“Stories are so important. You can’t argue with someone’s personal story because it happened to that person! If you don’t tell your story, someone else will!"
These words stuck with me. They were spoken by Stephanie Leonard, a community organiser with years and years of experience. She was facilitating a weekend training retreat that New Horizons in British Islam organised in early September for a group of young British Muslims from all across the country. They were school students from Blackburn, uni students from Leicester, professionals from Birmingham, business owners from Derby and imams from Leeds, each with a desire for fairness, justice and activism. We believe this collection of 18 or so individuals have something very positive and powerful to share about being British and Muslim, and we brought them together because we wanted to equip them with the skills to get their voices heard. But for them to share their positive messages they needed to be able to first tell their stories, Stephanie explained.
The weekend was all about getting them to open up and tell their personal stories in the most effective, clear and convincing ways possible. The ultimate goal is to get them to tell these stories to large audiences through the media. So how were we going to do this? Well through Stephanie’s excellent facilitation, it wasn’t too long before the very first heart wrenching stories started to be shared – anecdotes about grandparents crossing the globe for a better life, stories about being a victim of crime and tales about personal struggles with mental health. Being in the room whilst these stories were being told was an absolute privilege. But now the group needed to channel these into positive action.
The group was shown examples of how people, like them, had achieved change in their respective fields. For example south London students stuck a mock tube line map on the London underground showing how quickly from expulsion a pupil can end up in jail. Their message ended up in national newspapers! So with this as inspiration our group of 18 went about designing a campaign for a cause dear to them. We had groups working on mental health within Muslim communities, women’s voices, addiction and the garment industry!
Now I’m not going to reveal what exactly they plan on doing in each of these campaigns but trust me when I say you need to watch this space. We really believe that their campaigns, and more importantly their stories, can have a positive impact on society. Don’t believe me? Well just have a look at what they wrote on these post-it notes when asked how they were going to commit to their campaigns.
“Carry on smashing life”, “Meet up and make some power moves”, “Stay woke”