Inside Philadelphia’s Church of the Advocate, underneath the Gothic Revival arches and stained glass, there’s a message written on a plain wood board. It reads, “A man of sorrow and acquainted with grief. Can it be described?”
Thursday’s multimedia storytelling event proved that it can. Put on by WHYY, The Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), the Lenfest Institute, and the Wyncote Foundation, “Finding Sanctuary” featured stories of seeking peace, celebrating culture and joining together to build community.
Khalil Munir was among the storytellers. He was 11 years old when he and his cousin were shot in a street fight in 1993. Using his body as a percussive instrument, Munir reenacted the experience: the sounds of gunshots, panicked breathing, and pleas to EMS. It was a loud, raw performance that reverberated off the church walls.
“I knew the streets were not for me,” Munir said, describing his eventual involvement with Philadelphia’s Freedom Theatre. There he found sanctuary in acting and tap dance.
For multimedia producer and speaker Jos Duncan, sanctuary is storytelling itself. She grew up in north Philadelphia, a community she described as her “training ground for loving.” But Duncan said she struggled with self-expression after gun violence and police brutality began to intrude on her experiences and memories of Philadelphia. She said witnessed young children referring to victims as “numbers,” and teasing one another about who would be next. Duncan immersed herself in West African tales and discovered that stories create pathways into communities—ways of spreading knowledge and hope.
Multidisciplinary artist Corem Coreano offered glimpses of his experience with youth homelessness, previewing an essay he’d completed for WHYY. He then performed his spoken word poem “Charcoal-Covered Bubble Gum,” saying, “Home is where the wind takes me. My knowledge is captured on the block my parents raised me.”
Coreano concluded, “Sanctuary is in our hearts.”
Paige Pfleger, an independent audio producer, captured audio portraits of people who make a difference in their communities—from gardening to serving the hungry.
Film director Joshua Banville and the Media In Neighborhoods Group (MING) contributed short documentary profiles of Catzie Vilayphonh, a Lao American refugee and founder of Laos in the House, a storytelling and arts organization that seeks to preserve the Laotian cultural legacy; and Wallo267, a motivational speaker who uses social media to guide his followers through adversity.
Sue Schardt, CEO of the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), thanked the contributors. “You are bearing witness to what it is to be a human being,” she said. “It is an act of healing.”
“The act of sitting across from another person, looking them in the eye, or standing up as you have tonight behind the microphone in front of a bunch of strangers—taking what’s burning in your mind or pulling up what’s deepest in your heart and putting it out—is an act of courage.”
Schardt then turned her attention to the journalists, producers, and other media makers in the audience.
“When we put those stories into the hands of our most gifted story-makers and technologists who then shape them into form and send them out far and wide as we are doing tonight—we call this public media.”