Award-winning storyteller Jeffery Rudell said he was essentially dead to his family after he told them he was gay.
“How was it possible for my parents to teach me love and tolerance in excess of what they possessed?” Rudell asked as many in the audience gasped and shook their heads. “I’ve learned there’s such a thing as too much patience, but not a thing called too much forgiveness.”
Listeners sat rapt for hours listening to the stories of the famous and the not-so-famous on a recent evening before a packed house at the Newseum. Their words were unscripted, without notes or cheat sheets, a style that is the hallmark of the New York–based nonprofit The Moth, which conducts live storytelling events.
The event was part of a national storytelling tour in support of the Characters Unite initiative of USA Networks, said Toby Graff, senior vice president of public affairs. The goal was to promote acceptance and greater tolerance. Graff spearheads the nearly three-year-old Characters Unite campaign to end bigotry and discrimination through public service announcements.
The audience alternated between laughing profusely as performance artist/comedian Greg Walloch described trying to help a lovesick friend or gasping in disgust and outrage when he encountered churchgoers seeking to exorcise the devil they believe possessed him because he has cerebral palsy. “ ‘Are you comfortable? Are you comfortable living in that body?’’Walloch said one worshipper asked him before he was carried to the altar and palm smacked on the forehead by the minister. If given the chance, Walloch would not change his body, but some character flaws such as impatience.
Oscar-winning actor and activist Forest Whitaker shared a story from his youth in which he dealt with discrimination.
“The story was about reframing your life, not accepting no and ultimately recognizing freedom,” said Whitaker, a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation and co-founder of the Institute of Peace at Rutgers University.
Many people cried as they listened to Kevin Jacobsen, who’s retired from the New York Police Department, describe his love for his wife, their three children and how the nightmare of bullying claimed the life of his youngest child, 14-year-old Kameron. Kameron committed suicide in January.
“We’ve all been robbed as a society,” said Jacobsen, who now advocates for new laws to train students and teachers about bullying. “ here are more Kamerons out there.”
Author/blogger Meghan McCain said how during the 2008 presidential campaign featuring her father, Republican nominee John McCain, her looks drew some negative attention on talk radio and the blogosphere.
McCain, who is working on a book with comedian and Michael Ian Black, said she was empowered as she received more invitations to speak around the country to speak about body issues as well as politics.