Stories of our Graduates:

Tecca Thompson – 2021 Graduate of the Certificate in Community Storytelling

Sankofa is a word in the Akan Twi and Fante languages of Ghana that, translated literally, means “to go back and get.” It’s often represented by a bird with its head turned backwards while its feet face forward, carrying a precious egg in its mouth, which symbolizes returning to the past to retrieve what is good, and bringing it back into the present.

When Tecca Thompson received a sankofa necklace from a friend, she knew right away what the significance was to her own life.

“I’m called to tell stories,” she said.

She has always known that her purpose in life is to uplift others with her voice, but the sankofa was a reminder that her stories would also honor the legacy of those who came before her.

She describes her late grandfather as “tall, dark, and handsome.” He was a natural storyteller who drew people in and transported them with his stories. People would gather around him to listen, just as they now gather around Tecca in the venues where she tells stories publicly today. With a voice that is by turns welcoming, playful, and commanding, she shares her own experiences, crafted into stories that uplift and engage the audience.

There was a time when storytelling seemed like an unlikely path for Tecca, despite her calling. She struggled due to what she calls a “little t” trauma from childhood, a humiliating experience with public speaking that made it difficult for her to speak to a group even as an adult. To her, telling a story before a crowd of people felt like standing on the edge of a cliff—her body had the same nervous somatic response. But she knew storytelling was what she was meant to do.

“Even though it terrifies me, I’ve always known that my real purpose is to stand on stage and empower others with my voice.”

An eight month program that focused on body work and story helped her to overcome her trauma and feel more comfortable taking the stage. Now, she says, she can tell her authentic stories from a centered place.

Tecca also participated in the Hearth’s Certificate in Community Storytelling cohort. But just before her session started in the spring of 2021, a young Black woman named Ma’Khia Bryant was murdered by the police in Tecca’s home state of Ohio. That sorrow and grief remained with Tecca as she started the Certificate program, and when she logged on to Zoom to find herself in a majority White space, she thought, “I can’t do this.”

But she pushed forward, determined to improve her storytelling craft. And as she did, she found the cohort community to be supportive and loving, particularly the Latinx and indigenous storytellers who were also in the session.

“It turned out to be exactly what I needed,” she said.

It was the Hearth’s focus on listening, among other things, that she found deeply meaningful. Listening, she says, soothes the nervous system, and is one of the techniques that helped her overcome her fear and anxiety around standing on a stage and telling her own story.

“Listening compassionately and deeply is an embodied experience because the listener is listening with their whole body,” she said.

It was listening that helped bring Tecca back to herself after the COVID pandemic and widely publicized police shootings left her feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. In early 2020, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery by the police triggered intense anxiety and sorrow for her, leaving her struggling to function outside of work.

During this upheaval, she found a listening community called Sidewalk Talks, which hosted a series around racism. Listening and being witnessed, she says, helped bring her back to herself.

She also discovered the importance of honoring her body’s needs through rest. For Tecca, the COVID pandemic became a time to focus on self discovery and growth, which started her on the path to becoming the storyteller she is today.

“There is a piece of rest in my day, every day,” she said. “I center Black women and I center rest.”

When Tecca tells public stories now, people gather and are drawn in, just as they were when her grandfather would share his own tales, a generation ago. Told from a deeply true and authentic place, they are a salve for an aching heart and an anxious mind.

“I’m standing here today owning my voice,” she said.

But to Tecca, storytelling isn’t just about her own story. It’s important to her that she create platforms for everyone to tell stories, stages that are accessible to all. While she’s spent the last year honing her storytelling craft, she firmly believes not everyone needs to be a seasoned storyteller to tell a story or be on a stage. In fact, she says, it can be painful and damaging when there are limits on who can tell a story, and when some voices are silenced and others uplifted.

To create more accessible stages for storytelling, she started a women’s listening circle for women of color called the Conversation Lounge. In the Conversation Lounge, participants tell stories in breakout rooms that center around a theme, and then they’re given a call to action. In June, the theme was: “I stand for Black girls.”

Sitting in community with other Black women at the first meeting, to listen and to be witnessed, “felt like home,” Tecca said.

Radiant warmth and joy light her face when she speaks of her work with Black women. With the Conversation Lounge, she’s created “an amazing healing and transformative space.” Women of color often don’t have a place to be witnessed or share their stories, and the Conversation Lounge creates a beautiful opportunity for connection and community.

“To create spaces where Black women can tell stories is a form of awareness and healing,” Tecca said. “I want to do stories about Black joy, Black love, and Black life.”

The ethos of her work is at the intersection of racism, sexism, and oppression. But through stories, she says, we can begin to heal, to connect, and to move forward together.

“Our stories are the balm for what other people need.”
To hear Tecca tell the story of how and why she became a storyteller in her own words, check out this video:

To hear Tecca share the story of overcoming her “small t” trauma to become an embodied speaker, check out this video:

Follow Tecca’s work on Facebook: