RONALD SMITH: And we're sitting across the desk, and they're passing us emails that they had captured.
And these emails said, "I will make a bomb and blow these people up."
ADAM STUMACHER: The gun stays on us as it passes.
And the whole time, I can't stop shaking.
I can't stop thinking, "What the hell am I doing here?"
MARIAMA WHITE-HAMMOND: And some friends asked me to come to a rally, so I showed up.
And next thing I knew, I was in West Roxbury almost every week.
♪ ♪ STUMACHER: My name is Adam Stumacher.
I'm an author and an educator, originally from a small town in New Hampshire called Nelson.
I currently work as the director of instruction at the Henderson Inclusion School, which is a Boston public school in Dorchester.
You've written for The New York Times, The Kenyon Review, The Sun, and several other publications.
What kind of writing do you do?
A lot of my work draws on my experience having, working as a teacher and administrator in inner-city schools for more than a decade now, and so a lot of what I try and do is just kind of explore the realities of that experience.
I feel like there are a lot of, there are a lot of myths about urban schools, like sort of the myth of, like, the white savior, the myth of the hero teacher, and I think a lot of what I'm trying to do is work very intentionally against those perceived images and just kind of depict the reality as I've lived it in all of its, like, sort of messy nuance.
So, what's the difference for you between having a story in written form and performing it onstage?
It's interesting, I'm actually...
I'm fairly new to live storytelling.
One of the big differences for me is I feel like the relationship between the storyteller and the audience.
Like, when you write a story, you just put everything you have into it an then you, like, send it out into the world and you never know, like, what's going to happen.
Sometimes somebody will tell you later that they read it, and here's what they thought about it, but, like, when you're on a stage, you have that sort of immediate feedback or connection with your audience.
So it's a completely different beast.
♪ So I'm walking with a group of volunteers down this bombed-out road on the outskirts of Nablus, a city in the West Bank, when I hear a deep rumbling sound.
The sound grows louder and the ground begins to shake.
And then in the distance, I see this cloud of dust, and cresting the hill, this huge steel beast, an Israeli tank.
As it approaches, the turrets swivel towards us, and I'm staring down the barrel of a gun, it's opening wider than my head.
The gun stays on us as it passes, and the whole time, I can't stop shaking, can't stop thinking, "What the hell am I doing here?"
This is how I spent the summer after my first year as a teacher.
I joined the Teach for America program and was assigned to teach eighth grade in East Oakland.
Imagine me, a clueless white boy with a ponytail pushing a shopping cart down a crowded hallway, and in every classroom, the kids won't quiet down long enough for me to even take attendance.
By the end of my first month, I've been cussed out more times than I can even count.
I've had students tear posters off the walls, take art supplies out of drawers while my back is turned.
Nobody is learning except for me.
This is the first experience in my life of complete failure.
And the worst part is, I have to wake up the next morning knowing that I will fail again.
162 more days until summer.
So when June finally rolls around, I volunteer as a human shield in a war zone.
(laughter) As a Jewish American, I, I've long had a sense of connection, a sense of responsibility for this tragedy unfolding on the nightly news, a sense of stake in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, but mostly, after a year of failure, I just wanted to do something good.
Only it ended up more complicated than that, because when that tank rounded the bend and we made our way into Nablus, I found that in this war zone, I didn't have to do anything.
As a human shield, my job was to be.
I held up my navy blue passport, and magic things seemed to happen around me.
The Israeli soldiers were mostly scared kids with AK-47s, and with an American witness present, they changed.
They allowed ambulances through checkpoints.
They allowed villagers to clear the rubble blocking their roads.
They allowed mobile clinics to set up in shuttered schoolhouses.
At night, I slept in a refugee camp in a home scheduled for demolition because the family's son had been a suicide bomber.
The father, Abu Saed, was a wiry man with deep laugh lines who stayed up late, offering me cups of Turkish coffee, platters of figs, and stories.
He showed me photos of his old family farm, the olive groves his grandfather had planted.
He said, when the soldiers came, they had one hour to pack everything they could into an oxcart and leave forever.
He showed me the deed to the farm.
He said, "When you go back to America, I want you to tell them I have this paper."
It wasn't until the end of summer, the night before I was scheduled to leave, that he told me about his son Saed.
He said the boy was born here, lived his whole life in this camp, where school was usually closed, where there weren't many jobs.
He said Saed was a playful boy, but he changed as he grew older.
He stopped laughing, started getting into fights and staying out late with his friends, until that night when he didn't come back.
And the next morning, they saw it on the news.
Saed had blown himself up on a bus, killing himself and three others.
"My boy did not learn this from us," said Abu Saed.
"But now the soldiers want to destroy our home.
"Only, tonight we're safe.
An American is here, and we are safe."
Just before I turned in, he showed me Saed's picture.
I saw this shot of a boy with this wild mop of curls and a look on his face somewhere between mischief and hope.
And that's when it hit me.
This could be any one of us.
This could be one of my students.
The next morning, I woke up before dawn and I left.
I was a tourist in a war zone.
I could choose to leave.
And the truth is, I couldn't wait to get across those checkpoints, back to Jerusalem, and take a long, hot shower.
Only later, after I landed back home, after I started pushing my shopping cart down the hallway again, I realized part of me had never left.
That fall, I learned about Rachel Corrie, an American human shield like me, who was run over by a bulldozer and killed.
And that's when I understood, there is no magic to a navy blue passport.
I had just been lucky.
I never did hear what happened to Abu Saed or to his home, but the picture of his son stuck with me.
And when I see my students, I see him, a boy with mischief in his grin and a glimmer of hope in his eyes.
And so I wake up the next morning and I face failure again, and I try to fail a little better every time.
And at the end of the year, I kept on trying, and then the year after that, I stuck with it.
So after ten years now working in inner-city schools, I'm still figuring out what it means to do something good.
But one thing I do know is this: You have to be more than a tourist.
You have to stay.
(applause) ♪ SMITH: My name is Ronald Smith, and I was born originally in Selma, Alabama.
I live currently in Fayetteville, Georgia, with my wife and kids.
Uh, I'm the founder of New Way Revolution, and the work that we do here is racial reconciliation, and we do work that bring people together.
And when did you realize that you wanted to play a role of some kind in changing things in your community?
SMITH: I think there's something that's been in me for a really long time to help people.
And I met Dr. Bernard Lafayette, and when I met him, uh, he worked alongside Dr. King and John Lewis and C.T.
Vivian, different people like that during the Civil Rights Movement.
When those guys began to tell me stories and talk about the courage that it took to try to bring people together and what they were willing to do, like, something in there stoked a fire in me and I wanted to do it.
Did you grow up with storytelling in your family?
My brother Rufus, who passed away, he was, he was nine years older than me, but...
He could tell-- he could really tell some good stories.
I mean, he just had a way of capturing you, whenever he sat around and tell a story.
And Dr. Lafayette also taught me some things, because Dr. Lafayette is a great storyteller.
So I learned to tell the stories, or use stories to actually teach from.
So the storytelling became, uh, just simply a tool that I would use to get some of the principles across to some of our audiences.
♪ I was born in Selma, Alabama, one of 16 children.
And my parents kind of grew up on a farm.
And I saw the, the courage of my parents just even to raise 16 children, you know, in Selma.
And I saw the strength of my dad.
You know, I saw my dad do, do incredible feats, in my opinion, as a young boy growing up watching him.
You know, be out in the cold weather, sometimes be 30, 45 degrees, and he'll be chopping wood, you know, with no shirt on, you know?
And that was my dad, you know, that's my dad.
You know, as a kid, you see, you cheer him on, 'cause that's who your daddy is.
And then I saw his weakness.
I saw his weakness come out, because he was afraid of white people.
And he was genuinely afraid.
And we would go downtown, and he would push me off the sidewalk when whites were coming.
And he would tell me, "You get off the sidewalk when white people come."
And then I saw him in a grocery store with a young white bagger, and him saying "Yes, sir, no, sir," to this white bagger.
And it really bothered me and it really frustrated me.
I really didn't like it.
That's my dad.
I mean, he's supposed to be strong, but I just see him being weak in this moment, and didn't understand why.
I didn't wanna be that way.
I didn't wanna do what he did.
I wanted to do something different.
I believed something different could be done.
And years later, I began to invest some time in Selma to do work in the community to help young people, to help people be reconciled.
Black and white people can come together.
You can actually, we can actually live together.
We can actually, you know, do this life together.
And it didn't have to be all this that my parents went through.
And so... but while out there doing this work, uh, I met, I met a white woman named Gwen, and she had a radio program, and, and she invited me to co-host on this radio program.
And the radio was designed to do the very thing that was in my heart to do, you know.
And Gwen was not like me.
I mean, she was from Colorado, I was from Alabama.
She drank green smoothies and I loved pork chops and fried chicken and... Just had some differences, and I'm Black and she's white.
But she also played football, had some grit, so I knew that she was committed to doing this work, just reconciling people-- the commitment to reconcile people and...
So we get on the radio and we put our energy out there.
We're gonna put our love on the line, and we're gonna help people come together, and people will call in and say some very hateful things.
People will tell us how Blacks and white together will dumb down the race, or putting Blacks and whites in the school together, meaning that you will have to dumb down the education.
And then we'd take calls about people wanting peach cobbler over apple pie, and things like that.
And that was kind of the space that Gwen and I operated in, and I still felt some uncomfort with her, because my dad was telling me to be afraid of white people.
She's still white, and I never completely got past that, you know?
And so I didn't always challenge certain things that I would hear her say when Black callers would call.
And so there were still some things in me that I needed to work through, but we were committed to keep doing the work.
But months later, Gwen and I found ourself in a totally different space in the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, and with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation there.
And we're sitting across the desk, and they're passing us emails that they had captured from this guy.
And these emails said that, "I will make a bomb and blow these people up."
Specifically wanting to kill Gwen and I.
And then they give us a picture to show us what he looked like.
Kind of a short guy, white guy.
And Gwen and I are driving back from Montgomery to Selma, which is about a hour drive, and the car was completely silent.
I mean, we just did not talk.
But everything in me started to feel the fear about my parents being right.
"Why am I doing this?
Is it worth it?
"Is my life worth it?
Is her life worth it?
"I'm putting people in danger because I'm Black, she's white, people don't want this, so let's just stop."
But the closer we got to Selma, the more I realized that I wanted to keep going.
And we were committed.
We were committed to spreading love.
We were committed to going into community.
And we did.
But while just spreading love, Gwen and I fell in love with each other.
I really started to love her and was committed to doing this work together with her.
And so, months later, Gwen and I got invited to Hawaii to do a training, a nonviolence training.
And while we were there to do this training, with some people that were supporting us, I wanted to marry Gwen, and I told her that.
And she said yes.
And she married me on that island.
And while Gwen and I flew back from that Hawaii trip, on the plane, I felt all the anxiety of what my parents felt.
I felt the fear of going back to what we was going to because there was somebody... Because of the work that we were doing to reconcile Blacks and whites, somebody was wanting to kill us.
That we had to go back to that.
So Gwen and I made a decision not to live together in the same house.
We would continue to do the work, but not to live together in the same house, which was a challenge, but it was safe for both of us.
And so when we get back, we were doing an event downtown Selma, not too far from the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and we were outside playing music and I saw this guy coming up, this white guy.
And I'm, like, "That's him."
In my mind, I'm, like, "That's him."
And Gwen sees him, and Gwen darts in the building that we were out in front of because she's afraid.
So I'm just standing out there, and there's this guy that we saw in this picture.
And he's walking up to the table where I'm at.
And he got both his hands in his pocket.
And I have no idea what to do.
I have no idea what to say.
And he walks up, takes his hand out of his pocket, and I reach over and shake his hand.
And I would love to tell you that me shaking that man's hand changed the way he felt about me being a Black man.
But in fact, weeks later, this man was arrested for testing bombs in his backyard that accidentally went off.
Gwen and I moved back in together, we continued to do the work, and I realized my parents were right.
I was afraid like they were, I did have fear, but I also realized that the work that Gwen and I were committing to do, because it changed people's life.
It actually changed people's life.
So we became way more committed to do the work than just to live in fear.
♪ WHITE-HAMMOND: My name is Mariama White-Hammond.
And I'm from Boston.
I'm born and bred, grew up in Roxbury.
I'm a minister; I currently minister to young people, but I also do a lot of work around social justice issues.
OKOKON: And when did you realize that being a minister was what you were called to do?
Oh my gosh, that was quite its journey.
Both my parents are ministers, my grandfather, my uncle, both my godparents.
- So I was definitely clear that I was never going to become a minister.
(laughing) And then, you know, I kind of just started doing ministry work and not really thinking about it.
And I really don't think you have to be ordained to do ministry.
I think there are lots of people who do ministry that aren't ordained.
There have been women throughout centuries who haven't been able to have that title, but have been doing really great ministry work.
Um... but, you know, I think there is a role that Black preachers play in our community.
And increasingly I saw that that was something I was called to do, and to be.
And I do stretch a little bit what it means to be a Black minister.
(Theresa chuckles) Just to some extent by being a woman, to begin with.
WHITE-HAMMOND: Being young.
But I feel grateful when people allow me to be there-- both during the joyous and challenging moments of life.
And what are you hoping that people walk away with after your story tonight?
I just think we're in a time where, um, we all need to be more courageous.
I think there's so many times where we look at the world and wish it were different.
But sometimes I think we're waiting for somebody else to make that happen.
And the reality is it's going to happen when all of us in small ways stop settling for anything less than what we can be, what the world can be.
So I think... it's my hope that everybody feels like they can take a stand in whatever way, in whatever space they're in.
♪ In 2015, I started hearing about this natural gas pipeline that was going to be built in West Roxbury.
Nothing this big had ever been built in a densely populated neighborhood.
Now I'd already signed petitions against pipelines in other parts of the country, and now there was one coming in my own backyard.
But I didn't get involved right away.
See, even though it was in a residential neighborhood, near my church, with two schools, plus a senior center, and even though it was across the street from a quarry... Now, I'm not an engineer, but I think it doesn't take more than common sense to know that highly flammable stuff and a place where they blow up things are a bad combination.
All of these things were clear.
This was a terrible idea.
But there was one challenge.
See, I grew up in Roxbury, predominantly Black neighborhood, where we feel like too often we get dumped on.
And this pipeline was going to be built in West Roxbury, a predominantly white neighborhood, very well connected.
I figured, I'm working so much on stuff in my own neighborhood, they got this, they'll handle it.
Everybody will come to their aid.
But the pipeline kept being built.
And finally some friends asked me to come to a rally, so I showed up.
And next thing I knew, I was in West Roxbury almost every week.
People were coming out, they were standing in front of the trucks, stopping the construction, and I supported them.
But in terms of getting arrested, I held back.
I figured, does the world really need another Black person to go to prison?
So, finally I got an email from a friend.
It talked about how in Pakistan, the summer before, 1,300 people had died because of heatwaves-- so many people that grave diggers were starting to dig ditches in anticipation of summer.
And the ditches in Pakistan looked eerily similar to the ditch in West Roxbury.
So we decided to have an action to call attention to this, and to mourn all the people who were losing their lives because of climate change.
We chose a date, June 29, my birthday.
My birthday's complicated.
It's a day I celebrate, but it's also a day that I mourn.
Anyway, the day came, I was in all black in my full clerical gear, and there was a lot of sun.
So, we had a prayer service, but we kept it short.
And then we jumped in the ditch.
Standing there, in the ditch, waiting to get arrested.
And I started to think about what I usually think about on my birthday.
See, June 29 is not just the day I was born.
It's also the day Kareem died.
In 2005, I was running a youth arts program to teach young people how to take their art and talk about social justice issues.
And Kareem was one of our young artists.
He was charismatic, and really committed, and all of the young people really followed his lead.
But on June 29, 2005, I woke up on my birthday to a call from a colleague, telling me that Kareem had been shot and killed in the early hours of the morning a few miles from my house.
He had wanted to turn his life around.
But some folks just wouldn't let him move beyond the life of his past.
And so standing in this ditch as the only person of color in a privileged part of the city, I felt like I needed to say something about Kareem.
That we shouldn't just fighting for people dying in Pakistan, or even in West Roxbury, if we couldn't honor the lives of young people who were dying because of even less futuristic things than climate change.
So I started talking.
First to the people next to me, then loud enough that the police could hear.
And then when I was done, people clapped and thanked me for sharing about Kareem's life.
As I got arrested and carted away, they cheered and said my name and his name.
I ended up in a jail cell with a 70-something-year-old activist in a tie dye shirt and Birkenstocks from the suburbs.
(light cheers and applause) She talked about all of the different issues she had been working on over her whole life.
And as we waited for the bail bondsman, we started to question how could we build this world where we wouldn't sacrifice people in Pakistan or in Roxbury?
Finally, I got bailed out, my family picked me up, and they took me to the beach for, you know, watching the beach, sunset on my birthday.
And as I looked out over the waves, I realized that that day, I built a little bit of a bridge between two opposing neighborhoods.
And maybe I'd made a small dent in helping us see the connection between climate change and violence.
So, in the end, June 29, it's not just the day I was born, it's not just the day Kareem died.
It's also a day where I stood up for something I believe in.
(cheers and applause) The first step to making the world better is working together, and that requires us to know each other, to care about each other.
And I think storytelling really does that.
It allows us to look into somebody else's life and identify with them.
It also is an opportunity to share about things that I've gone through that other people may or may not know about.
But, again, really making that human connection, that's the first step for anything to get better.
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