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Using video to share and receive stories is a great passion of mine. I’ll never forget the first time I discovered my digital camera could do more than just take pictures. It could make films! And not just any film, but the kind that give power to a voice – a voice of someone empowered to speak in ways they never otherwise would. That’s what it’s all about, right? Having a voice and being heard. Author David Augsburger says that “being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” And didn’t the Beatles say that “All You Need Is Love?” It all connects.
This is why Collab-umentary Night was so intriguing to me: A room filled with people in love… or there to find their voices and listen to those of others in creative ways. We’d gather, not for the sake of acquiring technical skills in camera-use, but to gain strength in the collective experience of learning through working together. Maybe some of that would focus on which button to push to make the camera record, but most of it would be on expressing and capturing our stories. The camera was more of a middle-man (albeit an important one).
When Mandy Ellerton kicked off the evening proclaiming that “the answers we need are already in the room,” I had my “aha”-moment. In the past, I had the answers when I didn’t know it too. When I was learning how to film and edit videos, I figured it out myself. When I needed help brainstorming or filming, I turned to my friends. Not once did I ever turn to a professional “trainer” to show me the great way of how to make my art and express my voice. The irony of my college-film-major friends always telling me that I was more of a film-major than they were suddenly made perfect sense. I was. Okay, maybe I wasn’t, but I definitely embodied the learning ethic Mandy was talking about. I was empowered by knowing the answers were in the room now as they were then – and I wasn’t the only one.
Among the sixty community-leaders at Collab-umentary Night, one in particular stood out to me. Her name is Shameika Marshall and, like me, she is a Public Ally who believes that everyone leads. As part of her leadership, Shameika is starting her own women’s shelter called P.L.A.T.O. (Prosperous Ladies Always Taking Over). As with any independent start-up —or lady trying to take over— there have been some bumps in the road to prosperity. According to author Phillip Stanhope, "Many a [person] would rather you heard [their] story than granted [their] request." Such was the hope of Shameika’s which, unfortunately, had not been going her way. Upon sharing her story, most people reduced it to a request: A need for money. Instead of listening to her story, they ran their own. This disconnect left Shameika discouraged and disillusioned. That changed on Collab-umentary Night.
When Mandy invited people to ask for help sharing their stories through film, Shameika rose to the occasion. Apprehensive at first, I could see in her eyes the endless times she shared with me her frustration over people hearing, but not listening. When people responded to her call and rallied behind her video, something shifted. I know this because she let me know at the end of the night. “Thank you,” she said, “Thank you so much for inviting me. You have no idea how much this means to me.” She didn’t need to say anything more for me to understand why.
In reflecting over that moment with Shameika, I couldn’t help but think of the wise words of my Oprah (that’s right, she’s my definitive “collab-umenter”), whose driving force behind sharing stories is a simple affirmation we all want to hear: “I see you, I hear you, and what you say matters to me.” On December 5th, 2011, Shameika not only made a video, but was truly seen, heard, and made to feel like what she said mattered – in the same way I was when I first picked up my camera. There was power given back to her voice, and that’s all that mattered to me. The night was a success.
This is a cross post from Richard Bidmead on the Bush Foundation blog.
Watch the Collab-umentary Night: An Evening of Video Storytelling video here.