That was the word author and storyteller Greg Neri started off with this morning during the second day of the 2015 NextGen Conference here in Washington, D.C.
Neri has traveled around the country and has written several books inspired by true life. He has worked with inner city middle and high school students and aims to tell their stories as accurately as possible. He’s also written about Johnny Cash, Truman Capote and Harper Lee.
“I write about what [people] are up against,” he told the crowd this morning. “I tell stories in their words.”
And sharing these stories continues to inspire him.
Raequon is one of the many young kids that Neri met and drew inspiration from during his many travels. Initially, Raequon wasn’t interested in reading, but Neri gave him one of his books – Chess Rumble. Although Raequon wasn’t initially interested in the text, he was compelled by the illustrations in the book. Eventually, he was not only reading books on a regular basis, he was writing his own poetry. His grades have improved and he is considering attending college when he graduates.
“It was all because of one thing I did – it changed his entire trajectory in life.”
The point, Neri emphasized, was the connection. The act of sharing changed not only Raequon’s life, but his own. When people connect, they become involved in each other’s lives, which can turn into powerful action.
“If you treat somebody as a human being, they react like a human being. … [Connections] fuel everything that I do now.”
Keeping this in mind can help everyone realize that they can affect change in the world. It doesn’t have to be curing cancer or eliminating poverty. Aiming for even small change can make a big difference.
“Open yourself up to the world and the world will open itself back up to you. … Connect and use [your] voice. It’s the most powerful thing I know how to do.”