“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity…. When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My work at A Woman’s Place (AWP) varies day to day. That’s part of the glory of being an Executive Director. In any given week I may sort donations at our thrift store, participate in a press conference about gun violence, coalition build with other community organizations and organizers, write policies and procedures, design programs, wash the kitchen floor, discuss the rate of toilet paper usage, solicit a donor, thank a donor, study a budget, and coach staff. All of this glory is part of my personal and professional quest for paradise.
Dictionary.com defines paradise as a place of extreme beauty, delight, or happiness. Even my inner (and much beloved) cynic giggles at me when I realize that I am on a quest for paradise. The government is shut down. There are discussions about how to end homelessness, but little housing. Local food pantries are serving up to 40 families in a day with near barren shelves. Nine women are shot dead every week by their husband or intimate partner. That John Milton might be right. Paradise might be lost.
One of the best parts of my job, not known by many but vital in my opinion, is to be a storyteller.
The story about affordable housing is not just its lack. It’s the story of community members organized by Habitat for Humanity to build homes. The story of hunger is not just bare cupboards and need. It’s the story of a nameless small group of troublemakers at a local church that heard the calling to “Feed My Sheep.” The story of violence is not just the nine women shot dead every week. It’s the story of lives now flourishing thanks to AWP’s unceasing commitment to empowerment and young teens organizing an annual Walk to Empower to raise awareness and dollars.
I hold a special place in my heart for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In her role as storyteller, she helped me to better know and understand who my father is and where he came from. She cautions us against the danger of a single story. I have heard the single story of victims of domestic violence. Frankly, I’ve told it. It is often a hopeless and disempowering story. Hear me now when I say – there is no single story about domestic violence. The domestic violence story is about coming together to demand safety. It is a story about overcoming. It is a story about real and true love. It is a story about hope and persistence and rebirth. It is a story about flourishing.
And, “when we realize that there is never a single story about any place” – and I would dare to add when we realize there is never a single story about any person – “we regain a kind of paradise.”
My quest continues another day.
WHAT IS YOUR STORY?
Ifeoma U. Aduba