Freedom Stories event keeps history alive

An event at Freedom Park Saturday celebrated liberty, perseverance and the kind of love that persists despite the fiercest adversity.

The fifth annual Freedom Stories event, led by two members of the National Association of Black Storytellers, combined stories of history, memories of family and songs tailor-made for audience participation.

Storyteller Dylan Pritchett said the event highlights the power of the spoken word and its important role in African-American communities.

“It’s used to teach and used to create thought and discussion,” he said.

One story conveyed a father leaving the sanctuary of the free state of Ohio, crossing the Ohio River to rescue his child from bondage. The storytellers also discussed John Parker, who was born a slave in Norfolk and went on to help rescue fugitive slaves via the Underground Railroad.

Amy Taylor, who recently moved to Williamsburg from Woodbridge, said the event complemented the area’s many other historical offerings, such as Jamestown Settlement.

“We’re new to the area, so I like to hear about the area,” she said.

Williamsburg resident Leslie Agard-Jones echoed the importance of keeping such stories alive, otherwise risking that history might repeat itself.

“You can’t forget the past,” he said.

The event’s other storyteller, Baba Jamal Karam, said every family needs someone who soaks in the history and tales told by elders to ensure those lessons live on.

“This is not something that is just in the past, or the future,” he said. “This is who we are. This is what we do.”

In the midst of a fast-paced society determined to grow ever faster, Karam encouraged people to slow down and appreciate the world around us and its natural beauty in a way that transcends ethnicity, upbringing or circumstance.

“We forget that we need trees to breathe,” he said.

Birkenmeyer can be reached by email at, by phone at 757-790-3029 or on Twitter @sethbirkenmeyer.

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