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How many times have you touched a penny? When is the last time you stopped to actually read what it says? You see, if you really take the time to look at a penny, engraved on it is “E Pluribus Unum”, meaning “out of many, one.” People are similar to pennies; we see the surface and examine them based on our own preconceived notions, but if we just took time to see what’s really there, the world would be a better place. Out of many, we are one and united we stand, story to story, hand in hand.
Our unity began as a storytelling workshop, but it has become so much more. We, the storytellers, are a group of 32 young individuals from the University of Richmond and Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center who have worked together to share our stories. During our time together, we got to know each other and ultimately wrote this book, which features stories that were chosen to be published by each partnership. Our only expectation going into this project was this publication. However, we never had a specific prompt nor subject in mind. We wanted to tell our stories for the sake of telling them; we wanted to let the stories speak for themselves.
While many projects associated with Bon Air act as mentorship programs, we actually strove to foster a sense of equality between each Richmond student and Bon Air participant. Specifically, our goals were to build a healthy, short-term, peer-to-peer relationship as we use stories to bridge across difference, collaborate with our partners in order to reflect on and understand our own lives in a new way, and tell a story about ourselves in a way that can be shared with others and helps others understand us.
Each partnership had the choice of editing the stories after writing them for the book, and of the extent of the edits. We could either choose to leave them as written, or edit for grammar. We chose to let each group decide to honor the nature of the partnership, as well as maintain the integrity and voice of the stories as they were written. Dispersed between each set of stories are quotes sharing one thing we took away from this experience, in order to demonstrate the impact this project has had on the storytellers.
On the night of our last workshop, we wrote down our preconceived notions about this experience, and our thoughts after having gone through this together. Some of these initial sentiments include:
On the first night I thought...this was going to be fun. - Robert
On the first night I thought...that this was going to be different like people trying to talk to us, like preach or something. - Jermaine
On the first night I thought…it might be difficult to make connections with my partner. - K. Stewart
On the first night I thought...this experience was going to be exciting but nerve wracking. I was nervous about what my partner would think of me and this project. - Amanda
On the first night I thought...that I wouldn’t learn anything new. - Troy V.
On the first night I thought...that I wouldn’t find much in common with my partner, or that they wouldn’t want to open up to me. - Kayla
On the first night I thought…that wow I signed the paper but I aint think they would really come - Jarell
On the first night I thought…it was cool that y’all came. - Naqwon
On the first night I thought… that I wouldn’t be able to talk to him as a friend - Bianca
On the first night I thought...this would be a terrific experience. - Jaquan
On the first night, I thought… I wouldn’t be able to connect with Hannah. - Troy L. On the first night, I thought… My life would not be interesting to my partner. - Hannah
The stories that we shared helped deepen our relationships with our partners, and, for many, changed our initial thoughts about the project as a whole. We hope that by reading the stories we wrote, you will understand the remarkable connections that each partnership made during this experience. While reading, please keep in mind that each partnership chose the specific prompt and story they wished to share, and that the stories contained in these pages are by no means all of what transpired while storytelling. Each partnership got to know one other through stories of all kinds, but these specific ones mean the most to them. We hope you enjoy.
University of Richmond
storytelling, social change, juvenile detention
Gale, Sylvia, "Story to Story: E Pluribus Unum: A Collection of Stories by Thirty-Two Individuals from University of Richmond and Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center" (2018). Storytelling and Social Change. 2.