Reclaiming our communities, one story at a time

Residents gather for a storytelling workshop at Humboldt Park library. (photo by Ryan Kelleher)

By Lynda Lopez

When the idea of a Humboldt Park Storytelling Workshop first came up, I wasn’t sure where exactly it was going to go. I wasn’t planning a big action or organizing a rally; I was gathering people to tell stories. Oftentimes when you are in organizing spaces, you feel a little guilty for indulging in your artistic self. After all, there are more pressing things to focus on, or that’s the way organizing tends to make you feel.


More and more, I find myself considering the connection between art, expression, and social change. Where there is expression, there is power. Last Saturday, a diverse array of residents from Humboldt Park and other Chicago neighborhoods gathered to learn about storytelling. It attracted one of the most diverse groups we’ve ever had within Grassroots Illinois Action-Humboldt Park Area.

My co-facilitator and I led the group in activities to spark critical conversations around community and gentrification. I was in a space where I was able to use my blogposts as an example of writing around gentrification. I particularly highlighted my blogpost on Riot Fest, which sparked a ton of conversation when I first posted it last year. When I wrote about Riot Fest and gentrification, I was attempting to capture my deep frustration with the damage I felt it was doing to the community. It was my way of understanding what I was witnessing and interpreting. To be able to use those words to inspire others to share their own stories was a deeply affirming moment.

At the end of the workshop, we were able to hear written stories from attendees. I have been able to read them more closely over the last few days and have been amazed at the in-depth thoughts and the myriad perspectives captured. I can honestly say I have seldom seen so much energy around discussing race, gentrification, and community as I have noted through the words of these stories. These spaces turn the seemingly intangibility of a process like gentrification into one illustrated by the stories of community. It changes gentrification from a story of buildings, construction, and LLCs into one that concerns your neighbors and their histories. It turns it from an inevitability into a more dynamic process you can tackle from angles as diverse as the stories from which you come to understand it.

We can use our stories to reclaim our narratives and reclaim our communities from developers and profiteers.

Through art, we see truth. Through truth, people become inspired to mobilize.

To check out all the stories from our workshop, check out our Facebook page where they’ll be posted throughout the week.