Storytelling for Change in the Bible Belt

by Shayna Han
RCRC Intern­

When I reach out to you and you to me,
We become b’tzelem elohim
When we share our hopes and our dreams,
Each one of us b’tzelem elohim

These are some lyrics from one of my favorite Jewish summer camp songs. B’tzelem Elohim, the Hebrew phrase from Genesis 1:27, tells us that we are each uniquely yet equally made in the image of God. At RCRC’s first Leading Faithfully Institute in Columbia, South Carolina last weekend, this song kept running through my mind.

At the institute we learned to tell our stories – our experiences, hopes, dreams to build bridges of understanding with new peers in the struggle for reproductive justice – and how to take these personal, relatable experiences and use them to inspire our peers to action. Further, we refined our organizing skills and learned about creating power through our relationships, and how to turn our resources into the change we want to see.

In a group I helped lead, the participants made substantive plans to take these lessons back home to North Carolina. One of North Carolinians had recently gone to jail for participating in the “Moral Monday” protests outside the state legislature in Raleigh. She recalled sitting in jail with the other protesters, witnessing all the people around her opening up to one another and sharing their reasons why they opposed the legislature’s extreme policy initiatives. In our small group at the institute, she said that this – story telling – is the key to winning North Carolina.

On Sunday afternoon, our coalition partner Advocates for Youth presented about the “1 in 3” campaign with a series of personal video-testimonials of women who had sought abortion care. Prior to this session, one of our participants admitted to being conflicted about abortion. After hearing these women’s stories, however, she felt new compassion and understanding, and agreed that a woman should be able to access the reproductive healthcare she needs.

The cornerstone of organizing is giving to others what is inside ourselves. As famed storytelling instructor Robert McKee said, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” Thanks to this institute, I understand that more tangibly now.  Real, everlasting change comes from the stories we share that allow us to see the same inherent worth, dignity and uniqueness in others that we see in ourselves.

RCRC is holding another Leading Faithfully Institute this August 2-4, 2013, in Wisconsin. For more information, email us at institutes@rcrc.org.

Shayna is currently studying history at a college in the Northeast not far from where she was raised. She just completed an internship for RCRC this summer through the Machon Kaplan Program of the Religious Action Center.

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