The Freedom Story Project Team

The Freedom Story Project Team (from left): Janelle Schwartz; Rosemary Crowley; Jery Huntley, MLS, founder and president of OurStoryBridge Inc.; and Martha Swan, executive director of John Brown Lives!

KEENE — FreedomStoryProject is the latest OurStoryBridge project creation by founder Jery Huntley in collaboration with John Brown Lives!

A week ago today at the Adirondack Family Book Festival, www.freedomstoryproject.org debuted and featured short personal narratives listed under the following headings: “People,” “John Brown,” “Freedom and Justice,” “Places,” “Education, Celebration & Commemoration,” and “Voting Rights & Timbuctoo.”

ACTIVISM & ENGAGEMENT

Freedom Story Project uses the OurStoryBridge methodology, making stories easily accessible and shareable, according to the website.

One of its goals is to inspire younger generations to tell their stories and connect to their communities and these issues, including through powerful personal narratives by elders who share their experiences.

“In 2019, I started Adirondack Community in the town of Keene,” Huntley, a former teacher and librarian, said.

“That’s short audio stories with photos scrolling, posted on a website, used in schools. That grew really quickly. I realized that communities around the country could do the same thing we did. So, I started OurStoryBridge, which is a free user guide, videos, and website where I teach communities around the country to do what we do here.”

Huntley targeted libraries, historical societies, and museums.

“And that was going great,” she said.

“It’s less than two years. Then, I got the idea that we could talk to issue-oriented organizations, and they can share what they are about in the same way that communities share what they are. I got the idea to go to Martha Swan and John Brown Lives! and have them tell their stories of freedom and justice. Martha said, yes, and we just hit the ground running.”

Swan, executive director of John Brown Lives!, said in a press release that “we need stories of resistance to tyranny, cruelty and oppression at home and around the world, of people standing together in solidarity and with courage and compassion, to fortify and inspire us to meet the extraordinary challenges we face today.”

“I hope that people willing to tell their stories of freedom and justice will email us at freedomstoryproject@gmail.com and help us share their examples with the world.”

UKRAINE FIRST STORY

The first story for the Freedom Story Project — “The Fight for Freedom Is Never Over” — was collected on April 24 from Sasha Shekhter, a native of Kyiv, Ukraine.

“When I was born, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and my parents eventually became political refugees from that regime,” Shekhter, who moved to Texas with his family, said.

“When we got there, I was immediately blown away by so many things about this country that so many of us today take for granted. and one of them is the sheer amount of personal liberty and responsibilities that citizens are entrusted.”

Huntley started taking stories on human rights, civil rights, disability rights, LGBTQ issues, going back in history and in the present time.

“We decided to release it on August 20,” she said.

“We’ve also trained other people in the area to take stories. It just became something amazing. As of today, we have 57 stories from 10 states. There is a large concentrations in the Adirondacks, going up to Plattsburgh. They will continue to be local and around the country. They are from all the diversity, equity, inclusion topics that some of us are so passionate about.”

There are 10 of these projects around the country, and there will be at least 15 by the end of the year.

‘MOST IMPACT NATIONALLY’

The Freedom Story Project website includes stories such as “My Ancestor, Harriet Tubman” by Jennifer Crisp, “The Story of Baba and Zetho” by Harry Fine, “Where We Stand” by Jerilea Zempel, and “Digging Timbuctoo” by Dr. Hadley Kruczek-Aaron.

The project was made possible by a 2022 AARP Community Challenge grant.

“I think the FreedomStoryProject will have the most impact nationally on our children when they listen to these stories and understand what other people are facing,” Huntley said.

University of Toronto student Rosemary Crowley is one of Huntley’s trainees.

“She’s a star, and I hope that in the future she’ll be able to help us again,” Huntley said,

“She was wonderful. She took a bunch of the stories.”

YOUTH EMPOWERMENT

Several stories have really hit Huntley’s heart, since last Saturday’s debut of the project at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid.

“At the Adirondack Family Book Festival, I took a story from a 17-year-old named Benjamin Giroux,” she said.

“Ben’s book (‘I Am Odd, I Am New) sold out at the Book Festival almost immediately. I grabbed him and his father (Sonny) from the table, and said, ‘Can you tell a story?’ I’ve worked with children on the autism spectrum, so it gave me some insight in how to work with him and to help him get his in his story out. In his story, he talks about how he was disciplined by his teachers for not following instructions and sent to the principal’s office. Then, he was bullied. and then when he was 10, he wrote the poem, put it on the internet. It went viral. It became a book. It became a song. It became a website. and in his story, he gives some of the details. and then at the end, he says something like if people would just listen, they would understand this. It’s so moving.”

Huntley said Giroux’s story was such an important message for elementary schoolers and middle schoolers.

“About understanding children who are challenged around them and listening to them, appreciating them,” she said.

“I am going to do my best to get this in every school in the country. His book certainly moved me, but the way he told his story was very moving.”

COMMUNICATE THESE ISSUES

Likewise, Huntley found moving the story by Cal Page-Bryant.

“(He) was our valedictorian here at Keene Central School this year.”

Page-Bryant’s story is called “Citizenship, A Call to Action to Young People to Fight for Democracy,” which empowered listeners to “fight for democracy,” Huntley said.

“Cal gave an eloquent presentation. The words, the way he delivered them, were truly amazing and important for our children to hear.”

Acclaimed guitarist, activist and 2022 Spirit of John Brown Freedom award recipient Tom Morello shared “John Brown: An Uncompromising Liberator.”

“He’s biracial,” Huntley said.

“His family moved to Illinois, and he told the story about how he opened the door one day to go to school and a noose was hanging there. He became a lifelong activist as a result. Again, just moving.”

At the John Brown Farm, Huntley speaks regularly to teachers and other groups.

“About everything we do including this,” she said.

“Personally, I am very connected to all of these issues. I’m very connected to the civil rights issues because my relatives marched with Dr. King. So to be able, for me, to do something to communicate all these issues and bring them to children is very personally meaningful for me. I thought I would be remembered for the things I did in my career, but this is something I will spend the rest of my life on.”

Email: rcaudell@pressrepublican.com

Twitter@RobinCaudell

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Staff Writer

Robin Caudell was born and raised on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She holds a BS in Journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She has worked at the Press-Republican since 1990

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