Dio Roberson to Illuminate the Power of Storytelling at Philly Story Fest:

Rasheed Ajamu
Photo of Dionicia Roberson, Resolve's Associate Editor of Community Narratives

Stories define reality. They create and illuminate the boundaries of your existence. They name and define experiences. That's a huge power. The other power is the declaration of existence.

Resolve Philly is excited to participate in the upcoming Philly Story Fest on Thursday, October 5th, from 7-10 p.m. Hosted by Back Pocket Media, this event will bring together members of the Philadelphia community and journalists to share stories, art, and entertainment that are created by and for the people of Philadelphia. The live podcast-style gathering will take place on stage at the historical BOK building.

Guests will have the opportunity to gain insight into the reporting processes of journalists from popular media outlets such as Al Día, Philadelphia Magazine, Spotlight PA, and WURD. The event is open to all, with a general admission fee of $25. Interested individuals can purchase tickets here.

We proudly announce that our Associate Editor of Community Narratives, Dio Roberson, will present her narrative at the event. In anticipation of the exciting evening, Dio was interviewed by her colleague Germantown Info Hub Editor Rasheed Ajamu. They discussed the significance of storytelling, its potential for creating change, and what guests can expect from Dio's presentation at Philly Story Fest.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Rasheed Ajamu: Tell folks about yourself. What are your interests, hobbies, and passions? Give us some background.

Dio Roberson: I have a lot of hobbies and interests. I am really drawn towards things that are crafty, like artsy stuff. Any project that you could think of just off the top of your head, I probably have at least one or two of the materials to get it started, so anything that encompasses art or crafting. My passions are more people-oriented. I'm really into cultivating meaningful connections and asking really penetrating philosophical questions and [getting] straight to the deep stuff. That's definitely what I'm into.

RA: You're a storyteller over all else. And it shows, of course, because you're our Associate Editor of Community Narratives. So, when did you realize that you wanted to tell stories?

DR: I've always consumed stories. I learned how to read when I was three and just never stopped, ever. So I would consume books way above my age, like stories way above my age. I've always recognized how important storytelling was for me. It was transporting; it was transformative. It put ideas in my head that I might not have encountered any other way. And I think maybe just as I was getting older and seeing the way people treat each other, I noticed that the most empathy anyone can expect is from people who understand them. It's a fact that storytelling can be a pathway to that understanding.

It has definitely bolstered my intellectual understanding of the world, and it's also given me an insight into slices of life that I would never have been exposed to. And that's what storytelling does. It defines reality for people, and that's why it's so important who is telling the story and depending on what story it is. Because I've always known, to some degree, I wanted to be involved with storytelling as a means to help people understand each other.

RA: You’ve been reading since you were three years old. So, is there a specific book or product that made you go, “Oh, this is it! This is amazing, and I want to do more of this?”

DR: The first series of books I remember is the Amelia Bedelia books. To this day, I love Amelia Bedelia. So that was the first set of stories I ever read that really struck me that I was like, this is absolutely genius. But I used to be into short stories and creative nonfiction anthologies when I was in elementary school that [were] super fascinating. The idea is that I'm hearing the voice and living the experience of someone I've never met before and would never meet. The book was just chock full of other people's voices and stories. That may be around the time it became clear whatever extent of storytelling I was involved in had to involve people being personal and people revealing themselves through storytelling.

Storytelling itself is a skill, and being able to touch people and change people's reasoning based on a story you tell [is] a talent, right? But [it depends] on how wide of an arena you have to accomplish that, you might have 300 pages to really make an impact, which is great. That's impressive. There's nothing not impressive about that. But if all you had was 350 words to make the same impact, there's something just next level about taking such a small chance, such a small sliver of other people's attention and using that time to try and completely change the way they think about something. That's like magic.

RA: What power do you think that storytelling encompasses?

DR: There [are] so many powers. The first one that jumps out for me is like defining reality. That's what stories do. Stories define reality. They create and illuminate the boundaries of your existence. They name and define experiences. That's a huge power. The other power is the declaration of existence. I've always said that's a vital need for living, just like food, water, and nourishment. The ability and the access to declare that you're alive, that you're here, that you live, that you think, that you exist in this time and space [is] just as vital. And that's a major power of storytelling. Even if there's no other impact that you can measure, if you can stand in space and time and say, I was this. I am this. This is who I am – I lived, loved, and then that's it. Which is kind of a philosophical mapping of a human life, right? I was, I am, and then that's it. That's the power of storytelling.

RA: As Associate Editor of Community Narratives, how have you seen storytelling be impactful for the folks you've worked with?

DR: The main thing is watching people instantly own their new identity as a writer. I don't think any of the people I've worked with through Community Narratives, [except] one or two, have published anything before. So it's like, not only are you someone with the credibility and the expertise to declare your opinion to the world – that's one thing. But, on the front page of the Sunday Inquirer is another thing entirely. And just watching people accomplish that and own that feeling, that changes the relationship that they have [with] their own stories. And going forward, they realize that having done this thing, that it's doable and that it can be done again.

And I know from my point of view, [using my voice for the first time] it's a feeling of, oh, wow, this is a power I have. And just being able to choose on my own terms when and how I access it.

RA: So, moving forward towards the end of our discussion – Story Fest is coming up. Is there a small preview that you want to lend people of what you'll be talking about?

DR: Without giving too much away: I make a direct appeal to folks to consider what it means and what the consequences are when we, as a large group, a society, a culture, or what have you, decide unanimously to take a person's humanity away or a group of people's humanity away. And what some of the consequences might look like played out on a social stage. I make the appeal that it's dangerous, but more importantly, it's dangerous to do that in ways that the vast majority of people don't have to be impacted by and don't have to see. So it gets really revealing, and it gets really personal.

But I think it is a leap that I've been more willing than usual to make, just because I think there's a lot in what I'm saying that folks know maybe, or suspect, but need to hear.

RA: And what are your thoughts? How are you feeling?

DR: I'm so nervous. I used to describe this feeling as, oh, I have an intense fear of public speaking, but I realized that Story Fest goes way beyond public speaking. And at the same time, I'm very excited because this is such a raw form of storytelling. We're talking about live storytelling in a big group of people. That's my opportunity [in a] very small sliver of time to capture people's attention if I can and potentially change their minds about something. And I'm really excited about being able to use [this opportunity] that way.

RA: And for folks interested in your work beyond Story Fest, how can they contact you?

DR: Just email me at dionicia@resolvephilly.org. You can also find me through Resolve’s website, resolvephilly.org. You just go to the “who we are” tab and look up our team, and you can find me there by name.