We were all humans until…

It had been awhile since this anonymous quote crossed my path, but I recently noticed it on a friend’s social timeline and realized it had achieved a newfound sense of resonance with me.

We were all humans until race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divided us, and wealth classified us.

From a storytelling perspective it felt as though we had somehow stopped telling our story of connection, commonalty, a shared human heredity, and most importantly, a united future.

Hate and discrimination had somehow become acceptable, with divisiveness and rancor the norm. Religious travel bans, violence against people of color, and the continued verbal and physical abuse of women have defiled what America was striving to become – a land of open arms and caring hearts, a land that opted for hope over fear, that embraced love over hate.

“We are a nation not only of dreamers, but also of fixers. We have looked at our land and people, and said, time and time again, “This is not good enough; we can be better.” – Dan Rather, What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism

Multi-Ethnic Hands in Peace

As I continue to work with a wide array of speakers, from universities, research institutes, major corporations, prison inmates, and special forces, I’m reminded that our stories have the power to heal all wounds, bridge all chasms, and unite all humans.

On a daily basis, we have the choice to stand up and say, “This is not good enough; we can be better.” In doing so we can change this sadly fractured American narrative. But it requires our stories to be told, our voices to be heard, and our compassion to be felt.

Storytelling Newsletter

The Tragic Story of Bail in America

The bail system in American is nothing short of criminal, a tragic story of incarceration for those who lack the funds to get back on the street while awaiting trial. It means being separated from your spouse & children, maybe missing work, and potentially losing your job. It means being guilty until proven innocent, which is about as un-American as it gets.

In an attempt to turn the tide on this tragedy of justice, Robin Steinberg and her husband, both public defenders, founded the Bronx Freedom Fund, and in doing so, attempt to change the story of thousands caught up in an immoral system.

The Bronx Freedom Fund envisions a society that humanizes instead of criminalizes. We restore the presumption of innocence by keeping clients with their families, at their jobs, and out of jail while they await trial. We work tirelessly to fight mass incarceration and the criminalization of race and poverty, and to end the cash bail system as it exists.

A decade later Robin took the stage at TED2018 to talk about The Bail Project, taking the idea to a national level as part of TED’s newly launched Audacious Project.

The Bail Project, by bailing out 160,000 people over the next five years, will become one of the largest non-governmental decarcerations of Americans in history.

What if we ended the injustice of bail? by Robin Steinberg at TED2018

Storytelling Newsletter

Creating a Storytelling Workshop for African Entrepreneurs

I get requests to conduct storytelling workshops from a variety of sources, from business networks to startups and professional organizations. But I was recently asked to craft a storytelling workshop for a group of amazing African entrepreneurs who were coming to American as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program. At first I assumed they were high school or college students, just getting started in their career, but I was way off the mark on that assumption.

Mandela Washington Fellowship at University of San Diego

I began the workshop, as all such meetings do, with introductions from each of the attendees in the room. In the U.S. we think of states, but in Africa, it’s countries. Zambia, Togo, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Mauritius, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, South Sudan, and Nigeria (I’m sure I missed a few) were all represented as each of the women and men spoke up.

The Uber of tutors, a novel payment collection system, a philanthropic software platform, sports journaling and entrepreneurial accelerators were mentioned. Many of these “students” had already started 2 or 3 companies and were changing lives in their communities.

I wasn’t sure what the entrepreneurs most wanted to hear most – I had no chance to speak to them before the workshop began – so I created a hybrid that combined the essentials of a great TED/TEDx talk, with material from my brand storytelling workshops. It turned out to be a good mix, as the entrepreneurs articulated their brand philosophy and tactics like savvy business leaders.

Joseph Oliver Wani AYAN Africa

Joseph Oliver Wani was one of the remarkable leaders sitting directly in front of me. As the finance manager for the African Youth Action Network (AYAN), Joseph was dedicated to helping refugees from South Sudan.

Founded in June 2015, in Uganda by South Sudanese young people, AYAN has worked directly with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to support South Sudanese young refugees to receive scholarships to study in Uganda. The organization believes that Illiteracy is one of the major cause of conflict in South Sudan. The organization is currently registered in South Sudan with a branch in Uganda and looking forward to opening in Kenya.

African Youth Action Network (AYAN)At AYAN, we believe that the youth are well positioned to organize and participate in promoting a movement of sustainable peace through the organization of positive, non-violent, community-building activities, through trainings, mentorship, community outreach programmes in the Great Lakes Region and other volatile Parts of Africa.

In the United States the refugee crisis – which has reached staggering numbers – is not something we think about very often, as it’s “over there” somewhere, yet the impact on humanity will be felt for generations to come. And to be honest, it wasn’t a topic that I expected to materialize when I was getting ready to conduct this workshop – entrepreneur and refugee crisis didn’t mix in my mind.Refuge Figures July 2017 UNHCR

As to Joseph, I had the opportunity to continue the conversation a week later during closing night ceremonies on the University of San Diego campus. He had just spent the the past six weeks in the U.S. studying business and entrepreneurship, and he was excited to return to his work, to apply the skills and insights gained, not to create the latest widget or cool app, but to help those fleeing violence in their home country. I couldn’t have been more proud of this young man.

In closing, my thanks go to the San Diego Diplomacy Council who played a major role in the program and invited me to participate. I’m sure I learned more from the process than the students.

Storytelling Newsletter