Storyteller Diane Ferlatte Visits Synergy

Lively tunes and rhythmic clapping and tapping set the tone as students settled in for a morning of stories from award-winning storyteller Diane Ferlatte on Thursday, Sept 15. As students found seats, Ferlatte used gesture, eye contact and expression to connect — inviting everyone to join in her movements and presence. Accompanied by musician Erik Pearson on banjo and guitar, Ferlatte shared stories in the African and African American traditions. 

There were two morning assemblies, one for TK–3rd graders and one for 4th–8th graders. Ferlatte moved seamlessly between the age groups, offering stories for both that relayed lessons about history and humanity, highlighting themes of resisting prejudice and practicing acceptance for self and others. 

Incorporating song, verbal effects, call and response, questions, pitch, pace and emotion, Ferlatte kept the crowds actively engaged all morning, with audible laughter, groans and gasps from enthralled students. Her stories drew from personal history, Aesop’s fables, Zimbabwe and The Congo, and long-told African American tales. She encouraged her audience to not only listen, but watch how she tells stories, and explained that she tells stories in the interactive style she was exposed to as a child on the front porches of friends and family in the US’s Deep South. 

Ferlatte didn’t shy away from difficult subjects. She told the TK–3rd grade assembly about the time one of her grandson’s friends told him he didn’t like the color of his skin, before launching into a story about “Fanny the Hen” who avoided being eaten and instead won over a crocodile by persisting in calling him “brother.” The story concluded with a reference to Martin Luther King Jr’s message about celebrating our differences until differences don’t make any more difference.

For the 4th–8th grade assembly, Ferlatte shared a story about the time her family, traveling by car from CA to New Orleans, was denied the right to eat in a white only restaurant dining room. Instead they were served in the kitchen. She offered nuance in the story when she recalled her daddy’s refusal to let the experience ruin his meal and how the cook gave her family the first biscuits fresh from the oven. “I learned a lot about how people can hate you if they don’t know you,” she said, “But I also learned about how people handle it.”

Amid the poignance of each story’s moral, Ferlatte infused the morning with levity. She created an upbeat and joyful atmosphere, filled with connectedness and empowerment. She made a safe space to learn about difficult subjects, always returning to the power of heart and unity. 

Ferlatte has traveled to more than 20 countries to tell stories, and we are fortunate that our student community benefited from a visit at Synergy. The event was organized by the Synergy Library in collaboration with the Synergy Diversity Committee. 

Diane Ferlatte has traveled the globe, from Europe to Singapore & Malaysia, from Australia & New Zealand to Colombia, Senegal, Kenya, South Africa, Turkey, Jamaica, India, and of course all over the United States. While emphasizing the history, struggles, and triumphs of the African American experience as well as African & Southern tales, Diane also loves to tell stories that hold truths touching upon our common humanity. She believes that telling and listening to each other’s stories not only enables us to learn about each other, but also to understand each other better. She views storytelling as a traditional art form that can promote literacy, imagination, and values in the young. Her programs emphasize history, social science, folklore, and oral literature.

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