Not Turning Ourselves Into Commodities: Authors, Speakers, Things?

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After our 200-person book launch at Hunter College School of Social Work, Willie Tolliver and I were lucky enough a week later to be invited to speak about our book Stories of Transformative Leadership in the Human Services: Why the Glass is Always Full by our good friend Emily Rubin at the Supportive Housing Network of New York’s (SHNNY) 9th annual conference at the New York Hilton.

It went well; hell, it went really well. We started with 100 people in the room and ended with 125 folks, some of them crammed against the exit door. Nobody left, we got thoughtful questions, lots of folks wanted to buy the book. All good. Emily had ensured a well-organized event, and she came through. We felt honored to have been there; happy to see some former students’ faces, equally pleased that most came for the topic and not because we were known to them at all.

Later over lunch, we both were quiet, musing on the events of this past week. Talking about these two wonderful moments, we both became aware of a profound dilemma in marketing this work: we want to let the world know what we have to say, but saying it too much in front of too many people runs the danger that it all becomes a thing to be sold, not a relationship to be experienced. After the tenth telling, there’s a thin line between sharing our story together and turning that story into one more thing to be abstractly and coldly marketed for the greatest return on the workshop or book dollar. When does the struggle to build a genuine partnership and friendship between a white guy from New England and a Black guy from the South move from an authentic story to be told to a 15-minutes-of-fame commodity to be YouTubed, marketed, profited from and discarded? If we lose that authenticity, how can it be of genuine value to people engaged in similar struggles?

Luckily, we have our other two LTG partners Liz Laboy and Ed Laboy and our enormously invaluable Kamili (Kami)Franklin to keep us headed in the right direction. We’ve all been through enough together to know that our story has to stay present to whatever new struggles emerge so that whatever humanity we possess remains humbly real and not canned. I guess this is just the newest one. If anybody could share your wisdom on this, we at LTG would definitely appreciate hearing from you!

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Burghardt published on June 17, 2009 4:11 PM.

Walking While Texting: Are you a PDA-ddict? (Just for laughs) was the previous entry in this blog.

First Stop: NYS Supportive Housing Conference is the next entry in this blog.

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