‘Imagine a woman who has acknowledged the past’s influence on the present… Author of her own life, participating fully in her recovery with its gifts and challenges…remaining loyal to herself. I am that woman’
Take a group of women; possibly recovering addicts, maybe living with mental health challenges or reforming from a crime habit? What changes might they have made, what might they say about the world do you think?
The quote above Celia had on the front of her folder as she walked in for the ‘Speak Up! Speak Out!’ workshop – she reads it every day she told me – to remind and strengthen her.
As Evelyn arrived, on time, to the complete amazement of the support worker, I felt her power and I stayed as present and warm as I could. There is no substitute for warm eye contact: n every training situation we are all strangers at the start. In another context I might find myself a bit intimidated. But this is not about me, and as you’ll discover, I was blown away by the power of these particular women.
I’ve had my share of personal challenges. I know a bit about the ramifications of addiction, and I’ve understood some of what it takes to change habits that no longer serve me. Some of the women hinted at having done time, we didn’t discuss it further.
The beauty of training people to speak from the heart is exactly that: they do. Every single being on this earth has some great stuff to say once given the chance. I know this from witnessing it over and over, young or old, privileged or struggling. I’ve heard inspirational speeches in the most ordinary of classroom settings.
After a few hours of training, five three-to-five minute speeches were delivered with passion and without notes. And then one, rousingly political speech given by a Angel who dropped in for the last hour to listen; was moved to join in with no pressure from any of us. Here is a hint of what they said:
Sitting in the local park at lunchtime was the prompt for one speaker; to include the orators and writers buried there: John Wesley, Daniel Defoe, William Blake amongst others. She inspired us with her speaking out, us to relish our city.
‘Come as you are’ was the opener the next speaker gave; the still, small voice which led her to make a turnaround from criminal activity to faith. She finds peace being in church. Earlier in the day she’d been quiet. This time her voice strengthened as she impassioned us all to value self-acceptance: ‘come as you are’.
Yvonne told the stories of two disaffected young women, whom she had helped to find trust in people. She encouraged us to spread a little happiness, say hello to those you see on the street. Be the change you want to see. It’s simple.
‘The beat passes through your body and comes out as movement’. Have you heard a better description of dancing? This, from Sandra who has found her path away from crime includes holistic, calming activities that keep her mentally free For her that includes teaching Zumba dance: which as we saw it in her passionate speech helpd her stay whole and happy.
We heard impassioned identification of the all the things we need in life: homes, street lighting, parks… how all these and more are a reason to be political. And how women make such great politicians. This was from a women, who only dropped in for the last hour, to watch!
And finally… a woman who’s own light-bulb moment came in the form of wanting to create a support system for young people to get their own ideas started. The moment the idea comes, the positive thought leading to positive action. She’s going to be there to coach and encourage others inspired by the changes she’s been able to make.
I wish we could have bottled the essence of that afternoon. It would contain passion, care, courage and huge self-belief. No matter how many nerves there may have been, at the notion of speaking for four-minutes, without notes: when it came to it this wonderful day proved the need to express one’s true self, can carry each of us through. Any person can become a great speaker.