The Gift of Storytelling

October 07, 2021

In 2020, at the age of 14, Isabella Hanson was inspired to launch a national poetry competition on Black Lives Matter. Powered by Gucci, Isabella’s “I Matter” poetry contest drew participation from students in 26 states. The top poems and art were made into a compilation book honoring the lives of Black people killed in 2020. This project followed her 2020 Juneteenth Celebration, which she hosted to bring racial healing to the community at the historic Fussell House – a site which helped lead over 2,000 slaves to freedom. Isabella is an Honor Roll student at Kennett High School in Pennsylvania. She holds a leadership role in her school’s Diversity Club and is a Youth Founder of the National Youth Foundation. She is a member of her school’s track team, Model UN and Humanitarian Club. In her spare time, Isabella takes sewing lessons, is a member of Live Like Blaine Leadership Academy and GirlGov.

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Have you ever met a great storyteller? I know one of the best ones ever. Whenever my grandfather was asked about his age, he would tell everyone asking that when he was born his birth certificate was carved into a tree and the tree had been chopped down, so no one knew his exact age. He would then estimate his age to be around 29. His story always got a gregarious laugh from the listener. To support his story, up until he was 83, he always kept his hair fully colored. He is now 85 years old and has had symptoms of dementia for five years. He has been diagnosed for two of those years and I have been lucky to have him living with my family and me for these important two years.

My grandfather was born in 1936, long before the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which ended legal segregation in the United States. He would tell his children stories about the underfunded, segregated schools that he and his siblings had attended. It was his personal experiences that embedded a deep value for education and equality in him. After he married my grandmother in 1960, education was the top priority within their home. All of their kids attended college and three earned Master’s degrees. My grandfather was so proud of all of his children’s accomplishments that his house was basically a museum where he exhibited their achievements.

When I was young, I loved receiving the special packages that my grandfather would send to us from the Sunday comics section. It made me feel special to know that someone was thinking of me. My favorite memories with my grandfather include going over to his house for weekend visits. It was also exciting to see which new fast food meal toys he had saved for my sister and me. He also took us to amusement parks. What was most special was that the time was ours. He would carve out the entire day for us to spend in various parks. I am 15 years old, and I will always cherish those special times of patience and kindness.

Another value that my grandfather instilled in his children was the importance of family. He had lost his father at an early age, so he was a supportive son to his widowed mother, my great-grandmother. I always loved hearing stories about his childhood when he came to visit us. He came to visit us so frequently, he had his own bedroom at our house. Everyone loved when he came to visit because he told the best stories and he always helped out with all of the chores —  just like he had done growing up. In 2019, he came to stay with us permanently. He had been found wandering outside on a cold January night without a coat. He was taken to the hospital and the doctors explained to him that he was required to have assistance in order to be released. Because he was suffering from dementia, it was a very difficult adjustment for someone who was always very independent.

When I am old and gray, I will tell my grandchildren stories about my loving grandfather. His stories will provide the bridge to the pre-Civil Rights movement in America. The stories will teach my children and grandchildren to value education, patience, family, love, and equality. If any of them ever asks about his age, I will tell them that when my grandfather was born, his age was carved into a tree and that the tree had been chopped down.

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