Tomorrow night I have the honor of being acknowledged as “Alumni of the Year” from AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, the organization through which I did a year of service after graduating from college. In many ways, AVODAH laid the groundwork for me to eventually find my way to the Neighborhood Writing Alliance, by giving me an opportunity to connect to the social justice/nonprofit worlds in Chicago, a city I probably wouldn’t have come to on my own.

Having spent a fair amount of time reflecting on my path since AVODAH in preparation for my remarks tomorrow night, I wanted to share a bit of my personal perspective with readers of the Every Person Is a Philosopher blog. I’ve been reflecting on the ways that bringing light to underheard stories is a way to speak truth to power, build community, and enhance movements for social change.

I like to think that storytelling is a theme of my professional career, even though I’m not typically the storyteller. At Duke University I was part of an organization called the Center for Race Relations, through which I facilitated dozens of dialogues about personal identity as it relates to race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, ability, and so on, and I learned the importance of exchanging stories as a way to create deeper relationships and build communal visions for a liberated world. I also studied documentary photography at the Center for Documentary Studies and learned the history and implications of documenting and publicizing the experiences of marginalized individuals and communities. After graduation, in my AVODAH placement at Interfaith Worker Justice, I helped to document, edit, and publish the accounts of low-wage workers struggling to claim their rights to fair and safe working conditions. After a wonderful variety of other professional experiences, I found my way to the Neighborhood Writing Alliance.

When I first learned about NWA, I was incredibly excited to learn about an organization that honors story-sharing and community building and believes in its power to create change in the world. Working for NWA was and continues to be a “dream job” for me. One of the many reasons is that I have the pleasure of working with dozens of fantastic writers from all over Chicago. These adults share NWA’s belief that writing about and reflecting on our personal experiences, family histories, and communities—in community—and then amplifying our words through the Journal of Ordinary Thought, this blog, and dozens of events and readings across Chicago, is important and necessary to bringing us closer to the world as it should be.

One of AVODAH’s core values is to connect corps members directly with the people served by their placement organizations. I believe the greatest lesson to be learned through this crucial one-to-one interaction is articulated beautifully by NWA’s motto, Every Person Is a Philosopher. To me, this means that every person is imbued with the right to consider their place in the world, tell their story, and attempt to change their personal circumstances and/or larger community with the dignity and respect afforded our world’s greatest thinkers.

I am grateful that AVODAH gave me the platform to start my professional life as an advocate for social justice, and I am grateful to be able to continue to serve by helping to document and amplify the stories of a diverse, complex, talented, and evolving group of Chicagoans through the Neighborhood Writing Alliance.

And, you can help NWA to keep those stories coming: I sincerely hope you’ll join me at the 2012 Every Person Is a Philosopher Annual Benefit on June 7, where we’ll spend an evening hearing and swapping stories in the name of social justice.

Hollen Reischer is the Assistant Director of the Neighborhood Writing Alliance.

  • Donyelle Gray

    Congratulations, Hollen, on your wonderful achievement, and thank you for all that you do for NWA!

  • Barbara Govednik

    Congratulations, Hollen, on your well-deserved honor from AVODAH. That you channel your passion for storytelling and sharing with NWA is such a bonus for the organization. Having just heard Chef Rick Bayless talk about cooking as storytelling, I’m reminded again how many forms it takes and how important it is that we all support it. Thanks, Hollen!