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Stories that build bridges

Storyteller and CMW associate Susan O’Halloran will receive the Saint Katharine Drexel Racial Justice Award from the Archdiocese of Chicago on Friday, which is the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination — and the eve of an annual multicultural storytelling festival she helps organize, where this year nine local high school students will be honored for building cultural bridges.

The awards shine spotlights on a few of the many people carrying on King’s message of racial justice and reconciliation.

One of O’Halloran’s stories, captured on her CD “Dividing Lines,” tells of her own small teenage rebellion against her South Side Irish family, barricaded in their home while King led an open housing march a few blocks away. She had already joined a citywide interracial youth group, invited by a nun in her high school; the CD tells of “the education of a Chicago white girl” in humorous vignettes.

O’Halloran often uses stories to understand and transcend the sources of racial tension, and has performed in over a hundred Chicago Archdiocese schools and churches, as well as many other venues. She also gives workshops on storytelling techniques and diversity training.

Another recipient of the Drexel Award is George O’Hare of Hinsdale, a longtime anti-racism activist who calls himself “a recovering racist”; his outlook was radically changed when a co-worker took him to hear Martin Luther King speak in Chicago. Also receiving the award is the Principals’ Anti-Racism Committee.

The nine high school students who will receive BridgeBuilder Awards at a luncheon ceremony Saturday at the JustStories Festival include kids who have led diversity clubs, organized interfaith days, and brought a theater troup to homeless shelters, O’Halloran said. One is a Rwandan refugee who shares stories of her experiences. Their stories will be highlighted in a workshop that morning.

JustStories attracts storytellers and story lovers to explore how stories can promote social justice by humanizing strangers and making their experiences and points of view accessible. This year’s theme is handing on stories across generations, and a morning workshop deals with using traditional folk tales in the classroom. Professional storytellers from many cultures give presentations in the afternoon, and a full-length storytelling concert is featured in the evening.

The JustStories Festival takes place Saturday, April 5 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Divine Word International Conference Center, 2001 Waukegan, Techny (Northbrook).

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Category: arts, race

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