World Congress of Families IX: The power of stories can shape society for good

Jeremy Nelsen, team leader of Freedom Stories, talks about the importance of remembering and sharing the stories that define us. (Austin Tenny)
Jeremy Nelsen, team leader of Freedom Stories, tells a World Congress of Families audience about the importance of remembering and sharing stories that shape society. (Austin Tenny)

The Friendship Train is one of America’s lost stories. After World War II, the train collected foodstuffs from thousands of American donors for transport to European countries. It was primarily a token gesture of goodwill.

“It is always exciting when you discover these wonderful and new stories,” said Bill Norton, member of the National Center for Constitutional Studies in a forum at the close of the World Congress of Families IX. “Once you discover (them) it gives you this amazing connection with others.”

Norton introduced the forum as, “The Power of Stories and How They Shape Society,” and presented several speakers working to change the world, one story at a time.

The first speaker was Tonya Nelson, a member of the NCCS. She told about her ancestor, James Hyde, who fought in the Revolutionary War along side George Washington. After the war, he was determined to tell Washington’s stories of valor and had a book published in his memory. His book had a profound impact on Nelson’s perception of Washington.

She told another story about Henry Knox, a war hero who nearly sacrificed his life to ship cannons across icy rivers and lakes to help Washington beat the British in Boston.

She told the story to her son and witnessed how it encouraged him to do hard work.

“That day, I learned the power of a story,” Nelson said.

Familiar/Personal Stories 

Following her remarks, Kimberly Fletcher, founder and president of Homemakers for America, told the story of her family’s visit to the Grand Canyon. She witnessed the beauty of the sunset over the canyon.

“It took my breath away,” Fletcher said..

She quoted Thomas Tucker, a U.S. poet whose words summarized the gratitude she felt for that moment.

“There will now and again come to us a scene, a remembrance so full of beauty and pleasure that we shall feel rich in the possession of it,” she said. “And in that moment, that is exactly how I felt.”

Imaginative Stories

Bill Norton then addressed the audience, describing how stories such as, “Where the Wild Things Are,” and, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” taught him the power of imagination.

He recalled an instance when his son showed him a drawing he made in school. He drew instructions for an airplane. Norton decided to help him make a model plane using those instructions and both of their imaginations.

“It’s been wonderful, as I grew up learning these imaginative stories, to cultivate my imagination and pass that on to my children,” Norton said. “So that they can learn to visually see and create things throughout their lives.”

Historic/Heroic Stories

Daniel Sheridan, founder of Mr. Dan’s American and Sheridan History and co-Founder of My Freedom Frontier, then gave a brief presentation on a historic figure, Robert Carter III, and his historic, yet unknown document, “The Deed of Gift.”

His document freed more than 500 slaves hundreds of years before the Civil War.

“Robert Carter was ahead of his time,” Sheridan said. “I learned from him that if there is an opportunity to be a champion of freedom on behalf of others, do it even if costs you your life, reputation or money; that’s what Carter teaches us.”

Finally, Marlene Peterson, founder and president of Libraries of Hope, and Jeremy Nelsen, team leader of Freedom Stories, concluded with a debut of the Libraries of Hope.

“You cannot know me if you don’t know my stories,” Peterson said. “I cannot know you; but once I know your story, I’m going to understand and love you.”

We can shape the world, one story at a time. (Austin Tenny)
Those who have learned the power of story say that people everywhere can shape the world by sharing their stories as widely as possible. (Austin Tenny)

Peterson’s “Libraries of Hope,” is the culmination of a year’s worth of resurrecting lost stories of ancient date, uploaded on a digital platform.

“All of our nations have a story to tell,” she said. “If we’re ever going to have peace in this world, we’ve got to know each others’ stories because it will bind us together with love.”

Nelsen complimented her remarks, asking those in attendance to visit their site and share stories that shaped them so that they could do as the Freedom Train and help unite nations.

“We want you to share, from your heart, the things that matter to you,” he said. “As we do that, we can be united as a world, and can actually be shaping the world one story at a time.

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