Posts Tagged ‘The Facing Project’

Acceptance and tolerance and forgiveness, those are life-altering lessons.  (Jessica Lange)

Today’s blog is the longest I have ever posted. Yet only this introductory paragraph comes from me. Kelsey Timmerman wrote the rest of it; I copied it verbatim with his permission. If you come from a different political platform, please hold on until the end. The purpose is not primarily political. It is human. Step into someone else’s shoes—at least for a few minutes. Peace, upon all:

…”I hated them because they voted for a man who I despised because of his hate speech. I hated hate so I hated and hated myself for hating.”

I wrote this piece on my blog after the election. Sharing again here on inauguration day:


There are a lot of reasons I didn’t want Donald J. Trump to be our next president, but there is one reason (and probably only one) that I’m glad he won.

The night of the election, I went to a watch party hosted at The Downtown Farm Stand. Gary Younge from the Guardian was there too. (Can you get more liberal than drinking organic beer and eating organic free-range, potato chips with your GMO-free friends, including a reporter from The Guardian? Probably not.) Like everyone else we expected to watch the election of the first female president. I can’t say I was a vigorous supporter of Hillary Clinton (there’s something rather unappealing about political dynasties), but earlier that day when I cast a vote for her I did get the “feels.” I have a daughter and if her fascination with burping and farting ever goes away, I’d like to think she could have any job, including President of the United States.

At the party, I thought, “If Trump did happen to win by some miracle, I’ll be more inspired than ever to get busy on my personal work and my work with The Facing Project connecting people through stories to strengthen community.”

At 9:30 PM it was obvious that Clinton was in trouble. The myth of the “silent Trump” voter was a reality. I stayed up until 3AM. I watched President-elect Trump’s victory speech. I felt like someone had died.

I had solid reasons to feel this way:

Since I’m a freelance troublemaker, we get our insurance through the ACA healthcare exchange. I have an autistic son who receives more than $100K of therapy each year. If/when President Trump repeals Obamacare, will a private insurance company outside the exchange insure us with Griffin’s “preexisting condition?” Or will we have to end therapy altogether?

Then there is Trump…

Did I mention I have a son with disabilities?

There’s the rhetoric of hate, fear, and misogyny. But I don’t want to write about all the reasons President Trump scares the shit out of me and makes me disappointed for our country, and how I feel for anyone that’s been labeled an outsider or other by the creepy nationalistic vibe that he represents. I want to write about how his being elected has inspired me more than ever to build empathy through stories.

On Wednesday I mourned. I skipped my morning workout and zombie-like drove Griffin to preschool. As I moved through the day, I’d see people and speculate that they voted for Trump on the smallest detail–what they wore, what they drove, facial hair. I was prejudging everyone and once I determined that they were a Trump voter, I hated them. I hated them because they voted for a man who I despised because of his hate speech. I hated hate so I hated and hated myself for hating.

On Thursday I was giving a talk at Northern Kentucky University. First year students at NKU read Where Am I Eating? as a common read. I had decided to make the talk entirely about the election and not mention our election once.

I told the story of a family who lived in the Mathare Valley slum in Nairobi Kenya. After a disputed election in 2008, violence spilled out across Kenya. The losing party was protesting the results of the election in which a candidate of the Luo tribe lost to a candidate from the Kikuyu tribe. Luo protestors went door-to-door in Mathare Valley and asked questions in their native tongue. If their questions couldn’t be answered, they killed all those inside. Shaddy Hopkid Marsha, the middle brother of the family, spoke both languages. He gathered up his neighbors and hid them inside his shanty. He answered the questions. He saved the lives of his neighbors.

“How many houses, dorm rooms, apartments, do you have to go from your home until you don’t know the names of the people who live there?” I asked the students and myself.

I shared a story about standing outside of a mosque in Bangladesh while men in prayer robes poured out. This was 2007, and, as much as I liked to think that the constant barrage of “fear the Muslims” in our media and society hadn’t sunk in, it had. My heart beat faster. I was nervous that if they knew I were an American, they wouldn’t like me. I was afraid. But then I spent then next month hanging out with people…people who were Muslim. They were amazing.

“How can we fear people who we’ve never met?” I asked the students and myself.

I shared Amilcar Lozano‘s story. Amilcar left his job as a garment worker in Honduras and risked his life to come to the United States where he works today supporting his family in a way he couldn’t if he were actually with them. No matter where you are on the immigration debate, you can appreciate the sacrifice Amilcar made for his family and the courage it took to make his journey.

“When we start with stories instead of politics and ideology, we can have a conversation with anyone regardless of what political team they are on or who they voted for,” I told the students and myself.

I talked about knowing our neighbors, listening to them, not fearing people we don’t know, and about the responsibility we all have to use our own privilege and opportunity to help others.

It felt so damn good not to hate. It felt good to take positive action to make a difference instead of complaining about things I couldn’t control.

On Saturday, the Facing Racism Project in Muncie project shared 38 stories of people in our community who had a racism story to be told. The event sold out in a matter of days. I’m the co-founder of The Facing Project, a nationwide nonprofit storytelling initiative that seeks to build empathy, and I was also a writer and a part of the planning committee for the project.

The stories reminded us all how far we’ve come as a society, yet how very far we have to go. To collect the stories, volunteer writers sat with volunteer storytellers to listen and collaborate on each story, and actors brought the stories to life. Well over 100 people were involved in the project.

The participants and the audience reminded me that there are people who are willing to sit and listen to difficult subjects. There are people who are willing to connect with people who are different than them.

After the election, we didn’t wake up in a different country. This is our country. If you were surprised by the results like I was, we obviously weren’t listening to other people enough. We let our politics and our politicians divide us. We need to connect and seek to understand those who have different opinions than us.

Universities, bless their souls, are providing safe places for students to mourn the election results. I’ll give you Wednesday. Wednesday I needed a safe place to just not do Wednesday, so I stayed home as much as possible. But Thursday? We don’t need quiet places to be alone, we need to be meeting people, getting engaged with all parts of our community and not just people who look, think, and act like us.

I will make this important caveat though: I understand why certain people are afraid of a Trump presidency. They are afraid of being deported, having a loved one being deported, being rounded up into an internment camp, of being unmarried to a loved one, of not being able to afford health insurance. Those of us who are less impacted by the possibilities listed above need to be there for the groups of people who feel like they may lose rights or be discriminated against. We need to listen to them and stand with them.

We also need to listen to the people who voted for Trump. I have loved ones who I believe are some of the best damn people on the planet and they voted for Trump. I side with Jon Stewart on this.

Here’s what he had to say to Charlie Rose recently:

“I thought Donald Trump disqualified himself at numerous points. But there is now this idea that anyone who voted for him has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric. Like, there are guys in my neighborhood that I love, that I respect, that I think have incredible qualities who are not afraid of Mexicans, and not afraid of Muslims, and not afraid of blacks. They’re afraid of their insurance premiums. In the liberal community, you hate this idea of creating people as a monolith. Don’t look at Muslims as a monolith. They are the individuals and it would be ignorance. But everybody who voted for Trump is a monolith, is a racist. That hypocrisy is also real in our country.”

We fear what we don’t know. When we don’t know our neighbors, we fear them.

We all need to listen to each other and have empathy for one another. This election has reminded me of that and that the work that I do and the work of The Facing Project is more important than ever. I hope you have similar work to pour yourself into that isn’t just a Facebook post, or a Change.org petition, or protesting. Those things are fine, but if you really want to make an impact, you need to go beyond being against things and work on the things you are for. You need to become part of the community out your actual front door.

If you aren’t sure what to do and want to build empathy story by story, The Facing Project needs volunteer coaches and editors. We also need resources–you can donate here to the Building Empathy Story by Story campaign – http://give.classy.org/empathy .

Since the election, I’ve completed the first draft of a book proposal and shipped it off to JL Stermer–another global quest–and feel absolutely reinvigorated and as passionate as ever toward my work with The Facing Project.

And for that I’m thankful. It’s not a new world. It’s the same world and this election has been a reminder we still have a lot of work to do.

photos taken from Facing Project web page, highlighted with Word tools

A team studies possible approaches in the top photo. Autistic children celebrate who they are in the lower pic.



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It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story. (Native American proverb)

Last week I saw a woman I usually avoid. She’s one of those people who exudes know-it-all with every move. Advice spills out of her leaky-bag style. She is the extrovert and I am the introvert, the way fire is hot and ice is cold. But, she turned to me with a tight-lipped smile that leaked a hint of pain.

Within minutes of a hello we were honestly sharing. And I realized my first, second, and even third impressions aren’t always as accurate as I think they are. Sure, I try to accept each person as an individual. But I don’t have X-ray vision into the heart, mind, and spirit. This woman isn’t as high and mighty as I thought she was.

Two of my friends have husbands facing mental decline. I also know about a young man who was released from jail yesterday. He was convicted for a minor offense—the incident occurred at least a year ago. The young man was not permitted a cup for water. He dipped his curved hands under the faucet and caught what he could. The water dripped down his arms and tempted his thirst, but didn’t quench it. Prisoners needed to buy cups. But the young man had been brought inside the jail, shackled. All possessions forbidden. Someone had to mail money to him. He had a family who was permitted to send him what he needed—weeks later.

How does it feel to be on the inside of people in life-shattering or extremely difficult situations? On the inside of their minds and bodies. Day and night. Human beings need dignity to survive.

During the Midwest Writers Conference at Ball State University at the end of July, Kelsey Timmerman, best-selling author, offered an empathetic message. That message stayed with me the duration of the weekend. It stays with me now. He spoke about the Facing Project.

The program initiates people into the world of folk who live challenge. And then it allows volunteers to interview individuals and write about difficult experiences as if the volunteers had walked through homelessness, addiction, poverty, autism, trauma, unemployment. The list continues, and is available on the website.

These writers do not need to be published authors, journalism majors, or even freshman English students. They can be truck drivers, store clerks, or retired plumbers.

If I had actually met the young prisoner, perhaps I could assume his voice. For now, I repeat what I heard from his family. I would rather approach persons than issues. Issues are rarely one-size-fits-all.

I met Kelsey at a writers’ workshop when he wrote as a travel journalist. Then he took a major risk. He visited the countries where our clothes are made. But, he had no intention of penning an isn’t-this-a-beautiful-landscape travelogue.

He lived with the workers, earned their trust, and relayed their stories—no whitewash. And Where Am I Wearing was born. Kelsey did not end his quest with that success. He left the comforts of a loving family and went on the trail again. He met cocoa workers who worked as slaves. He talked to them, one on one. Kelsey even attempted to save a worker. He could not. The slave owner had too much power.

Where Am I Eating was born into the publishing world.

Kelsey extended his fervor for world change into the States. In 2015 he joined with J.R. Jamison to create the Facing Project.

I asked Kelsey Timmerman to explain the project. This is his answer: “Our goal is to get communities to think bigger about social justice issues—not only globally but also locally. The real question to ask should be about one: Do I know one person in my community facing poverty or hunger or a disability? And better yet, do I understand their story? The Facing Project provides the opportunity to create connections between community members, students, and organizations. It allows citizens to carry the weight of their neighbor’s story and stand with them, side-by-side, to create community change.”

The Facing Project takes desperation and morphs it into hope. The e-mail sign up is easy to find. May face-to-face efforts expand until understanding eventually becomes commonplace.

I think that notion is called world peace.

Picture: Co-founders J.R. Jamison and Kelsey Timmerman welcomed Jay Moorman, Ontario Systems’ Vice President of Client Services (chair), Stephanie Fisher, content manager SpinWeb Internet Media (vice chair), and James Mitchell, associate director of the career center at Ball State University (secretary and treasurer). Ro Selvey, Junior High Math Teacher at Southside Middle School (K-12 Outreach), came later as a founding board member.


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