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How the "Stories of Resilience" Counter-Storytelling Project Came To Be

by Keeley Flanigan on 2024-04-25T12:59:00-05:00 | 0 Comments

“The racial and cultural personality of the Black community must be preserved and the community must win its freedom while preserving its cultural integrity” (Stokely Carmichael)

My project “Stories of Resilience”, was born out of a need for cultural integrity. Cultural integrity is defined as the process of honoring, respecting, and protecting the materials, traditions, and knowledge that originate from a particular community or culture (Brislin, 2015). Oftentimes, due to the marginalization of many communities and the commodification of minority culture, people find their identities being overlooked or lost. Because of this, it's important for people to preserve the customs, behaviors, ideas, language, stories, and works of arts that define their culture. For those who exist outside of that community's culture, they must show proper allyship by recognizing those identities and demonstrating respect for all that comes with it. For libraries, allyship, representations, diversity, and inclusion is vastly important.

The Director of the Diversity Programs at Mayo Clinic, defines the act of allyship as "when a person of privilege works in solidarity and partnership with a marginalized group of people to help take down the systems that challenge that group's basic rights, equal access, and ability to thrive in our society."(). Performing cultural integrity is one way in which others can be an ally to those with minoritized backgrounds. This requires honest and ethical behavior that does not override the voices of those who need to be protected. When they are not in the room make sure their presence is heard, and when there is an opportunity for them to be in the room, ensure that space is made (Cultural Integrity - Manitoba Arts Council, 2020)

As a librarian, there are many occasions in which we have the chance to represent and support various different communities. This can be done through our collection, the displays we showcase, community outreach, inclusive events, public statements, and more. I believe that one of the reasons libraries are so good at supporting their communities and others through their diverse and inclusive practices is because they are strongholds of unbiased knowledge. Libraries are not meant to discriminate on the basis of personal belief, speech, or background when it comes to providing services and access to information. There is a level of neutrality that every library must have. This is important when it comes to serving patrons, but can become a double edged sword when it comes to community support. Which is exactly why I found myself encountering a problem when it came to event planning for the holiday season. The holiday in question, being Thanksgiving.

Most people know the history of Thanksgiving and the ensuing celebration that comes with it. In the United States, it is overwhelmingly seen as a day to give thanks, while for others it is a day of mourning. This juxtaposition between two vastly different perceptions of this holiday can make event planning around this time of year hard. Do we overlook this side of history to continue on with a tradition that means a lot to some people or do we curtail any events involving this holiday out of respect? What would either option say about the library and how would it affect patrons ability to feel safe and welcome in the space? 

Because of this I decided to begin a project called, “Stories of Resilience” counter-storytelling and oral history. My intent behind this project was to create a space where people could speak about the traditions they have in their families and their own cultural background, with an emphasis on those who come from a marginalized community. In doing this, issues surrounding cultural events due to a difference in narrative, can be counteracted by the personal experiences of those who are affected by these and other moments in history. This is because counter-storytelling is a way to reflect on our experiences and knowledge, they inform others on people's life experiences. 

Counter-cultural storytelling is a method of Critical Race Theory that is used to uplift the voices and stories of marginalized and underprivileged people. It is considered to be a radical form of inclusion and resistance to the dominant narratives that lead to erasure and misconstruction of minority stories. This method is used to gather evidence from different communities through interviews, surveys, participant observations, ethnographies, and other similar practices. By adding in oral history, which is a method of historical research that involves collecting historical information about people, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews. The ways and manner in which we can reach people is expanded. Both practices bring the power of telling minorities stories back in their hands, which was my main purpose in creating “Stories of Resilience”. I wanted to give people the opportunity to speak about their own life experiences and personal background without recourse. While this project is still in development, I am hoping students continue to share their stories with Dominican in an effort to showcase the different people that make up this community.

The library exists as a space for people to make connections with what is around them. This includes connecting to oneself, to information, to our needs, and to the community as a whole. These connections are something that needs to be celebrated and put on display. Libraries are 100% capable of doing that, and have been considered an experience that is shared within and without the community. When we plan events and perform different projects, creating a space and bringing in materials that will serve, reflect, and inspire patrons should be at the forefront of every thought. The objective of creating Stories of Resilience was to give students an opportunity to come in and share parts of their identity and culture that has allowed for them to remain resilient against life struggles. Click on "Stories of Resilience Mission Statement" to share your stories.

Stories of Resilience Mission Statement

Similar to Dominican University’s mission statement, the Rebecca Crown Library has emboldened itself with creating an environment that pursues truth, offers compassionate services, and contributes to the effort of making a more humane and just world. It is the responsibility of faculty librarians to ensure that this space is inclusive and meets the expanding needs of students. To do just that, the Rebecca Crown Library is undertaking an oral history counter-storytelling project based on your stories of resilience. This will include, but is not limited to, cultural stories, traditions, histories, art, music, and ideologies. 

What does it mean to survive and remain resilient? As a minority, it can be difficult to keep a hold of your identity against structures of power that seem to erase you.  We are put under an inordinate amount of pressure to conform to a majority-based standard. Because of this, many people find their identities and life experiences to be undervalued, if not discredited. The rare instances in which minority stories are told, it is almost presented as an afterthought, put on the wayside due to being viewed as conflicting with the dominant narrative.  

As a result, many people find themselves assimilating to the dominant culture’s views and regulations for survival. People are being asked to hold themselves up to an image that is unrealistic and unattainable. While others are being told to put themselves in a space that is not welcoming to them. Too often the collective requires that we shed parts of ourselves, including our culture, community, and identity, to be seen and respected. Overlooking that much of our identity, and therefore abilities, are made up of our own unique cultural experiences. 

Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about people, families, important events, and everyday life. It illuminates the environment, perceptions, and feelings of an individual by painting a verbal picture of one's life. Marginalized communities hold a wealth of information and knowledge that is often overlooked in comparison to the dominant culture. Counter-storytelling is a method used to tell the stories of those whose experiences are not often told. 

Historically minorities have been defined as “any group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination.” (Sociologist Louis Wirth, 1945). This includes, but is not limited to, the elderly, the LGBTQIA+ community, gender minorities, BIPOC, neurodivergent, disabled people, religious minorities, and more. Those who do not find themselves personally aligning with these groups are still welcome to share their stories of resilience and survival. This is a space for anyone who feels a need for their stories and/or culture to be shared. 

The wealth of information and knowledge that marginalized communities have is something that should be celebrated as well as formally acknowledged. At Rebecca Crown Library we believe that it is important to put power back into the people’s hands. 

Work Cited

Cultural integrity - Manitoba Arts Council. (2020, November 26). Manitoba Arts Council.,a%20particular%20culture%20or%20community.

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