I spent years worrying about what people would think if I finished and published my memoir, Hippie Boy: A Girls Story.
I didnt want to hurt anyone, particularly my mom, a devout Mormon who credits the LDS Church with saving her life. And yet it was her obsession and absolute devotion to Church doctrine that nearly destroyed mine.
It wasnt until last May, when I was invited to share my story of oppression and abuse of power within the Church on Mormon Expression, that I understood the power of sharing my story. I heard from dozens of people, mostly women, who talked about similar experiences and told me how much my story had resonated with them.
Thats when I realized that by sharing my story which is ultimately about learning that I had the power within me to overcome my challenges and claim the life I wanted for myself I could help others find their voice. By the time I published Hippie Boy in October, I knew I wanted to work with at-risk women and teens. I envisioned using Hippie Boy as a tool to encourage them to face their challenges by finding their voice and claiming their inner power. I wasnt sure what form it would take. I just knew it was a message I wanted to get out into the universe.
Then, in early December, I was contacted by Marjie Bowker, an English teacher at an alternative high school in a suburb outside of Seattle. She told me our mutual friend had given her my book to read. Her next words were an early Christmas gift to me.
Hippie Boy is the book Ive always wanted for my students, she said. Do you want to form an author partnership?
Neither of us understood what an author partnership even meant. But we both knew we wanted to figure it out. So on a whim, we started brainstorming and Marjie was soon crafting a curriculum that focuses on using Hippie Boy as a guide to help her students share their own stories in a narrative format.
Our month-long curriculum kicked off January 4th. And magic has been happening ever since. These juniors and seniors, more than forty in all, have experienced the kind of heartache and tragedy that most of us cant even fathom. Theyve experienced gang life and drug overdoses, and have lost loved ones to prison, suicide and cancer. Some have been shuffled from house to house without ever having a safe place to call home. Some have been battered and abused and neglected. A few have resorted to stealing food because they didnt have enough to eat.
These students have every right to be angry and hardened. Instead, they are some of the most compassionate people Ive ever met. And they are STRONG. I felt a connection with them the first day I met them. They are me when I was their age and thanks to the power of story, we share a common understanding. Using Hippie Boy and the writing exercises Marjie crafted for them as their guide, they spent the month working to bring their own stories to life and, in the process, they have found their voice and are taking back their power. On February 1st, we hosted a celebration and all-day reading so the students could share their life scenes. Their stories were mind-blowing. And they were so charged up by the power they had found within themselves that nine of them stayed after school for nearly three hours to share their stories with a producer from our local public radio station.
Weve hit on something powerful and have made such a connection that Im working with these students again later this springwhen we plan to publish their lifestories in an eBook that will carry their powerful words out into the universe. The experience has been a huge gift and has taught me an incredible life-changing lesson: No matter what challenges you face, you can overcome them if you claim your power, find your voice, and shout it to the universe.