Exploring Identity Through Storytelling and Map Building

Sharing a personal map with the group

Recently Departures Youth Voices was invited to take part in an educational symposium for secondary educators sponsored by The Music Center and La Plaza de La Cultura y Artes. It was entitled Exploring Identity Through The Power of Storytelling. Presenters included notable storytellers: Barbara Clark, Paul Guzman, and Olga Toya, as well workshops by Facing History and Ourselves, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes and Departures Youth Voices.

Barbara Clark opened the day with a story of her childhood in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C. when she first experienced segregation at the age of ten. The story was filled with descriptions of people and places as well routes to and from her home. She recounted the various acts of resistance, both personal and communal that eventually led to the end of segregation. Her story marked the beginning of a day where story was center stage, and exploration of identity was the objective.

Barbara Clark opens the symposium with a powerful story

Workshops were simultaneous so participants had to make the tough decision of where to go. The educators who decided on the Departures Youth Voices workshop had an opportunity to reflect on the power of place as a springboard for storytelling. The workshop was tailored after the third component of the Youth Voices Curriculum, map building. Youth Voices is a media-literacy program that engages student in a thoughtful exploration of their neighborhoods while employing innovative multi-media tools. The general goal of the program is to examine how multi-media theory and application can link students to their personal and community history, examining issues in social science and civic engagement.

The first group of educators begin to work on their five hot spots

Participants in the workshop were asked to reflect on their own community and their experiences and memories of the people, places and things that make up their neighborhood. They were asked to select 5 "hot spots" or locations that hold a special memory of connection for them; a place where they spend time with friends, a location they are scared to go to, a favorite place that is no longer there, etc. They were then asked to draw a map that featured their "hot spots." The next step was to place a clear plastic sheet over their map and write in the significance/memory of each location.

Five hot spots help guide the map making process

The first layer of the personal map

Participant working on their personal map

Participant working on the first layer of their personal map

Adding the second layer to the personal map

The physical act of adding a second layer to the map illustrates the unique and complex relationship we have with our community. The next layer was added during the presentation of the maps when participants were asked to show their map to the group and elaborate on their "hot spots." Through this process they unfolded stories and discovered new ways of seeing themselves, their identity and their community.

The process of sharing the personal maps adds a third layer to mapping activity

Within the Youth Voices curriculum, map building allows us to connect with the students on a variety of levels as we build the foundation for the overall project. Students are asked to share their experiences/memories of their neighborhood as an integral part of the larger exploration of their community. Value is given to their personal story and their understanding of their neighborhood while also exposing them to people and places that enhances their awareness of their community. The participants in today's workshops were invited to go on the same journey the students take, as they begin Youth Voices.

Pondering the process of mapping

The second group of educators begins their personal maps

Adding the details to the second layer of the personal map

The educators worked through the workshop to complete their personal maps

The educational symposium was filled with a wonderful mix of powerful content that allowed participants to reflect on how they may be able to integrate the arts, history, and storytelling into their own work with young people.


Los Angeles River School Students Map Elysian Valley


Meet the Youth Voices Student Producers from ArtLAB High School