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Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, was once asked what she would say to Civil Rights leader and U.S. Representative John Lewis if she had the opportunity. Expressing “deep, deep gratitude” was the first thing that came to her mind. The second was a request: “Come train us.”

“We want mentors,” she says. “We want elders that were part of the Civil Rights Movement to train us. We don’t want them to tell us what to do, but we want training. We want to be talked to. We want to be in conversation.”

The late Vincent Harding was one Civil Rights leader who put his energy and spirits behind the question of what mentorship could look like. His initiative, the Veterans of Hope Project, collects wisdom from elder activists on the roles that spirituality and creativity play in their work toward racial, gender, economic, and environmental justice. Leading up to this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’ve been exploring more of their archive, which is rich with interviews and resources featuring icons like Ruby Sales and Dolores Huerta.

Harding’s focus on oral history and the act of sharing stories is intentional. “There is something deeply built into us that needs story itself,” he says in his 2011 On Being interview. “That story is a source of nurture — that we cannot become really true human beings for ourselves and for each other without story — and to find ways in which to tell it, to share it, to create it, to encourage younger people to create their own story.”

I love how Harding talks about the relationship between the stories of past and future generations — not as prescriptive or didactic, but as fodder and nourishment for younger people to create something new. Or maybe stories are simply ways we can express our gratitude for each other, as we share a world that feels both ever-changing and not different enough.

Khan-Cullors shared this story of another intergenerational conversation she once had: with Sekou Odinga, a member of the Black Panther party who was incarcerated around the same time as Assata Shakur:

“It was one of the most beautiful exchanges. It was just us looking at each other, and him being like, ‘Thank you,’ and me being like, ‘Thank you,’ and dropping some wisdom specifically around surveillance and the role surveillance played in his movement, and now it’s playing in ours. We need deep mentorship, and I would love if the older generation would show up for us in that way.”

In honor of Vincent Harding’s work with storytelling and mentorship, we are inviting you to share a little of your own story on Instagram — in 20 words or fewer.

Kristin Lin
Editor, The On Being Project

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet was beloved around the world. “When you write a poem, you write it for anybody and everybody,” she said.

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Celebrating Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver died this week at the age of 83. In honor of her memory, we are re-airing our 2015 conversation with her — one of the rare interviews she gave during her lifetime. Here are a few of the poems she read on our show for you to visit and reflect upon:

You can also listen to the stories behind these poems — and some others — on this SoundCloud playlist.

Community Spotlight

We often hear from listeners about exciting, kindred initiatives happening in their communities across the world — organizations and movements nourishing the generative possibilities of our time and attending to the human change that makes social transformation possible. Rather than keeping this information in our inbox, we hope to give it another life here in our newsletter. Each month, we’ll spotlight a social initiative you’re involved in. To share something you’re working on, you can write to us at

Underground Writing is a creative writing program serving migrant, incarcerated, recovery, and other at-risk communities in northern Washington. Their first workshop in 2015 was with four students in Skagit County Juvenile Detention. Since then, they have expanded to work at five community sites and recently released an anthology, What No One Ever Tells You, featuring their students’ work. “By the time the writing prompts are finished,” writes founder Matt Malyon, “students — through some grace moving in language itself — have often dug down deep enough into the self to reach [the possibility of hope].” Learn more.


Stanford, CA
Artificial Intelligence: A Deep and Reality-Based Conversation about Human Intelligence and Consciousness
Thursday, February 14, 2019, 6:00 p.m.
Tresidder Union, Oak West at Stanford University

Krista will be in conversation with Jerry Kaplan of the Stanford Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law and Mehran Sahami, professor and associate chair for education and director of educational affairs at Stanford’s computer science department. Learn more.

Philadelphia, PA
On Being Live Recording
Monday, April 29, 2019, 7:00 p.m.
Congregation Rodeph Shalom

Featuring speaker, activist, author Shane Claiborne, who worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, founded The Simple Way in Philadelphia, and leads Red Letter Christians. This conversation is the final event in a series of public conversations put on by Interfaith Philadelphia. Learn more.

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