Blog

7.27.18

Mother & Father Wit: Life Lessons

Ami Bennitt
Motor Media, Marketing & Management
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Valerie Stephens looks on while Ms. Ella Swain rehearses her piece at the Haley House; photo by Michael Bryant

Throughout the spring, long-time legendary jazz singer, story-teller, and Creative City grantee Valerie Stephens worked with Boston-area seniors for her live story-telling project, Mother & Father Wit: Life Lessons

According to Stephens, “a West African proverb says, ‘when an elder dies, a library burns down.’ Our elders serve as our library of traditional knowledge, practical common sense based on teachings and experiences, and their life lessons are the threads that tie our cultural and societal tapestry together. And yet, their voices often go unheard.” This community project is designed to bridge that disconnect. Elders tell their personal stories about the lessons they have learned.

“I know the stories elders hold in their heart are the fabric of our city,” Stephens continues. “I met a lot of elders who shared that they felt their stories were not important. The real stories of Boston are still alive within our own Boston elders. I truly love Boston and I’m proud of the elders I’ve met who will share their stories with us.”

The elders stories include Maria—originally from Barbados, and who has lived in Boston for over 40 years who shares stories of friendships with women; Rachel—from Selma, Alabama—who shares about being brought up poor with her three sisters; Miss Ella—a Boston school teacher who tells about “finding her voice.” These women, who reside in Boston’s neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury, and nearby Quincy and Everett – shared these stories together on stage in May.

Stephens held two free, public events where the women elders stood on stage and told their stories – at the Kroc Community Center in Dorchester, and at Old South Meeting House in downtown Boston. Valerie worked with her community partner, the Healey Library at University of Massachusetts Boston, which will keep the stories the elders shared in their permanent archive.

About Valerie Stephens, Performance Artist
Valerie Stephens, a native Bostonian, has performed both nationally and internationally. She is an award-winning actor, storyteller, vocalist/bandleader, producer, writer and educator with a passion for history. Valerie has received the Get Konnected! 2016 Boston Legends & Pioneers Award, 2011 NAACP's Image Award, 2007 Urban Music Award in Blues and was a nominee for a 2011 Urban Music Award in Jazz. 

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Valerie Stephens honors the storytellers at the final event at the Old South Meeting House; photo by Jasmine DuBois-Jackson.