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Community-Building and the Power of Stories

We are talking about vision-building in XLR8 sessions, and we have noted that creating and sharing a positive story about the community can be a way to engage its citizenry and build excitement about reaching community goals. 

I am a strong believer in the power of stories.  Putting our memories and ideas and fears and hopes into story form is a way to make a lasting impact.  We may forget the details of places, the names of people, or the exact order of events for things we have experienced, but when someone tells us a powerful story, it may be something that we remember all our lives.   

However, a caution to community leaders:  If we are telling the story of a community, that story needs to encompass experiences of all community members.  Painting a picture that does not include the significant realities of groups of community members is a way to give offense.  It is so important for people to feel that they are acknowledged, heard, noticed—that their lives mattered, that their time was well-spent. 

Stories about Prairie View are some of the most interesting in Texas.  Our whole nation paid attention to the recent sad story of Sandra Bland.  But how many people know about the history of our community?  Do people remember that, before the Hayes Compromise of 1877 effectively ended reconstruction policies providing for African-American rights, this area gave birth to influential African-American state legislators, leaders that inspired the establishing of an African-American bank that lasted all through the Great Depression, and a good number of thriving small businesses and farms.

The stories of the post-reconstruction reign of terror for African-Americans in this area have understandably overshadowed some parts of the story of Prairie View.  Without hearing all the stories of a community, we lose important perspective.  We need to remember and tell how people have tried, what obstacles were put in their way, and what might be done to remove barriers.

In Prairie View today, we are building relationships that I think will become the basis for stories that can inspire.  One example:  Through the Prairie View Volunteer Fire Fighting Association, community members are gathering to contribute, to train for emergencies, to express unity, and even to reach outside our own community to help other communities.  When there’s a fire and we work shoulder to shoulder to save people and property, we are certainly building powerful positive memories. 

I hope we can think about ways that all members of our communities can feel that their voices are heard and their stories are honored.

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Frank Jackson is the former mayor of Prairie View and author of  A Brief History of the City of Prairie View, Texas.

Community Leaders Speak is a series of writings prompted by the discussions during IC2 Regional XLR8 Program which convenes 150 leaders from 58 communities across all regions of Texas, September – October 2020. As a part of the IC2 REGIONAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY INITIATIVE, Regional XLR8 is a new type of “accelerator” that helps communities rethink recovery, take strategic action, and build resilience. During this intensive 6 week program, leaders are actively engaged in full & regional group discussions around human-centered approaches.