Gath­er­ing sto­ries of life in west Char­lotte

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY HANNAH HASAN

Hannah Hasan has long be­lieved sto­ries can create change. She now has a term for sto­ries aimed at do­ing that work: so­cial im­pact story shar­ing.

Hasan is a writer, spo­ken-word artist, speaker, per­former, sto­ry­teller and artist in res­i­dence at QC Fam­ily Tree, a com­mu­ni­ty­build­ing group in En­derly Park in Char­lotte. She also has, with her sis­ter, a sto­ry­telling/con­sult­ing busi­ness.

The idea for “Muddy Tur­tle Talks” – whose first in­car­na­tion was last fall, and whose next is Feb. 9 – is the pow­er­ful telling of real sto­ries about life on Char­lotte’s west side. Hasan in­vites people to share their sto­ries with her, and she then dis­tills them for the stage. Com­mu­nity sto­ry­tellers per­form them.

The first evening’s sto­ries spanned love and hu­mor, tragedy and death. The up­com­ing one will fo­cus on dis­place­ment and the loss of his­tory and home. Ten sto­ries are planned, Hasan says. They range from that of a young man fight­ing, af­ter the death of his mother, to save a home that’s been in his fam­ily since the 1960s, to a first-time real es­tate in­vestor dream­ing of buy­ing back the block, to a woman ap­proach­ing 70, work­ing full time as her rent con­tin­ues to rise.

We in­vited her to write about what it’s like to pre­pare for such an evening.

Ner­vous doesn’t be­gin to de­scribe the feel­ing that I felt when I clicked the green call but­ton on my phone this morn­ing. There was some­thing in­side of me that was hop­ing she might do what I do so often: see a phone num­ber that she didn’t rec­og­nize ap­pear across her screen and de­cline.

Maybe she would send me di­rectly to voice­mail, and that would give me a chance to leave a mes­sage that might com­pel her to call me back. That was a sce­nario that made me feel a bit more at ease. Yes, ev­ery br­rrrinnnnnnngggg that got me closer to voice­mail lifted some of the ten­sion bub­bling in my chest. That com­fort was short-lived. “Hello.”

I froze. She’d an­swered. “Hel­l­looo.”

I stum­bled my way through an un­com­fort­able greet­ing. I ex­plained that her grand­son gave

me her num­ber and that I was work­ing on a project that he thought she might be will­ing to be a part of. I told her about my work as a col­lec­tor of sto­ries, a writer and pro­ducer.

I ex­plained that — through a process for which I’ve coined the term “so­cial im­pact story shar­ing” — I have cre­ated a space for vol­un­teer sto­ry­tellers to learn and share true sto­ries with a live, lo­cal au­di­ence about top­ics of im­por­tance to the com­mu­nity.

I then told her that I’m cur­rently work­ing to help tell the sto­ries of people from Char­lotte’s En­derly Park neigh­bor­hood, specif­i­cally those who lived on and around Tuck­aseegee Road. Many are be­ing and have been im­pacted by forced dis­place­ment and gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. I went on to ex­plain that I would like to interview her so that her story could be shared as a part of a live show in Fe­bru­ary. As I promised her that this would be a pain­less con­ver­sa­tion and that I would pro­tect her anonymity through the process, she cut me off abruptly. “Yes. Sweetie, I get it.” She spoke with a soft, slow, gen­tle fa­mil­iar­ity that soothed my nerves. I imag­ined that she held her phone with hands wrin­kled by years of hold­ing and rais­ing ba­bies, wash­ing dishes, and bak­ing moist, un­for­get­table hol­i­day desserts.

As she spoke for a few mo­ments about liv­ing in one of Char­lotte’s most no­to­ri­ous com­mu­ni­ties, I hung on her ev­ery word. My body re­leased its anx­i­ety about ask­ing a stranger for their per­sonal story, be­cause I felt as if I was speak­ing to my grand­mother. She had that com­fort­ing way about her. She felt like home.

That con­ver­sa­tion re­minded me why this work is so im­por­tant. It’s a scary thing to ex­pe­ri­ence, ask­ing a per­son to di­vulge the most in­ti­mate mo­ments of their life — to me — a stranger. I’m often afraid the per­son might ques­tion my mo­tives, or be of­fended that I’m reach­ing out to them. But then I have mo­ments like this morn­ing that re­mind me: I’m shar­ing these sto­ries be­cause they change things.

This is a real, liv­ing, breath­ing grand­mother. If she’s any­thing like my grand­mother, she is very im­por­tant to her fam­ily. She’s the keeper of fam­ily his­tory. She’s the phys­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the joy, pain, and ev­ery­thing in be­tween that her fam­ily has lived and loved through. She is home to a lot of people, those con­nected by blood, and those that be­come fam­ily along the way. By shar­ing her story, she pre­serves the his­tory of her home, her neigh­bor­hood and her ex­pe­ri­ences. She re­minds the greater Char­lotte com­mu­nity of what hap­pens when those sto­ries are not lifted, when those fam­i­lies are not hon­ored, and when those com­mu­ni­ties are erased.

So, ner­vous or not, I am re­minded that I have been given a lofty project. In­ter­view­ing neigh­bors, writ­ing their sto­ries, then work­ing with sto­ry­tellers to learn and share these sto­ries is an im­por­tant part of the process. I’m happy to do that. But watch­ing those true, lived ex­pe­ri­ences come alive on stage, pro­vid­ing an op­por­tu­nity for sto­ries to ex­pose the raw truth of sys­tem­atic era­sure, hold­ing space for com­mu­nity mem­bers and neigh­bors and af­firm­ing that their sto­ries won’t be ig­nored and for­got­ten is a golden op­por­tu­nity that I’m ex­cited to ex­pe­ri­ence and hon­ored to ex­plore.

Ad­mis­sion to the evening, at Ware­house 242 (2307 Wilkin­son Blvd.), is free; reg­is­ter at

TERRY SUAVE

Sto­ry­teller Hannah Hasan.

HANNAH HASAN

Brandy Alexan­dria at the first Muddy Tur­tle Talks.

HANNAH HASAN

Devin Clark at the first Muddy Tur­tle Talks.

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