In the turmoil of the 1960s, I was doing camping trips for children from low-income families, some of them in trouble with the courts. It’s where I started telling stories. I was pursuing a speech major at a Christian college I couldn’t afford, and was also questioning things like the church’s “Jews killed Jesus” rhetoric.
When spiritual leaders in my milieu called Martin Luther King a communist, I moved to the “godless” university where I stumbled into a Broadcast Speech sequence the church school didn’t have. I was immediately attracted to the media work of George Gerbner, a Jewish refugee from Hungary during the rise of Hitler.
Gerbner said, “Whoever tells the stories controls how children grow up, and television is telling most of the stories nowadays.” He was also looking at which populations were missing from mainstream media stories, and I began to realize that many of the children and families I was working with were not represented.
As I moved into years of teaching storytelling and media literacy in urban schools, the Old Gardening Party emerged to raise up missing stories.
For example, light bulb lore says Edison persisted until he found the enduring filament to move us from kerosene lamps to electric lights. AWOL from that story is Lewis Howard Latimer, Civil War veteran and African American scientist in Edison’s lab. Latimer found and perfected the filament, but is mostly absent from public awareness. I think we are better at this today, but great stories should not wait until 100 years after a person dies.
Col. David Rabb, first African American commander of a unit at Fort Snelling, is one of them. I know David because I’m a volunteer with the Golden Valley-based Veteran Resilience Project. When David retired, he came back to Minnesota and found the project because it makes a specific type of trauma therapy, EMDR (know as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), available to Minnesotans who served in the military. In 2004, before Col. Rabb’s 785th Medical Combat Stress Unit deployed from Fort Snelling to Iraq, he took them all to California for training in EMDR by Navy Psychologist, Dr. Mark Russell. Because of EMDR effectiveness for combat trauma, Russell and others were using it inside the military 25 years ago.
Sadly, they encountered inexplicable resistance when they tried to make it available to veterans. Trauma authority Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk has argued for years that EMDR is best for most people with trauma, including veterans with PTSD, but many refused to see that. David Rabb got it right away, and is still fighting for better veteran care.
After Fort Snelling, Col. Rabb was stationed in California and led a combat stress unit to Afghanistan where he established the Warrior Recovery Center. Back in California, he worked with psychologist Joseph Bobrow, who wrote much about David in “Waking up from War: A Better Way Home for Veterans and Nations.”
David’s full story would spill out of the space I have on this page, but he also connects veterans with therapy dogs and does seminars on moral injury.
Because the OGP is about telling important stories to children, check out David Rabb’s children’s book, “From A to Z: What a Veteran Means to Me.” Illustrated by 11-year-old Isha Gupta, each letter has a word and story, like “E is for the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” It’s the story of Armistice Day. “I is for integration” corresponds with the ending of military segregation in 1948, and there is also M for Memorial Day. “N is for negotiation” is important, as it lessens the likelihood of war, and “Q is for quality health care,” for wounds both visible and invisible.
I recommend telling children the story of the first and only Black Commander at Fort Snelling, then read them from A to Z.