Teacher. Student. And how story connects them.

At Barkada Circle, we use storytelling as the catalyst for sparking conversations between the people of a community so they can inspire each other and work together to make change happen.

For the past few months, my team has been immersed in Chicago’s education community. From coaching early childhood educators in a nursery school so they can engage the parents of the children on a deeper human level to speaking to a group of development professionals for community colleges about the value of storytelling in their work.  From training teachers to be leaders in their own communities to engaging the board members of a museum in outreach and promoting their mission.

Barkada Circle’s goal for 2015 is to highlight the value of storytelling as a transformative agent for education: why storytelling is the foundation for how children learn and how adults find common ground around the issues of education, why each one of us must engage in making sure everyone has access to education regardless of their socio-economic status in the community.

Recently we gathered parents, youth, educators and nonprofit leaders around a table in Evanston, Illinois to share their experiences and perspectives on education. Participating in this conversation provided them opportunities for:

  • Meeting other equally invested neighbors who share similar visions for Evanston
  • Deepening their understanding of the community’s needs, programs, challenges and successes
  • Planting the seeds for future interactions, collaborations and resource sharing

This was our first step in supporting people’s efforts to make the necessary change for education in Evanston. As we facilitate more conversations, we continue the journey of addressing education as the cornerstone of our democracy and, presently, a tangled web of direction, intention and contention. Once we reach the place where we find our common truth and identity, only then can we change our story that weaves together reconciliation, courage and hopefulness.

Rita Pierson, Christopher Emdin and Linda Cliatt-Wayman

Rita Pierson, Christopher Emdin and Linda Cliatt-Wayman


Listen to these three storytellers talk about having the courage to break down barriers to reconcile their passion for education with the needs of underserved students so that they can hope to succeed in life.

The Struggle to Be American

I was driving down Clark Street yesterday afternoon from Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood to get to Andersonville. While waiting for the light to change at the intersection of Clark and Granville, I turned my head to gaze at the office of Centro Romero, a nonprofit agency that serves the immigrant and refugee community. My eyes were transfixed on something I had never seen before. I saw hand-painted on their office window the words: No Budget. No Service. No Justice.

“Did they close their doors for good?” was my first thought. I couldn’t tell for sure because it was Sunday and no one was around. Then the light changed. Driving off, the question “Was this the aftermath of the state budget cuts?” popped immediately into my head.

Two months ago, I had lunch with Daysi Funes, Centro Romero’s Executive Director. Back then, she expressed a deep concern for what could potentially become the fate of nonprofits after Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner announces the state budget in July. Now that we’ve turned that corner, I’m seeing signs that point toward difficult times ahead. Just the other day, a friend told me that he was laid off from a community organization also serving immigrants and their families.

Nonprofits like Centro Romero work to keep immigrant families together, help people from this community find jobs and provide them access to healthcare. The state budget is a reflection of how little value elected officials put on the lives of people who have the weakest ability to find resources for building a sustainable home. It’s seems so easy for someone in power to forget how this country was built in the first place. From where he stands, he sees today’s immigrant community as having no impact on the status quo that he’s trying to protect. But what he fails to see is the reality that immigrants shape the future of this country, whether or not he accepts it. This is how it has always been throughout our history, and how it always will be.

Tan Le, Anand Giridharadas and Pearl Arredondo

Tan Le, Anand Giridharadas and Pearl Arredondo


Listen to three success stories that shed light on the immigrant community. More than that, they are stories of courage, perseverance and compassion. What may seem to be foreign at first is, in reality, ideally American.

A Life Worth Living

Early in the spring of this year, I had the privilege and the pleasure meeting the good folks who carry out the mission of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in IL. Volunteers from all over the Chicagoland region gathered to share stories and learn how to increase awareness for the cause. I had the opportunity to give the volunteers useful tips on how to engage others through storytelling. Today, I’m launching my personal campaign to raise some funds so that I can join the volunteers when they walk to raise awareness for suicide prevention. The Out of the Darkness Community Walk takes place on Sept. 26 at Grant Park in Chicago.

Suicide is a serious public health problem that takes an enormous toll on families, friends, classmates, co-workers, and communities, as well as on our military personnel and veterans.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013–the most recent year for which full data is available–someone in the United States died by suicide every 12.9 minutes. This makes it the 10th leading cause of death for Americans, but unlike many other leading causes, suicide continues to claim more lives each year. Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among young people age 15 to 24. The highest overall rates of suicide are for adults age 40 to 59.

To know the reason for someone’s suicide death is challenging. Research has shown that most people who die by suicide have a potentially treatable mental disorder at the time of their death. The disorder has often gone unrecognized and untreated. What we know about the causes of suicide is lagging behind that of other life-threatening illnesses because the stigma surrounding suicide has limited society’s investment in vital research.

The stories shared by volunteers at the gathering made me realize that even when our lives appear fine from the outside, locked within can be a world of quiet suffering, leading some to the decision to end their life.

Nadine Burke Harris, JD Schramm & Guy Winch

Nadine Burke Harris, JD Schramm & Guy Winch

Listen to three stories that ask us to break the silence surrounding suicide, advocate for medical interventions to counteract the damaging impact of stress, and encourage us to take care of our emotions and our minds with the same diligence in taking care of our bodies.

Hidden Stories About Our Freedom

The 4th of July is one of our country’s beloved traditions when we enjoy the great outdoors and some great grilling. Yesterday, I joined my family as they gathered to watch Team USA win the Women’s World Cup. This holiday has traditionally been a time to celebrate our victories as a nation, to commemorate our independence and to express our patriotism. It meant one thing in 1776. Today, what does it mean in our collective consciousness? What does it mean to be an American, to value our individual liberties and at the same time, acknowledge that others share that same freedom with us?

Wes Moore, Jody Williams & Sebastian Junger

Wes Moore, Jody Williams & Sebastian Junger

Listen to the stories of three people who fight for America’s freedom. They tell us what the work means to them––not romanticized, not idealized. It’s what most of us don’t see, or don’t know about, or sometimes even choose to ignore.