Few things have the unique ability to shape our opinions, construct our perceptions, and bring us together like stories.
For most of my life, my story was one of rural Oklahoma. It was full of red clay, hollers and bottoms, and people who lived a life very much like my own. I was fortunate to discover the power of stories early. The tales of other people and experiences have inspired me to listen to the stories around me and give voice to my own. I’m lucky to know that words can invoke empathy, inform masses, and inspire change.
Now, I teach others to find the power of their own words, their own stories. I am a tenth grade English teacher at East Central High School. I teach a subject I love, and one that affords me the opportunity to learn things about my students that I may not otherwise.
Many of their stories are heartbreaking. In fact, most of them are, but my students don’t write stories meant to break hearts or summon tears. They simply write about life. Their lives. What happens then, is nothing short of magic.
My first year in the classroom I assigned a personal narrative essay. I was not completely unaware of the tragedy, fear, and struggle my students faced. I think I simply underestimated how profound their voices can be. I would grade and cry. Grade and cry. It became a ritual until I waded through the essays. I said I would never give that assignment again, and I didn’t.
However, stories that must be told will find a way. I read paragraph after paragraph of heartache, triumph, pain, and determination. And with each one, I learned about my students, they learned about me, and we developed love and respect for one another. During this process, they all became part of my story.
This is why I became part of Together Tulsa. We are an organization dedicated to endowing students with the power of their stories and the stories of others. We will bring students together, teach them skills that will enable them to be successful in a multitude of ways, and to unite all of Tulsa through the stories of our youth. Learning about one another through stories provides not only our kids, but the entire city, with the ability to discover shared experiences, embrace our differences, and realize we are all part of the same story; the story of Tulsa.
Angel Pulliam is a Founding Board Member of Together Tulsa. Her story is part of our Story Series, where people from our community and in our organization share their experience and their dreams for our city. If you'd like to share your story, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.