Stories Keep Communities Alive



Stories Keep Communities Alive. Image of gold in cracked tarmac

“Past events exist, after all, only in memory, which is a form of imagination. The event is real now, but once it’s then, its continuing reality is entirely up to us, dependent on our energy and honesty.”
— Ursula K. LeGuin


Humans are storytelling animals. We always have been. From gatherings at waterholes and around campfires, to Homer and his wine dark sea. Stories transmit information and transport us to other places and times.

Stories are how history is conveyed. They tell of patterns and relationships, planting and growing, births and deaths.

Stories re-knit the fabric of what has been stolen or lost.

Stories give us hope that there is a future worth looking for.


***


Recently, I made a visit to a memorial art installation. A simple, yet beautifully moving piece, this memorial was a community effort. Many people came together over many months, cleaning the street and sidewalk, preparing the space.

Designed by artist Sharita Towne, the existing cracks in the tarmac on this side street near an old, failing mall were then slowly filled with gold paint, creating rivulets of brightness, of promise.

Inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi, the gold acts as to repair what is broken, making it once again beautiful and whole. The gold-hued rivulets also mimic the tracing of tears across a cracked and grieving face.

A plaque and more gold-filled cracks grace the piece of sidewalk. Across the way, other names of the beloved dead have been chalked. They will wash away at the first rains.

The gold will remain.


***

Twenty-five-year-old Keaton Otis was killed by the Portland Police in 2010. Pulled over for wearing a hoodie and therefore looking like a “possible gang member,” he was killed within three minutes.

For years, his father Fred Bryant held vigil at this humble intersection, demanding justice for his son. His father died from a heart attack five years later, and the community took up the vigil, carrying on, month after month, year after year.

Community kept the story of Keaton and Fred alive.

And it was community that told the story of beauty, healing, and repair. It was community that reminds us that gathering matters, and even when justice is absent, love is present.

And so, it was community who cleaned and filled, leaving their mark in gold. A memorial to a father’s love for his son, a community’s love for this grieving parent, and a young person cut down before their time.


Three photos of memorial: gold through streets, and a memorial plaque to Keaton Otis.

***

There are so many stories to be kept alive. So many names and so many lives:

Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley Jones.

Marielle Franco.

Alan Blueford.

Berta Cáceres.

Kayla Moore.

Quanice Hayes.

Mike Brown.

Sandra Bland.

Rekia Boyd.

Andrea Circle Bear.

George Floyd.

Elijah McClain.

Mahsa Amini.

Breonna Taylor.

Mahmoud Khalil Samoudi…


Too many names, in too many cities and towns all over the world. Too many communities, rocked with grief and anger. Yet, these names are remembered. These people’s stories are told: Siblings and daughters. Cousins and friends.

Art rises from the ashes of burning buildings. Humanity finds a way.

***

Gold paint on cleaned, cracked tarmac. Names written in chalk on sidewalks. Flowers and candles clustered into makeshift altars. Memorial T-shirts worn until they soften with love and time.

Keaton Otis. A young man, punched through a car window, then shot, multiple times. Three minutes. Dead likely before he even knew what was happening. His father, keeping vigil at the cost of his own health, finally dying from what many say was a broken heart.

There is anguish in our stories. There is grief. There is power.

There is a coming together in our stories. There are those who keep memory alive. There are those who will ever seek justice.

There are those who make something beautiful from things stolen, deliberately destroyed, or lost.

Communities keep stories alive—and stories keep communities alive—long after the bonfires and burning trashcans have gone dark.

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This is reader-funded writing, made possible by my amazing Patreon supporters. I give thanks.

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