You don’t have to be stuck. Tellers at the March 25th slam – “Re-imagining Self” – shared stories about living and stumbling, growing and adapting. Each one affirmed the fact that we can change. We can lean on others and build on their legacies. We can break with traumas in our past and create our own paths.

The first teller, Barbara Cerda, cherished her grandmother’s legacy. Her grandmother couldn’t read, but she enriched Barbara’s life with her gift for storytelling. COVID took her grandmother’s life, and left Barbara home with two daughters to teach when schools shut down. As Barbara and her girls walked the neighborhood, they noticed the many, but depleted Little Free Libraries in their neighborhood.

Their determination to use the libraries; to fill and replenish them led Barbara from one level of commitment to another. She organized using social media and built partnerships, to keep the books coming. Now, the south side’s “Book Fairy” has started her own bookstore, honoring her grandmother’s legacy and creating her own.

Everything came easy to Elijah Franklin when he was in middle school. People told him it wouldn’t be as easy to do well in high school coasting on talent alone, and that proved to be true. New demands, a new girlfriend…his grades slipped. Then, in January of 2019, his best friend committed suicide. Elijah returned to school without having truly processed this blow.

He described a trajectory of alienation and conflict. He became someone he didn’t like. His turmoil culminated in a near-suicide attempt. When he was sent to Aurora Behavioral Health, in a week of welcome silence, he reimagined himself back to the Elijah of his middle school days, but wiser and steadier.

When Pam Williams was 18, nothing seemed to be working for her. Family situation: bad, relationships: bad, car: broken down, lost job. She needed for something to go right. When a reunion with someone from her past gave her a chance to move out of state, she jumped on it.

She headed to North Carolina, only to find that the living situation involved more people than she’d expected. The money situation was bad and her credit suffered. When she became pregnant (with son Amir, who shared the Zoom screen with Pam) it was time to become introspective. Not long after Amir was born, she split up with his father and moved back to Milwaukee ready to move forward with her own resources.

Tarik Moody’s Army service as a reservist has always been important to him. When he came to Milwaukee in 2007 to work at 88nine Radio, he had to attach to a new unit. He became a public affairs officer for a unit in Chicago, and for the first time he could serve in a unit where he wasn’t the only Black soldier, much less the only Black officer.

This unit was like family, and Tarik felt privileged when they were set to deploy to Iraq. His feeling of purpose and solidarity increased during training at Fort Meade and Fort Bliss, so it was a crushing blow when, three days before deployment, he was told that his chronic Crohn’s disease (which had been in remission) disqualified him.

He was left with a feeling of failure so deep that he became a driven man. When he returned to Milwaukee, he became the community activist who couldn’t say no – taking on so many commitments that he ended up with a heart condition and sleep apnea. He finally took a hard look at himself and re-calibrated. He’s always loved the Japanese rice beverage sake. He took a class in brewing it…finally immersing himself in an activity just for him. He’s learned to balance community service with restoration.

From the outside, Tenia Fisher’s family looked like the TV show ideal, but there was a lot going on. Her father abused drugs, alcohol and her mother; and verbally abused Tenia, her sister and brothers. Fear became Tenia’s refuge. Fear? Forget Everything And Run…Tenia started running at school at age 12. It de-stressed her and she was fast! She won events.

She threw herself into running. Track meets can be a burden for runners’ families because they last all day on weekends. After-school practices run into the evening. For Tenia and her family, that was a blessing! Supporting her in running competitions got them all out of the house. Kept them safe from the anger and abuse that took place in the privacy of home.

Tenia got a running scholarship that gave her a full ride at UWM. Her siblings followed her examples, with two going to UWM and one to Marquette. All runners! Tenia broke a number of records. Tenia’s mother eventually broke out of her abusive marriage, and is safe and healthy. And Tenia’s created FEAR, a curated running group. She leads others to discover the power that running’s given her and her family.

A night of stories by courageous and consequential people! It was a tough call, but Tenia was crowned audience favorite. Stay tuned for All-Stars!