Whitley column: Stories are a source of understanding | PostIndependent.com

Whitley column: Stories are a source of understanding

I’ll admit, I was surprised when I realized Martin Luther King Jr. Day wasn’t a day off. I’ve never lived in a place where that wasn’t considered a paid holiday (even though, in Alabama, it doubles as Robert E. Lee Day). But I was more startled when AmeriCorps worker Meaghan Owens noted there weren’t any celebrations in Garfield County that day. She planned one, a student gathering at Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts. After years in the South, I guess she, too, came to expect a day recalling one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights heroes.

“We have to know more than our present moment. We have to understand more about the world than this particular year that we happen to be living in,” Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Amanda Giguere said when we spoke about that organization earlier this week.

I agree. That’s why, when I received a press release about a storyteller who would travel Colorado as Harriet Tubman, I was eager to interview her. Perhaps Becky Stone would be able to share perspective gained by touring the American South in character, in contrast with performing the same stories in the American West.

You can read that interview in Saturday’s paper or at postindependent.com. My conversation with Becky reminded me of the knowledge gained in conversation with people whose experience is unlike our own, as well as from studying our collective past.

A number of “who knew?” facts and anecdotes can pop up in such study. You may have learned in Sunday’s history column, for example, that Franklin Delano Roosevelt wanted to create a summer White House in Glenwood Springs. History uncovers the stories behind the place we call home.

It can also serve as a cautionary tale. The first historic character Becky portrayed was Pauli Murray, a poet, attorney, civil rights acts activist and dear friend of Eleanor Roosevelt. An endowed lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, where Murray studied, now carries her name.

“People often ask, ‘Why haven’t I heard of her before?’” Stone said. “My only answer is she was a worker bee. She did a lot of work and didn’t seek the publicity, didn’t seek the credit.”

We’ll never know Murray the way we know someone like Rosa Parks, Stone said. Parks’ story captured the media’s attention. For whatever reason, Murray’s did not.

I heard in that statement a reminder of the responsibility that accompanies the power of the press. It isn’t a simple matter; there are only so many hours in the day, so many reporters on the pay roll. We can only do so much. But the media must choose wisely and seek to serve the communities whose stories we tell.

Those tales may sound different in Garfield County than in places I previously called home. That’s not just about race, although it’s an obvious example for someone who came from a hotbed of the civil rights movement. Our personal histories are influenced by demographics, yes, but also geography, climate and the time in which we live.

My duty as a writer is to listen to your stories and share them with the community. We learn from understanding one another. Won’t you help me understand you?

Carla Jean Whitley welcomes human-interest stories of all sorts, whether they relate to arts, the outdoors or daily life. She regrets that they may not all make it to print, but invites you to contact her at cj@postindependent.com. After all, everyone has a story.

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