September 26, 2020

Our Personal Stories Have the Power to Create Change

Our memories are the windows into our past. We use them to reminisce about our dearly departed loved ones, our favorite and not so favorite times during childhood, those fun and wild vacations, and those moments in our lives when the next chapter started. Our memories are our often all we have to remember where we have been.

With this said have you ever taken the time to recall the memories of the exact moments in time where your life path shifted and your values became imprinted on your soul? Reflect on those moments and list out what exactly they meant for your life, list out what exact values you learned, and how you are living them out each and every day? When we walk down memory lane, as we all tend to do from time to time, we can often pinpoint those moments that changed the course of our lives.

You may be asking yourself, why is it even important to know these moments? I have a vague idea of these moments, and of my values, so this is pointless. And I respond to you - in knowing the exact moments that your life shifted, and when your values became solidified, you start to weave your personal story. In your personal story there is power, the power to create the change you want to see in your community.

Let me tell you a little bit of my story to illustrate this point. As a community organizer straight out of college, I knew that I wanted to create a positive change in my community. My ideal was community that upheld the dignity and self worth of all (thank you social work degree), a community that welcomed all that lived in it, a community led by the voice of the people, and a community that had just policies. However, throughout the two years that I was actively community organizing, I struggled to articulate why these things were so important to me. In struggling to articulate my why, it was difficult to organize the leaders and build the power I needed for change. It wasn't until I started to reflect on those moments in my life that stamped these values on my soul was I able to find my true path and voice in life. So what were some of those moments in life for me?

One night, when I was about 10 years old, my sister and I were spending the night with my grandmother like we did every weekend. This night, however, was unusual because my grandmother received a phone call with a strange request. My aunt was at the Greyhound and she was with about 6 or 7 stranded Mexican men. They would have to stay at the bus station for at least 6 hours until the next bus came, so could they come to my grandmother's house to wait? Without hesitation, my grandmother agreed and she immediately prepared tostadas, frijoles, and arroz for them to eat. Unbeknownst to me, as I sat in the dining room wide-eyed, staring at them eating in the living room and watching the tv, that moment solidified some values for me. The values of always providing for those in need, that my house is a sanctuary, all are welcome, and stepping up when the moment requires it.

Another significant moment occurred a few years later in 7th or 8th grade, with an assignment from my English teacher. Who knew school could be one of those moments! I was a child that came from a tumultuous childhood, and many things that happened were out of my control. The assignment was to memorize the poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley and the last stanza of the poem reads:

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

For a child that had never realized she could control her reality, this last stanza was life changing. This impacted me so deeply that I even carried a copy of this poem on me until my mid twenties. For me, the values I learned were taking charge of my life path and using my voice to create the world I want to see. This has since grown into creating a community of leaders that use their voices to control their fates.

There are so many similar moments in my life that either changed my life path and/or imprinted a life value for me. But that is only half the story. As I mentioned, we need to know what our values are, and where they come from, so we can craft our personal story. Why? In telling our personal story, we have the power to change the systems, and the world around us, so everyone can thrive. So, how does our personal story create power? Our personal stories create human connections, and human connections create change. Change that leads to flourishing communities. Communities that have the resources its members need to live a comfortable life with access to jobs that pay a living wage, equitable education experiences, the basics for living, and more.

Once we have crafted our personal story, and have clearly identified our values, we must live them out to the fullest each and every day. We must live them out in the work we do, in the way we interact and communicate with others, in the types of projects we choose to participate in, and the way we advocate for change. It is not enough to do the initial work to identify our story, we have to constantly revisit it and compare how our actions match our values. Are we living up to our values or are we acting outside them? If we are acting outside of our values, it is time to re-evaluate and correct course before we run the risk of perpetuating individual and systemic injustices.

So I ask you, what are those moments in time that changed your life path? What were the values listed in detail that were stamped on your soul and how do they serve humanity? How do you live out your values each and every day and how can you amplify efforts if you are? How are you acting against your values at the moment? How can you correct course to prevent perpetuating individual and systemic injustices?

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