“Before reading and performing in the Woodlawn Stories,” Ron asked the 15 Woodlawn High students sitting around him, “how many of you envisioned yourself settling down in Woodlawn after college?” Not a single hand went up.
Ron then asked these students, “Now, after performing the true stories of your place, how many of you intend to make Woodlawn your home?” This time, all 15 hands went up.
In 2011, Story Bridge’s Community Research Director, Dr. Ron Pate, was the project director for Woodlawn Stories. Adjacent to Birmingham, Alabama’s central business district, Woodlawn had transitioned from being all white in 1970 to largely African-American by 1990. According to whites, Woodlawn changed in those years from the high functioning and highly valued neighborhood in the city to a place of “blight and danger.” But by 2010, without input from the people who lived there, gentrification was in full swing.
A native of Birmingham, Ron was at that time completing his doctoral research in Georgia on the local impact of Swamp Gravy. This very first Story Bridge project impressed Ron with its ability to anchor its devastated community. Inspired, Ron approached DISCO, an after-school writing lab in Birmingham, to bring to life Woodlawn Stories.
The project was a historical inquiry but in an organic and open way, from the perspective of the people who lived through it. Ron and community volunteers interviewed neighbors across boundaries of race, age, socio-economics, and origin, and gathered 50+ stories from the 50-year time period. These were woven into a script and performed by 15 drama club students in three public events at Woodlawn High School.
“The students were on fire,” Ron remembers. Participants and community members were inspired to discover that “Woodlawn today is just as rich with meaningful life as it was in the ‘Golden Age’ of the 60s and 70s. People are People.” Ron learned from the focus group.
The same flawed, troubled, but loving and resilient people, white and black, had always been here. The community realized, blight and danger needed only be temporary.
All 15 student-performers believed so. They felt themselves anchored in their community for the first time in their lives.
For over twenty-five years, many organizations, including schools, churches, non-profits, and corporations, have used the Story Bridge method to anchor and activate resources in complexity. A network of roots anchors the tree. The mission of Story Bridge is to support more organizations to become anchoring roots of communities.