‘Value the Voice’ showcases the beauty in struggle

Thursday, January 25, 2018 - 4:24pm

It's the last week of Jan., and as I walk around campus, I can almost feel stress levels increasing among students. Midterms are approaching and spring break is still a month away. During times like this in the semester, I internalize my stress when I’m overwhelmed with assignments and interviews. I just let it build and build, and, sometimes during the week, I might break down. But then, I keep bottling up my stress again, not showing it externally but feeling all of its effects internally.

Sometimes, we all need a reminder to just slow the hell down, stop pushing away our problems under the pretense of being busy and work through them instead. I find that one of the best ways to do this is by talking to someone about what’s on my mind. When I entered “Value the Voice” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art on Jan. 23, I had a million things racing through my head. But when I left, I felt more at peace than I ever have on this campus.

“Value the Voice” is an open-mic storytelling series hosted by the Comprehensive Studies Program and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University. Their goal is to emphasize the power that one’s words have. Imagine The Moth Radio Hour, but in real life. In this installment, the storytellers were all students or alumni of the University. The theme, which was quite fitting for a new semester, was “Nobody Told Me” — stories of the reality of college life.

There’s something extremely vulnerable, yet immensely beautiful, about sharing your struggles. You feel like a portion of the pain is being lifted off your chest, even though the problem may still remain. Looking at the storytellers, I could see all of these complex emotions running through their minds. Some told stories of racial discrimination they have faced, others told of family struggles. Some laughed, some cried and some did both. But in each speaker, I saw their delight in sharing their burden with others.

Zanib Sareini, an alumni of the CSP and currently a graduate student at the University’s School of Social Work, shared her experience of being an Arab-American in a post-Sept. 11 America.

“There was a different pressure post-9/11,” Sareini said. She recalls being told by her parents to “hold the door open a little longer, smile, don't let them see you angry, don't be reactive, always be nice,” and not understanding why it had to be so. As people treated her differently, she slowly secluded herself from others in an effort to stay out of trouble. Being a part of the CSP support system at the University, however, helped her through her anxiety. As she told this part of her story, CSP students in the front rows whooped and cheered. Sareini smiled back. While she couldn’t stop the discrimination, she knew who to come to for help.

Eddie Williams, a student of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, told of how his relationship with his family changed upon coming to college. He distanced himself from them, found himself too busy with homework and later discovered that his grandfather had passed away during finals.

“Everybody in my family got a chance to have one last conversation except for me,” said Williams.

My heart lurched when he said this. Whenever someone else tells me something intimate like this, I imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes. And when Williams said those words, I really felt it.

As the night progressed, I watched storytellers pour their hearts out. Somehow, I felt like I was right up there with them. Through listening, they became a small part of my life. To all those who are conflicted, afraid or overwhelmed — find someone to tell your story to. It’s OK to be raw and vulnerable. It’s the first step towards comfort and, maybe, a sense of closure. If the storytellers at “Value the Voice” didn’t realize the impact their words could have on others, I’m sure they do now.

“Value the Voice” is a part of an ongoing series. The next storytellers’s lounge is on Mar. 27 at the UMMA. Stories will discuss the theme of “Triumph.”