African American stories of resilience will take the virtual stage in #TheBounceBackRDU on Juneteenth, June 19th, at 7 p.m.
Juneteenth commemorates the day that enslaved people in Texas learned they had been emancipated more than two years before.
The creative force behind the project is Alexus Rhone, of Truth Meet Story, LLC, in partnership with Raleigh Arts and SEEK Raleigh.
Alexus, an artistic theologian, writer, producer, and revolutionary artist, said the event was originally planned for an in-person experience at the City of Raleigh Museum. But with a pandemic in our community, she pivoted to a virtual setting.
The pre-recorded stories, set in creative spaces throughout the city, will stream live on YouTube and Facebook and include a post-show Q&A with the storytellers.
Alexus answered a few questions for Raleigh Convergence about #TheBounceBackRDU:
Raleigh Convergence: For those who don’t know you yet, could you share a bit about where your passion for storytelling has taken you?
Alexus Rhone: First, let me say thank you for including the word “yet” in your question – LOL! So, for those who don’t know me ‘yet’, my passion for storytelling has led me to people, places and spaces where solutions are sought.
I’m convinced of the salvific power of stories. Many times, our best answers are as close as the lived reality of our neighbors, our colleagues, our loved ones and friends. In other words, the answers to many of our questions are lovingly placed inside of each other’s stories. And the best stories aren’t preachy or didactic; they’re real, laced with truth and vulnerability.
For example, after Trump was elected and spewing hateful rhetoric about the media and positing that “real Americans” are white, Christian heterosexuals, I produced a series of live storytelling events for USA Today Network/Gannett called “I Am An American.” My task was to work with newsrooms around the country to identify and coach storytellers who reflected the broad readership of USA Today Network/Gannett, and that included a Muslim doctor sharing a story about a new patient who, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, was seeing a doctor for the first time in 10 years, but was afraid to take off his shirt because of his white supremacist tattoos. I also coached a paraplegic trans woman who, while serving in the army as male-identifying, jumped from a plane with a defective parachute.
One of my favorite tellers was a white man who grew up in Texas loving God and country, then returning from Afghanistan believing in neither but still encouraging other young men and women to enlist because it was the place where he met some of his best friends. The events streamed online around the world. It was so beautiful to watch people check in from Australia and London and different countries in Africa.
Not once did we address the president’s vitriol. We simply passed the mic to a broad swath of Americans and they told stories. We’re doing the same thing in #TheBounceBackRDU – passing the mic and telling stories.
RC: You shared that these will be stories of resilience, in service to commemorating Juneteenth, from African American storytellers. How did resilience emerge as a thread you wanted to shape this event around?
AR: History records the many injustices African Americans have suffered – from the transatlantic slave trade, to the Tulsa massacre by white mobs and the Wilmington, NC, riots, to Jim Crow to Civil Rights movement, and beyond. And current news cycles record the continued practices of a mentality that believes black lives matter less than others.
So the looming question is this: how do African Americans survive and thrive despite all we’ve been through? The answer is resilience, and the best way to help you understand how deeply embedded resilience is at our core is to tell you a story.
Stories like Star Robinson, CEO of Tru-Star-Power is Knowledge, LLC, who shares about the three times she considered suicide, the final time culminating into a hilarious jawn best described as a “trick by the universe.”
And Marcia Mattox, an artist and wellness coach who tells a moving story about her literal broken heart and the simple act that fixed it. There are also stories about being educated and experienced, yet still ‘playing small’, like Ruby Jackson, who has a B.S. in Biochemistry and creates platforms for visual storytelling in sports and S.T.E.M., and Ian Parks, a passionate nonprofit leader who vividly remembers the day his dream was crushed.
Pastor Robert Parrish’s story proves not just his resilience, but his extreme compassion for others who suffered a similar fate: being born blind and, as a young child, forced to leave his home and family to learn life skills.
Adé, the owner of Dounou Cuisine, tells a different story of resilience. Unlike the other storytellers who are descendants of former slaves, Adé was born in Benin, West Africa, and, at the age of 10, adopted by a family in Connecticut.
The concluding story is told by Ghazi Muhammad, an empowerment coach, and storyteller who, by the age of 16, was deeply entangled in the justice system. And then he bounced back.
RC: You mentioned #TheBounceBackRDU title began as a social media campaign. Could you share more about that?
AR: Absolutely. Several years ago, I co-authored a memoir 29 Years For 13 Seconds: The Injustices of Justice. It’s the life story of Vance Webster who, at 16, witnessed a shooting in South L.A. When he refused to ‘snitch’, the DA charged him, and he was sentenced to life in prison. He served 29 years for what the DA described as a “13-second” crime.
But he calls prison his place of salvation. I marveled at how he wasn’t bitter about the experience (and there was a ton of shit to be bitter about). I also wondered about other black men who experienced the ‘injustices of justice.’
I designed a social media campaign to unearth those stories and to also use it to promote the memoir. But it took on a life of its own.
Audiences were more interested in attending live versions of this event. So many people were hungry for creative spaces to gather (pre-Covid-19, that is). When I arrived in Raleigh, I began coaching storytellers in preparation for pitching this event.
RC: How do you see this event or these stories in context of what’s going on here in Raleigh, with calls for racial justice, and beyond?
AR: The work of justice is unending. “With liberty and justice for all” is the closing line in The Pledge of Allegiance. “Establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility…” is part of the opening line in the Preamble of the Constitution. We must accept that these things don’t naturally fall in place.
For that reason, the work of justice requires all hands on deck. Preachers, politicians, journalists, and artists, within our corner of the universe, have a responsibility to serve the common good. If the solutions we seek are embedded inside the stories of our neighbors, then my highest aspirations for #TheBounceBackRDU is that everyone will sign-on to the live stream and enjoy a night of solutions. Stories matter.
Alexus Rhone is also part of the steering committee and a storytelling coach for Raleigh Convergence’s community live storytelling series, Converging Stories. Converging Stories is seeking tellers now for our next event around the theme of Coming Home. Learn more.