On February 6, Ben Cunningham spoke to the Dana Hall community during Flex Block as part of the School’s Black History Month activities. The award-winning local storyteller and artist used stories from his experience as a Black man to illustrate how fear and anger get in the way of us seeing the person within.
Cunningham talked about the ways in which people of color are negatively portrayed in the media, which “creates a narrative — a story of what those people might be,” he said. He shared anecdotes from his life, where a simple activity like making copies in FedEx Office or shopping in Whole Foods or Target made him feel like a criminal, simply because of the way he looks. “I would like to walk into Whole Foods with my backpack and have someone say, ‘Thank you for bringing your own bag and reducing your carbon footprint.’ Instead, I’m followed around by security.”
“The only place where I’m not looked at like a criminal or a homeless person is when I’m standing on stage telling stories to children.”
He shared how “we are reflections of one another responding to a world that feeds on anger and fear,” something he says he’s lived every day since he was small. “The same way that someone can accuse me of scaring their grandchild is the same way I can dismiss someone as being a Karen or a Ken,” Cunningham said. “I am not the monster in the children’s book that scares the people in the village below.
“Maybe if we tell each other different stories and if we listen, we can all become better people.”
Cunningham also shared a fictional story, based off of the Indian folktale “The Fish Prince,” and incorporated many of his handmade instruments to heighten the storytelling experience. Afterward, he held a Q&A session with students, who asked about the origins of his storytelling, his material and the voices he uses.