The Power of Storytelling
Our stories, Our narratives, Our power
It is not new news that, particularly as Black people living across the diaspora, the dominant narrative, which centers the white gaze, improperly tells our stories.
However, as we reflect on the power of our individual and collective stories, we find strength in the ones who shift the narrative through their gifts.
What is in a Name?
My name is Chinyere Harachinkpa Erondu. Or, as we would say in my family’s native tongue, the Ngwa Igbo dialect of Nigeria, Aham bu Chinyere Haranchinkpa Erondu. Filled with meaning, promise, and prayer, Chinyere, means God’s gift and Haranchinkpa means leave all your troubles to God.
I am a Nigerian-American. Igbo, to be exact. Ngwa, to be precise. I am the first child and daughter of my Igbo-Ngwa parents. I am the sixteenth grandchild on my father’s side and the first grandchild on my mother’s side. Dually, I was born in Pittsburgh, raised in Ohio, and currently live in Northern Virginia. My background is a myriad of locations and experiences.
It is impossible to understand my story without first knowing the meaning behind my name. My name prophesied the unique relationship I would have with God. To trust, rely upon, converse with, confide in, and connect with God. It was my grandmother, with her wisdom surpassing my days, who knew that trouble would come, but the best gift she could provide me was the assurance that God will carry all of my troubles. She named me out of knowing she had with God.
Deriving Power from Meaning
The power of a name, my name, or Igbo names unveils the reality that I/we are parts of the whole and all live within us. There is a shared connectedness. Ezienyi, a good friend, takes special meaning in this case as I believe in the collective’s upliftment and well-being.
I care deeply about my family’s culture and history because we are interconnected. My name is a living embodiment of previous prayers and heartfelt petitions. It is through my name that I connect with my extended family best. The curiosity I have about our native language and the prayerful selection of names for each new child revealed more about the intimacy shared between God and us. As we name, so it is. As we declare, it is so.
Understanding my name shows me I have unlimited power to name, declare, and prophecy over any area of my life and to whom I’m connected. Naming is a language passed on from generation to generation, yet words alone cannot capture a name's power.
Our stories embed the fabric of our beings.
Stories, told to us as we are about to enter dream spaces.
Stories, shared through witty speech and sharp reprimand.
Stories, echoed from family to family, invite new-fold members into the collective memory.
Stories, iterated to give voice to the otherwise undecipherable emotions.
Our stories ground us, center us, and shape the way we view ourselves and others.
We are all on a quest for our stories or narratives during this Black History Month, whether through personal discoveries, family conversations, classroom discussions, or communal spaces for social or political action.
We seek to understand how narratives, whether accurate or misconstrued, shape our access, mobility, and agency in present and future societies. By understanding our narratives, we can conjure personal and collective meaning and decipher areas where further re-telling of our histories and stories are necessary.
It is through narrative approaches that we can provide a way to understand how stories function in communities and how to intervene when destructive stories circulate.
We celebrate Author Edwidge Danticat’s advancements, the Haitian-American best-selling novelist whose latest piece “Everything Inside” vividly tells stories of family, love, and community.
We revel in awe of Kehinde Wiley’s paintings and arts, which visually portray notable Black figures.
We ponder in reflection over Alice Walker’s poetry and inclusionary focus on the advancement of Black women.
We move our bodies in rhythmic alignment to Fela Kuti’s music and shift in agreement with his Pan-Africanism politics to inspire generation after generation.
As our narratives and stories matter, Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr. said once in an interview that “we have to introduce a new language that is robust and moral, a way of thinking that works alongside social transformation, such a language can seed new ways of describing how we exist in community with each other and what we value as a society.”
May we reflect upon, revel in, and re-write our stories through our voice.