Two local activist groups have come together to organize a story event in Rockland. This is a response to the divisiveness that has resulted from the 2016 election. The Heart of the Matter: A Story Event will take place Sunday night, July 16, 6:30p, at the Nyack Center. Rockland United and the Rockland Coalition to End the New Jim Crow are hoping that gathering the community together to listen to personal stories of oppression, injustice, and strength will foster increased understanding.
Co-organizer Sara Weiss, of Rockland United, says, “As we have been meeting with local leaders and organizers, the main message has been that people–-all of us–need to listen. And especially to voices that have not been heard enough, stories of struggle and hardship. Our goal is simply to gather within our community, to hear, and to take action together. We believe that stories truly are at the heart of the matter.”
Toney L. Earl Jr., of Spring Valley, is one of the people who will be telling his personal story. He is the founder and executive director of M.A.D.E Transitional Services, which provides assistance to people reentering their communities after incarceration. He is interested in being part of something that helps to shift the narrative.
“This event is important,” he says, “because there is a great deal of value in changing the narrative and perception of those who have made poor decisions and mistakes resulting in criminal justice involvement. The alternative limits the perception of the formerly incarcerated or those with criminal records to only what’s seen in the media and entertainment, which simply isn’t consistent with reality.”
Rachel Parsons is an educator and writer who will speak about the impact of the 2016 election on her family and issues of class, queerness, disability, and family. “In order to build movements that will meaningfully transform society, we need to truly see each other,” she says. “Stories take us deeper than just the political level; they help us understand the human experience at the nexus of greater social forces.”
Another storyteller, Cynthia Williams, echoes a similar sentiment. She loves sharing her story because of what she believes it evokes in the audience. “Storytelling gets the audience involved emotionally, it sensitizes audiences to issues, situations and the people sharing their stories, as well as engenders a personal connection with the events being related.”
Willams will be sharing her personal story of confinement. She has dedicated herself to help people who are impacted by the criminal justice system so that they too can rebuild their lives. She sees events like these as opportunities for the audience to “think critically about possible solutions or alternate actions and so they have the ability to change or affect change.”
If he can make it, the event will also feature one of the leaders of the Ramapough Lenape Tribe of Mahwah NJ, who will describe the Lenape’s current fight to protect their land. All are welcome to attend this event. The net proceeds from donations will go to Ramapough Lenape Tribe. After the event, there will be cookies provided he Hudson House of Nyack.
Co-organizer Marc Pessin, of the Rockland Coalition to End the New Jim Crow, has been an activist for most of his life. He believes that when a human face is placed upon a social justice issue, both the storyteller and listener begin to bond. The possibility of joining together in struggle to expose, challenge, and undo societal wrongs becomes much more possible. “When this happens,” he says, “people begin to practice compassion instead of just blaming. The hope is that we now can move forward to fight social injustice in solidarity.”
Weiss and Pessin acknowledge that this event represents only the tip of the iceberg, as far as the breadth of stories that need to be told and heard. “Our goal,” Weiss says, “is to learn from many local groups and individuals. This event might be the first of a series or, if we discover that there are better ways to listen and connect, we are very open to other ways of doing so.”