The power and magic of personal stories
Last summer, in the thick of the pandemic lockdown and the horror of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I started tuning in to a daily Facebook chat series hosted by New Mexico’s state auditor. In response to the collective witnessing of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter resurgence, Brian Colón started interviewing Black leaders in the community. Many of the guests were people I knew, and many more were folks I’d heard of but never met. And even more were people I didn’t know, but wanted to after hearing their stories. All the interviews were interesting, enlightening, and candid. Somebody in the chat mentioned that these interviews should be collected and archived in some way. The little light bulb in my brain went off.
I experienced the same excitement I’d had back in college when, during my research, I’d come across slave narratives or any sort of first-hand account of Black people and their personal experiences during Emancipation, Reconstruction and Jim Crow. Reading an actual first hand account from somebody who lived back then was like entering a magical portal through time and space. It was particularly compelling because the existence of Black people is so often conveyed in shallow, negative, or downright degrading ways by people who have no respect or care for those they’re talking about.
We can’t really know about the human condition until we actually listen to people telling it in their own words.
Another reason I was jazzed about the idea of collecting the interviews into an accessible medium is that it could serve as a testament. Yes, there are Black people in New Mexico and we have rich, meaningful, and varied lives. We’ve been referred to as “statistically insignificant” to the point of becoming a cliché. There’s Black people here? Where did they come from? In the words of The Syndicate, #WeOutChea.
We’re out here. We have stories. Take a listen.
In January, a local weekly alternative, The Paper, approached me about pitches for the upcoming Black History Month edition. The little light bulb that had gone off in my head back in the summertime switched on again. I called up Brian, the interview series host. He said my article was a great incentive for him to finally upload the interviews to YouTube. Five hours of work later, 50 plus candid interviews with Black New Mexicans went live. When I clicked on the link and saw all of those videos lined up in the playlist, tears came to my eyes. That’s the moment I realized how much this project meant to me. I’m grateful to have been able to help make it happen.