Detroit Storytellers and Other Magical Things

Monday, July 09, 2012

by Tavae Samuelu

I’ve had two weeks to mull it over, let it marinate, and figure out what delicious nuggets of information to present to you, the phantom reader, that I learned at the Allied Media Conference this year. Language is failing me and I’m sitting here sans sufficient words and articulate thoughts. The Allied Media Conference is described as a space to “strategize for a more just and creative world,” but more accurately it’s a gathering of marginalized media producers and consumers. It’s only fitting that it has made its home in Detroit, where residents truly understand the urgency of creating, redefining, and participating in media.

There was a time when the only thing I knew about Detroit was depression. Mainstream media had me convinced that the expansive Michigan city is where the economy went to die. I’ve read and watched countless news stories about soaring unemployment, a failing auto industry, and a generally grim prospect for the future of this urban sprawl. Poverty was my oversimplified understanding of Detroit.

No one told me about the storytellers, the litany of raconteurs who would be so generous with their time and words. I sat in workshops with proud Detroit natives who were quick to remind me that Detroit was their home, a place with a long, complicated, and beautiful hystory of struggle and resilience. I met modern day minstrels who were practiced in countering the dominant mythologies about their city. The opening ceremony boasted a tribute to D. Blair, a poet whose life read like a love letter to Detroit. a shining example of how we tell stories to heal.

I’m a storyteller. I tell stories to fill the awkward silences and spaces that separate me and a stranger. I tell stories because my ancestors did it to ensure my existence. I tell stories for my survival and the idea of them outliving my physical being is like achieving immortality. I tell stories because I don’t want anyone telling my story for me. The AMC taught me that telling your story is magical, not in the Disney sense of the word that has rendered it synonymous with fiction. I mean the kind of magical that “utilizes ways of understanding, experiencing and influencing the world.” The dominant narrative often feels beyond my scope of influence so providing an alternative account is by (re)definition magic.