Listening to Heal
In discussing the sessions, LaShawn Routé Chatmon, executive director of the National Equity Project, says she was surprised by how quickly the participants were willing to share their experiences. "You could feel some of the pretense wash away and people began an honest exploration or reflection of themselves," she recalls, adding that the facilitators should be credited with creating a positive atmosphere for the participants.
Chatmon, who uses a similar healing process in her work at improving educational outcomes for children, says the sessions reaffirmed for her that "everyone has a story and that there's healing power in listening. We have to release emotion before we can think clearly and strategically about how we're going to take action. So that listening allows you to release that emotion, to let that go, so you can be clearer thinking. As a process, this was good for me; listening is healing. Part of what happens if you're open is that your mind changes. You will change your mind about somebody whose story you thought you knew before they opened their mouth. So part of what you find is that your ideas and assumptions that you bring in the door about who people are and what their life experiences have been actually begin to change, expand and grow and transform. That has healing properties in it.
"In my story, I talked not so much about the negatives of oppression, but how proud I was to be an African American woman and where I thought that came from for me. I was being paired with a woman who was committed to telling the stories of women; this was a white woman who shared stories of her own abuse. For me, again making an assumption about what you think you're about to hear was something totally different than what I expected. That sharing was a gift, people sharing their stories with you was a gift. Here's what I can't do in the future. I can never act as if I didn't hear the stories of those people yesterday. With every story there's more courage and more hope."
Chatmon asserts that the emotional release "was exhausting" for most of the participants, but she adds, "It was beautiful. By dinner time the connectivity between people was extraordinary."