Personal Stories to Collective History: Reflecting on Session Two of HEAL’s SoPL

By Elizabeth Esparza, HEAL SoPL Leader & Member of the Good Food Oakland SoPL Team

Storytelling was at the heart of the HEAL School of Political Leadership’s Session 2. 

Remembering, roots, mother, grandma, connecting, characters, kitchen table, community, culture, vulnerability, emotions, oral history, beads. These are just some of the words that came to mind in the group when we thought about storytelling. People, places, things, and feelings – these words told a story on their own. They said that storytelling is not just one thing; for some, it is what we get from the stories, for others where we hear them or who we hear them from.

As we all brought our associations of storytelling to the virtual table, we prepared for two days of telling stories that ranged from personal to historical. By writing down and sharing parts of our personal stories, we acknowledged our role in the collective movement, sharing who we are, why we’re here, what we’re fighting for, and what we envision for the future. As stories poured into the zoom room, we witnessed overlaps in our identities and our motivations and recognized our individuality. We heard pieces of the story we could hold together, as well as the parts we will tell on our own.

The 2021 HEAL SoPL Cohort

On day two, we moved from our personal stories to our collective history. We organized a historical timeline of events that have shaped our food system, charting both things done to our collective people and ways our people have resisted and fought back. As we added our additional knowledge to the timeline, we saw again how we each bring specific and integral parts of the story with us wherever we go.

Where our personal stories told of where we had come from and where we are going, our shared history told the story of the foundation upon which our personal stories were built. For better or worse, our stories all begin near the end of this timeline, and we all exist as players in the collective history. How our personal visions come together to shape the future of this timeline is inextricably tied to how we understand the events of the past. 

With the history of how our food system came to be in mind, we shifted to our campaign strategies, to our vision of how we want our food system to be in the future. The patterns of history show us what we do not want for our future. We do not want a food system that is extractive, where food is procured at the cost of the environment, community health, and community wealth. We want to engage in the existing system without assimilating to it, to fight for structural change within dominant structures while building power within communities to practice resilience. 

We could not aim towards where we want to go without understanding where we have come from. The stories of the past will shape the vision for the future. In moving from our own stories to our collective history to our visions for our communities, we zoomed in and out of the intricately woven fabric of a story that is able both to hold our individual threads and bind together in a timeline that stretches longer than any of us will live to see.

Elizabeth is a member of the 2021 Cohort of HEAL’s School of Political Leadership, and is the Food Justice Community Organizer, at the HOPE Collaborative in Oakland, CA. Learn more about Elizabeth’s SoPL work