My latest dose of inspiration has been a picture is worth…, a book born from the “unwelcome distinction” given to Reading, Pennsylvania by The New York Times in 2011. A book demonstrating the power of story.
Reading suffered from:
- The largest poverty rate of any American city (41%)
- Local high school drop out rates exceeding 50%
- College degree attainment rates of only 9%
The situation was dire, and something needed to be done. And so a picture is worth… was born.
a picture is worth… stemmed from a vision to “nurture the voice of young learners struggling to achieve in one of the most challenged educational systems in America.”
By focusing on community empowerment and equity in some of Reading’s most challenged neighbourhoods, the mission was simple: to develop future changemakers with the aim to transform the community.
As a program, a picture is worth… is a wonderful example of how various communication techniques—such as writing, audio, storytelling and photography—can be harnessed to create powerful interactive and engaging experiences for students, allowing them to voice and share their own narratives.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you — Maya Angelou
I’m a firm believer in the power of story to make a difference, whether as a tool for personal healing and growth or as a way to inspire others. And in reading the various stories of the teenagers included in a picture is worth… I was blown away by the raw honesty in their recalling challenges they have faced in their short lives, in their changing perceptions of people and the world and in their hopes for the future.
I have found the value of sharing my own story a cathartic experience; one of self-discovery, enlightenment and growth…but it didn’t start out that way. I started blogging four years ago as a way to get back into writing. I had been suffering from writers block for many years, and felt creatively stunted and lost. As someone born to write, it was like I had lost my voice.
From then on, blogging became a tool of self-expression. Blogging was a way to explore my own life, including my experiences with depression and anxiety. Some call it a very public form of “therapy” but for me, it has become a way to heal, a way to release the shame I had carried for so long regarding my depression. It also became an avenue of hope—of hope for myself, and of hope for others; the thought that I might possibly help someone else in sharing my story…that was enough.
Midway through high school I was told by a teacher that I wasn’t smart enough and that I wouldn’t amount to much. I was told to give up on my dreams of being a writer, journalist or lawyer for something more attainable. I also lacked self-esteem and was from a broken home, so I simply gave up, falling in with a bad crowd and into bad habits…
a picture is worth… explores another way to tackle this. It is not to discredit someone because they don’t write well, are shy, or seemingly “difficult.” By providing students and teenagers with an opportunity to express themselves creatively in an engaging and nurturing environment, to be heard in their own words, to be LISTENED to and appreciated, is showing them that they matter, that what they are going through matters, that their STORY matters. It also helps them to realize that they are not alone. This is what builds a sense of community, as well as self-esteem and other critical life-skills.
*This post has been sponsored by Arch Street Press.