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Sacred Storytelling in Oakland, CA

Posted by Ryan Hall

Oakland Peace Center/St. Marys International Peace Day Sacred Story Celebration
By OPC Intern Virginia White // September 22, 2016

Decades after suffering a stroke at the young age of 24, Ms. Susan  stood in front of the crowd attending the International Day of Peace Celebration co-sponsored by the Oakland Peace Center and St. Mary’s Center. Years ago, doctors told her that she would never walk again, yet today she walked right up to the podium unassisted.

“I didn’t listen to those doctors,” she proclaimed triumphantly; “I knew God has the final word in our stories!” The crowd roared.

Ms. Susan recalled how her mother nursed her back to health, rubbing her legs, providing her encouragement and unyielding love. And as she remembered her mother’s final message to her—how proud she was of her—the storyteller choked up a little.

And people nodded in support. The crowd recognized that across our differences, we all shared in common human vulnerability and a need for empathy, love and concern.

Much violence results from our inability to recognize our shared humanity. When this is the case, listening to someone’s story becomes a radical act.

Community members from a youth empowerment organization, a Filipino rights advocacy group, and local nonprofits gathered with homeless senior citizens at St. Mary’s Center that morning (Thursday September 22) to do just that: to listen. At this peace day celebration, stories took center stage amid a diverse offering of song, spoken word, guided meditation, even dance.

Participants heard a Latina octogenarian’s memories of growing up in a segregated neighborhood, and the influence of her grandfather had on her as he instilled in her a sense of dignity and self-love. In a world torn by racism, she found a sense of self-worth.

Part of the story of peace in Oakland is about everyone having access to shelter, food and fair paid work. (Peace begins when the hungry are fed, as the saying goes.) During the gathering, organizers talked about ballot initiatives in November. The very proposals lifted up (to bring more beloved family back from prisons and to give them more opportunities at home, to provide rental justice and funding for affordable housing) were part of the story of how people are striving to create peace. The St. Mary’s seniors knew the names and letters of every initiative discussed, a powerful illustration of the active side of peace-making.

The morning ended with the group holding hands to sing, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” The refrain of the song declares, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me!” Offering everyone present a moving and empowering reminder of the role we all have in creating the peaceful world we seek and often it begins by listening to the person in front of us.

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