Oscar-winning actor and activist Forest Whitaker arrives at a Characters Unite/The Moth event held at the Newseum. (WILLIAM B. PLOWMAN/USA)

“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.

Performance artist Greg Walloch shares a story during a Characters Unite/The Moth storytelling event presented by the USA Network in Washington, D.C. (WILLIAM B. PLOWMAN/USA NETWORK)

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 and blogger Meghan McCain performs at the Characters Unite/The Moth storytelling event in Washington,D.C. (WILLIAM B. PLOWMAN/USA)

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.

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