The Legacy Storytellers who shared their stories at the Southeast Senior Center in Midland. The storytellers and organizers from left to right are: Lois Hillary, Evelyn Dixon, Barbara Johnson , Willie Renee Young, Elnora Robinson, Sue Roseberry, Elnora Hill, Barbara Conner, and Iris Hall-Sanders. The only storyteller not depicted is Carolyn Haywood. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)
By Mitch Borden
In a senior center at the heart of Midland’s black community, Nine women stood to tell stories from their lives and share some lessons they’ve learned over the years. This event was in celebration of Black History month, but it’s also a part of a larger effort by the Midland Storytelling Festival to help people develop storytelling skills.
The night was filled with music, laughter, and unique looks at the past. It was held in the lunchroom of the Southeast Senior Center, which was transformed into the venue for the evening of storytelling. Nine elder black women who have lived through decades of West Texas history shared some of their stories, but first, the night kicked off with a choir singing “Ain’t Gonna Let No Body Turn Me ‘Round.”
After the performance, the gathered crowd heard tales of traveling across Texas, the destruction of a science project, the hardships of teenage pregnancy, and simply stories of how life has changed over the years.
Sue Roseberry, the executive director of the Midland Storytelling Festival, the event. For her, helping people tell their own stories is about finding connections.
She said, “No two [storytellers] are alike, no two had similar experiences. Even though we’ve all lived in this black skin for our lifetime we’ve all had different experiences.”
A common thread throughout the evening was reflecting on the past and future, like Barbara Conner’s story about her grandchild.
She told the crowd, “I have a beautiful bright-eyed, curly head, beautiful great, great-granddaughter.”
She went on about how her granddaughter wanted to know more about her family. Conner then described how she sat down with her as they looked into a mirror and talked about their history.
She said, “You come from kings, queens, teachers, lawyers, and most of all you come from a hard-working family.”
Whenever a moment hit a cord, the crowd would call out their approval almost like they were in church, and when a story finished it would be met with loud applause. The heart of the event was celebrating Black History. For Billy Ashley, an audience member, the theme of resilience is important for younger generations to be reminded of.
He said the stories told that night built upon one another. According to Ashley, “Each one of the ladies sharing was like a branch touching a branch. Tree touching a tree.”
For the last few weeks, these women practiced telling their stories. It was a part of the Midland Storytelling Festival’s Legacy Storytelling Program, which held workshops at the senior center. Sue Roseberry said it’s a powerful exercise — not only for those sharing but also for audience members.
She said, “I want them to leave here and feel inspired to tell their family about how they lived. How they worked. How they survived. And how important it is for us to continue the legacy that they started.”
As the evening came to an end, it was clear the memories and emotions shared resonated with those who listened.
The Midland Storytelling Festival is interested in doing more workshops and events.
More information is available upon request at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach Sue Roseberry at 432-685-3876.