By Sherri Kolade

“If we don’t tell our truth, who will?”  

The late author Ursula K. Le Guin’s question reminds women that we own the narrative of our stories and truths because if we don’t make them known, they could very well be forgotten.  

Guin’s bold, timeless query sets out to thematically anchor the 2023 Women’s History Month, which is all about “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” 

The National Women’s History Alliance (NWHA), an American non-profit organization (dedicated to honoring and preserving women’s history) spearheaded the movement for March being declared National Women’s History Month, commemorated March 1- March 31. 

Presidents have declared March to be “Women’s History Month” in a series of proclamations every year since 1995. 

The month’s theme honors women who have been involved in all types of media and storytelling platforms, including print, radio, TV, stage, screen, blogs, podcasts, news, and across social media.

This topical honoring of women in all communities who have dedicated their lives and talents to creating art and news, seeking out the truth, and reflecting on society for many decades is vital, the organization notes.     

Even without the world watching or retweeting, Black women are familiar with the burden and blessing of storytelling, which is intertwined with sisterhood, motherhood, womanhood, and beyond.  

Before I became a journalist, I wrote poems to family and sharing stories with friends. I heard their stories, too, which continue to be the indelible backbone I stand on. 

As a young Black girl growing up in Detroit, and later moving to Southfield, I listened to my elders retell tales from how their parents and grandparents, former sharecroppers, and others sojourned from the south to the north awaiting what the future holds. 

Growing up in the early 2000s as an avid reader I would take my parent’s crinkly newspaper on Sundays before church (after reading the cartoons, priorities) I progressed into more pressing content. That’s when I saw the bylines of esteemed writers like Rochelle Riley, formerly of the Detroit Free Press. 

Reading her musings, among others, and watching the many other talented Black women in print, on television, and on the radio, encouraged me, too, as a budding journalist. Their stories of how they got where they are continue to be great ones needing to be told. 

Riley, director of Arts and Culture at the City of Detroit, told the Michigan Chronicle that her work is about inspiring and supporting. 

“When people ask me what I do, I tell them what I am: a writer by trade, warrior by necessity,” Riley said. “As a longtime writer, I use every skill I learned as a journalist and children’s and arts advocate to now make sure people see the beauty and excellence and diverse cultures of Detroit.” 

Riley said as a former columnist, she met people who were heroic, passionate, troubled, and driven.  

“As a public servant of a different kind, I work to help people tell their stories through art, music, dance, theater, and every other way our constituents choose,” she said, adding that people need to lean into Detroit’s talents. “I’m working to ensure that young people who learn to be great in Detroit remain great in Detroit, that Detroit benefits rather than watch them soar elsewhere.” 

Chanel Stitt, a business reporter at the Detroit Free Press noted the importance of using collective experiences to connect. 

“I believe that Black and brown journalists are vital in newsrooms, especially in a city like Detroit where a majority of the population is Black. Many of us either grew up or reside in the city and its surrounding areas, and we’re able to use our own past experiences to develop story ideas and serve the people. I specifically write about minority-owned businesses at the Free Press, and when I talk with people in the community, there are several layers of relatability that we have when we connect — whether it’s the fact that we’re Black, women, young and other identities that I may share,” Stitt said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proclaimed March as Women’s History Month and said this time is one for reflection and unity. 

“Each and every day, women across Michigan step up in incredible ways to get things done. But these are tough times, especially for women,” Whitmer said. “That’s why we must work together, Democrats and Republicans, to create better opportunities for women and an economy that supports them and their families. I’m proud of what women in Michigan have accomplished, especially to strengthen our economy, and I’ll keep working with anyone to create even more progress for women.” 

Vickie Thomas, director of Communications at City of Detroit, Mayor’s Office, told the Michigan Chronicle that as the communications director for the City of Detroit, she sees her work as an honor and privilege. 

“As a former news reporter, I’m also honored and privileged to be able to help tell the stories of Detroit residents who are excelling and business owners who are thriving as well as members of Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration who are helping to dramatically improve our city, many of them women who are blazing new trails,” Thomas said. “As a Black woman who grew up in Detroit and Highland Park, I know what it means to be able to take advantage of opportunities, especially for those in underserved communities of color where others count you out simply by virtue of your zip code. That’s why I know my role is extremely important and it’s more than a job to me.”  

Ebony JJ Curry, reporter, and multimedia journalist at WJRT, Inc., echoed similar sentiments. 

“Oftentimes it is easy to become weary in the world of journalism, especially as a Black woman. But it is an undying sense of resiliency and pride as we continue to utilize our God-given gift…the power of the tongue and the power of the pen. For if not us, then who?” Curry said. “As generations continue to come forth, it is our duty to stay the course and do so with the fierceness, fearlessness, and the tenacity of those who paved the way.”  

Satori Shakoor, creator, curator, producer, and host of The Secret Society Of Twisted Storytellers, knows about stories and practically helps birth them herself. The self-proclaimed “midwife of stories and storytellers” doesn’t shy away from the labor-inducing work of telling stories because the finished product is always beautiful. 

“Storytelling is a craft. At the highest level, it’s an art form. Storytelling is perhaps the oldest art form that we have,” Shakoor said. “Human beings are the only animals the only species that I know of on Earth (who) can tell stories … and I think it’s important to tell our own stories, because if we don’t tell our own stories, then we are relegated to being co-stars, extras, in the stories of others.” 

Shakoor adds that women of color storytellers, in particular add a rich, multidimensional layer to the mix, despite, however, the importance of their narrative, history has not always been kind.

“All women’s stories accomplishments have in some point on the continuum of time been erased, ignored, downplayed, stolen, or some other form of hijacking,” she said. “So our stories, our experiences, our wisdom, and the things that we gain out of our living are often ignored, devalued, and then there’s a loss to the whole society. …I think it’s very important that women share our stories because it’s a different journey.”

A journey that is being written, and rewritten, and as the late LeGuin said, one that continues to serve as the ever-present reminder to women communicators and overall, “We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want — to hear you erupting. You Mount Saint Helens-es who don’t know the power in you — I want to hear you… If we don’t tell our truth, who will?” 

Sherri Kolade, Author at The Michigan Chronicle

This article is republished from Michigan Chronicle under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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