This past weekend I returned to Blacksburg for the second time to continue developing partnerships around the storytelling residency I’m doing this year. Inspired partially by the approaching ten-year anniversary of the shootings, the work encompasses many things including story, journey, resiliency, community, and healing.
Driving the 7 hours there, I nearly beat my personal record from when I lived in Minneapolis and would drive 6 hours, running out a whole tank of gas without stopping. Only made it 5 and a half hours this time but that’s because I have a better car with better gas mileage these days. Plus, I only had 5.5 hours to go after my requisite Dairy Queen Blizzard stop. The other difference is that I didn’t get out of the car limping when I used to do that when I was 32.
I have so many things to say about my time in Blacksburg. Wonderful, challenging meetings with smart, caring, community-centered people. Getting to go back to Bollo’s Cafe & Bakery, which is a treat anyone whose lived here understands. The days were packed. When I laid down at night, I realized my eyes were a bit watery, almost like a child who has done too much and can’t process it all.
Of note, I met with Anthony Wilson, who is the Chief of Police for the Town of Blacksburg Police Department, and was the first responder to charge into the building the day of the massacre. I’m here to tell you, if every community had the gift of an Anthony Wilson, there would be far less strife – maybe none – between police departments and the communities in which they serve. He spoke with such eloquence about the balance in training police officers between the technical side and the spiritual side, how much he wants his people to be whole, healthy human beings in order to serve well.
One day was capped off with an entirely new experience. Left to my own devices, I generally like to only do things that fuel my nostalgia for when I used to live in Blacksburg, but it didn’t take much to convince me on this activity. Glade Road Growing is part farm stand, part open air food market (avec brick oven), part community performance venue, and all love. We went out there for the final meeting of the day and to consider it for a potential storytelling venue, but I got the best surprise to find the recently retired, but still-on-the-run and indomitable Ann Kilkelly and Carol Burch-Brown were on the bill. A beautiful, soft summer evening, full of great food, old friends, children running everywhere, an amazing sky over rolling hills, and ukeleles encouraging us to Sway.
My next trip to Blacksburg, the first full iteration of the residency, will be the week of the election in November. I will be teaching storytelling at the Pamplin College of Business, the APEX Innovate Learning Community, and hosting open mic storytelling events at Gillie’s and on campus. Other meetings and awesomeness go in between. Stay tuned and, to steal a line from my colleagues out there in the field…I hope you have a story worthy week!