories, Our Lives gave them a platform and an opportunity to express themselves on their life experiences." -- Nicole Davis

On October 23rd, the youth participants and the core members reunited to share their spectacular stories with one another. From raps about bullying, to video collages, to painting, and digital art, the youth expressed their stories in ways that no one could have imagined at the outset. The stories were filled with laughter, sadness, resilience, and passion.

Messiah says, “The virtual commencement meeting was more than we could have ever imagined! The participating teens performed: spoken word, raps, some sang, others presented drawings and graphics, others read poetry, others made short films that featured voiceovers and others produced photographic slide presentations. Phenomenal talent expressed in each participant's project!”

Nicole added: “We need more storytelling for the youth! These youth were very brave to speak, sing, and read poetry in front of people they have never met before. I would like to see what that looks like if given an opportunity to keep it going in the future. I was told by one of the older youth that he would like to participate again.”

Rashada Dawan, of B.Fli Productions, Inc. added, “My favorite thing about this project is seeing each student open, prepared and ready to share with us."

"So often, our youth are portrayed as hot tempered, careless, uninterested and detached from their feelings. However, our youth were vulnerable, full of emotion, honest about themselves and their struggles and ready to share their view of the world they see themselves in." -- Rashada Dawan

Rashada continued, "I’m really thankful that they trusted us with their stories and talents. It lets me know that everything that all of us are getting to do in our communities and with our youth is doing something for the good of all of our futures. These youth gave me hope and I’m so proud of all of them.”

Messiah’s hope is “to keep this going as much as we can!” This is not the last of what we have seen of Our Stories, Our Lives!

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