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Blog/Sweden

REFUGEE STORY PROJECT IN SWEDEN

Heather Box

MPP co-founder, Heather Box, is in Sweden this week working with Caledonia Curry (aka Swoon) on a refugee storytelling and art project.

MPP co-founder, Heather Box, is in Sweden this week working with Caledonia Curry (aka Swoon) on a refugee storytelling and art project.

For the past five months, the Million Person Project has been working with two young people in Sweden to get ready to tell their story to the world. This week, Maram Alawad from Syria and Daniel Moradi from Afghanistan will share their story of becoming refugees in Sweden. This storytelling event will accompany an art show done by world renowned American street artist, Swoon at the Skissernas Musuem in Lund Sweden.

If you would like to be set up with an interview with any of the project's participants, please contact heather@millionpersonproject.org. 

Training Videos

Heather Box

What if my story feels too hard to tell?:

How to stay connected to your story:

What if I feel like I don't have a story?:

Effective leaders know how to present their personal stories in a powerful way that stirs people to action. Whether you are a teacher, entrepreneur, artist, business person or activist, being able to articulate your WHY and the deeper motivations behind your work will help you do your job better. But telling your WHY isn't always easy.

And after our recent survey we heard three main concerns from all of you about your stories:

1) What if I feel like I don't have a story?
2) What if I feel disconnected from my story when I share it?
3) What if my story is too hard to tell?

Our new video series addresses these questions head on.

If you would like to book a 30-minute consult to discuss working with the Million Person Project on your story, don't hesitate to reach out: http://www.millionpersonproject.org/book/

The stories that fuel our green economy

Heather Box

Inspiration. Energy. Power. That’s what you find at a Million Person Project training.

I worked with Julian Mocine-Mcqueen and the Green For All team last week, digging deep to pinpoint the WHY behind their dedication to building a green economy that fights poverty and pollution.

I was blown away. After just one day, each member of the team stood up and so powerfully shared their personal connection to the work.

Two stories:

“My Mom has severe asthma and lives right under the airport. They paid her $7,000 to endorse the project and now, decades later, she is paying a price that cannot be measured.”

“My father was a pastor who was organizing the community to run a regional free healthy school lunch program. The last conversation I had with him was when I was 14 and he was away at a conference. I asked him if I could help with the lunch program, he said no but he would be home to see me soon. He died that night and that night I picked up the torch for justice for our communities and have been carrying it ever since.”

The stories within organizations like Green For All are powerful, moving and motivating.

At The Greenlining Institute, the graduating class of fellows trained with us, learning to tell their own stories and the story of Greenlining, an advocacy group that works on health issues, economic equity, green energy and democratizing philanthropy. Million Person Project helped the fellows look at their own life history and understand why their own experiences drew them to Greenlining. By getting in touch with that deep history that motivates them, they can talk about issues that affect them and their communities powerfully.

The power of storytelling doesn’t just come from the words and the delivery. It comes from deep inside you – from the essence of who you are. Reach out to me now to learn more!

MPP Headed to NYC

Heather Box

I’m heading to New York City tomorrow for nine days to work with old and new clients. When I go to New York, memories from my time in the city come flooding back to me.

I remember in 2004, trudging through the snow to Cafecito, the restaurant I managed at a time when I knew almost no one in New York. I was the ultimate small town girl in the big city. I made friends with anybody who would make friends with me. A muscle man moving antiques on the street. Liberty George. a Bulgarian refugee who sold Statue of Liberty masks on the street. And a fancy cheese purveyor who delighted in my exuberance (and loudness) when introduced with any new delicacy.

My friends gave me an ongoing introduction to art and architecture and vintage clothing and living in the big city. Despite being too-cool NYU artists, my friends never made me feel like a country bumpkin. And I gave them something, too. I didn’t find out until years later, but my new friends secretly agreed to say yes to any random activity I proposed. They would tag along with me for Rolo shots at the neighborhood bar, spirited political protests and picnics in the park with random strangers I had met the hour before. Later, they told me I helped them see the city in a new way. Where they saw stereotypes, I saw possibility.

Now I spend a lot of time working with my clients to see the possibilities in their lives and help them shape the stories that will make things happen for them. Let me know if you know someone in New York that needs an artistic or career charge-up. Have them email me: heather@millionpersonproject.org or call me at 415 971 3523.

WHEN THE WATERS DON'T RECEDE

Julian McQueen

By Julian Mocine-McQueen

I am a full blown, full time climate activist. For 7 years, I’ve spent a majority of my waking hours focusing on how we can address this issue and create jobs and opportunities in the process. In my role as Director of Education and Outreach at Green For All, I’ve recruited partners, supported events, organized trainings, tours, workshops and actions with some of the most ambitious, committed and innovative community leaders in the United States. It is work that I love, and I bring a deep passion to it.

   Kiribati after a recent King Tide. Photo by Fenton Lutunatabua. 

   Kiribati after a recent King Tide. Photo by Fenton Lutunatabua. 

Recently though, I’ve felt somewhat distant from the issue of climate change. I’m not sure why, but I think it may in part be due to the fact that I’ve spent so much time focused on it, that it’s just sort of become part of the background. That all changed last week. Climate change, as an issue, as a reality, as the single most critical issue we’re all facing became real again.

Last month, I started a sabbatical from Green For All to pursue a project I co-founded on storytelling and public speaking called the Million Person Project. I set off on a trip to Fiji to work with a dozen climate activists from islands across the South and North Pacific. For two days, my partner Heather and I worked with leaders from Fiji, Tonga, Tokelau, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. These leaders are part of the 350.org network, and we were working to help them uncover and use their personal stories about their connection to climate change to better communicate and lead in their communities. I will never forget the stories we heard, they were vivid, they were honest, they were scary and they were all very clear on one thing…climate change is here and it is an existential threat to their communities.

I will never forget the stories we heard, they were vivid, they were honest, they were scary and they were all very clear on one thing…climate change is here.

When you are on the global front line of climate change, the timeline for unimaginable catastrophe is shorter. The storms are already getting more deadly and devastating. Days before our arrival, Cyclone Pam swept through Vanuatu with a force not seen before and wiped out 90% of development in their major city. The president was quoted as saying, “We’ll have to start over.” That same storm (along with an unusually high tide) created a king tide in Kiribati that swept further into the small villages than ever before, inundating wells that had never been breached by the sea. The water is already rising and these low-lying island nations like Kiribati are facing the fact that their entire country might disappear. As their president noted, “There will be a time when the waters will not recede.”

These are shocking truths, ones I’ve heard before, but what became real to me is that this fact means that Kiribati organizer Toani Benson’s neighbors have no access to drinking water apart from the aid coming in. A bigger storm or a larger king tide could mean they lose their homes. They lose not just their physical home, but their homeland. The people of Kiribati have been there for over a thousand years.  They have a long and storied history, they have legends and teachings and a worldview that is indivisible from the atolls that make up the country. With climate change, all of that, all of the stories, all of the landmarks, all of the triumphs and tragedies that make up Kiribati and define what it means to be a Kiribati man or woman…disappear from the face of the earth. The map of the world will have to be changed. I’ve never before understood this.

I’ve never sat and thought as our friend Arianne from Papua New Guinea has, about how it must feel to visit your grandfathers grave site and know that there is a very real possibility that you will never be able to take your child there because it is slowly eroding into the sea. I’ve never before thought about how it must feel to see the ocean that has nurtured and supported your people for 10 or 20 or 100 generations begin to turn against you. How must it feel to be in that kind of fight, and on top of it all, to know that it’s because members of your human family who live far away and will never visit refuse to change how they light, power, heat and build our world. I’ve been sitting with these thoughts this past month and it makes my throat tight and it brings tears to my eyes. The front line of climate change is a real place and the people here are fighting for their life and their way of life as we speak.

The organizers we worked with call themselves the “Climate Warriors.” I feel so blessed to have come here and met these young warriors and learned their stories and visited some of their homes, because I now know in my heart what I’ve always known intellectually, that our fights are completely intertwined and utterly connected.  These climate warriors are in the vanguard and they are fighting everyday to bring the stories of their struggle to the world so that we can push harder and demand more action on climate change. They are moving with urgency and with intention and they are not resting. They are doing their part and more than their part, and now it’s up to us, the rest of the world, to do ours.

I wish that everyone in the world could come and break bread and share stories with people in this region. I believe that if this happened, the offensive and indefensible climate change denial of too many government and industry “leaders” would become culturally abhorrent. It can’t happen. But what we can do is try to put ourselves in their shoes. We can think about our history and heritage, where our families rest, where our stories originate.  We can redouble our efforts and move with an urgency that reflects the fact that our heritage, history and future is on the line…right now. Because it is. Ultimately, we are all on the front lines of climate change. The timeline might be less immediate for many of us, but the shifts will occur. Our family’s land will disappear, or dry out, or flood. Our homes will blow down and our wells will dry upThe Pacific Climate warriors have a motto, “We’re not drowning, we’re fighting.” I, for the first time had the chance to stand with these warriors and I will forever move with their fight, our fight in my heart and mind. Because the Pacific Ocean that they wake up to is the same that I wake up to thousands of miles away in San Francisco. The waters are the same and the threat is the same, and I now know more completely than ever before that their fight is my fight, and their story is mine and that I can fight from where I stand and stand with them.  Thank you climate warriors for leading the charge. We are with you and we are fighting!


Something Different For Our Kids

Heather Box

Heather collecting dirt from the spot in Vietnam where her Uncle died in the war. 

Heather collecting dirt from the spot in Vietnam where her Uncle died in the war. 

By Heather Box

Last Fall Julian and I were running a crowdfunding campaign to bring the Million Person Project’s curriculum abroad and it was taking up most of my mental space. I would wake up every morning with a jolt remembering that we were in the middle of the campaign and we needed to get a minimum of 11 donors per day to make our goal of 300 donors. Many nights I fell asleep with my hands resting on the keyboard and would wake up at 1am with hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh typed all across the page. Our weekends consisted of running around town preparing and mailing our perks, the gifts we gave for donations. It was a lot more work than we had prepared for.  

One Saturday afternoon I was sitting in the car outside of the art supply store while Julian bought paper for the screenprints we were giving as a perk. I wasn’t handling the pressure of the campaign very well. To the outside world I appeared to be holding up, but inside I was riddled with fear. I was worried we wouldn’t make our goal. I was worried that asking all my friends and family for money would hurt our relationships. I was worried about getting hundreds of people involved and then not being able to deliver on our program.

I put the car in park, kicked my feet up onto the dashboard and rested my face in my hands. I just tried to breathe, listen to my heartbeat and remind myself it was better to flail and fail than it was to just stay safe.

The sun was baking on my arm and hot tears fell down my face.

After a couple minutes, I looked up as Julian opened the car door. He looked exhausted. “What’s wrong Heather?” He asked in that way you ask when you know what’s wrong and you don’t really want to hear it because you relate too much and are not sure you can talk about it. I searched for a new way to answer his question and a seed of clarity must have seeped in with the sun because I said to him, “Whatever it takes to make this campaign happen, I am going to do because I want our kids to chase our legacy of love and truth, not a legacy of war. It is so sad that one of the things that connects us to so much of the world is war.”

I remembered the quiet afternoon that Julian and I walked through rice paddies in Vietnam with military maps and photos of my Uncle John in our hands looking for the spot where he died during the Vietnam War. I remembered the sound of the water buffalo bathing beside us as we collected dirt and tried to talk to my Uncle. We introduced ourselves and told him about all that had happened in our family since he died. I told him how much my Dad loved him and how much all of us cousins looked like him. I told him how we had the sort of unfortunate small chin, the kind that is a very Box trait, but doesn’t age well. I remember Julian teasing me and asking, “Really? That is what you are going to talk to your Uncle about right now??” I laughed and continued talking, telling him how much Grandpa loved and really needed him because the rest of his rebellious kids had rejected the Catholic Church and wouldn’t even take communion when they went to mass with him on occasion. I told him that Grandpa was so proud that he went to Santa Clara and stuck to his Catholic roots. I told him I wished he never went to war and that no one ever went to war. I told him I wished he didn’t have to see the things he did. Julian described to him in detail the scenery around us. He told him that things were beautiful in Vietnam and that we saw schoolchildren marching home from school in their perfectly pressed uniforms. He told him about the water buffalo bathing and the rice farmer who was asleep under a tree down by the water. He told him that the violence didn’t stay here. I filled a film canister full of dirt to bring home to my family and we both bowed a little. We told him it was nice to meet him. When I got onto the back of the scooter that day I felt proudly like a Box, someone who was rooted in a group by blood and whatever fortune or misfortune our family went through was part of my legacy.

I also remembered the early morning, a few years back, when my Dad and I navigated the Tokyo transportation system to go to visit my Great Uncle Bobby. Uncle Bobby had been a medic in World War II and after seeing such devastation in the war, returned to Japan in his early twenties to become a Catholic priest. He lived the rest of his life in Japan, helping to build a Peace Cathedral in Hiroshima and working in churches in the rural parts. I really wanted to get to know him because my Grandma, my Dad’s Mom, had died when my Dad was eleven, and I didn’t know much about her or her family. I remembered the day we sat by his bedside and he regaled us with stories of learning Japanese, and then eventually forgetting some English! We laughed and I loved watching my Dad and him share stories about my Grandma. My Dad and I spent two days with him and then went to Hiroshima to see the Peace Cathedral. Two days after we got home, one of Bobby’s friends from the church called and told us he had passed away. He thought Uncle Bobby had been waiting for us to visit before he died. When my Dad told me the news that day I remember dropping down onto the bed, looking up at the ceiling, closing my eyes and with all my might trying to send Uncle Bobby a thank you for hanging on.  I told him that it really meant something to me to know what his hug was like. I felt like I understood, just a little more, how we as a family hugged.

I thought about how I want to go to Okinawa and see where my Grandpa John, Grandma Bina, and Aunt Robin lived for a year after the war while Grandpa taught there. I thought about how I wanted to know so much more about why Grandpa decided to move there and what he was thinking when he was there. I wanted to understand myself more by going there and seeing what he saw.  

I thought about how I want to go see the cannon on the Solomon Islands that my Grandpa Bill was in charge of and still exists. I want to go there, bless my legacy and energetically set the record straight that the Boxes stand for peace and love. I want to stand there with Julian with our hands on the cannon and know Grandpa’s hands have been there and to let whoever is keeping track know that Bill Box raised his children and grandchildren to believe love, to believe that we can go anywhere in the world and see heart-to-heart with anyone else on this planet.

In the parking lot of Flax Art Supplies I told Julian that I want our kids, our nephews, nieces, and grandchildren to strike out into the world looking to deepen the connection with who they are, with us, and with their family. By visiting the resource center in Uganda where we held one of our first storytelling workshops so they can meet Kaganga John’s family. I want them to travel to Fiji and hike to waterfalls with Fenton’s kids and talk about how their parents became friends and supported each other in boldly sharing their full truths. A hundred years from now I want them to travel far and wide with our pictures and maps to stand in the same spot in the dirt we did and not shed tears, but laugh, because they know that is the spot where we made up a three-part dance routine with people from 15 different countries. I want them to sail into Marshall Islands and know that their Aunt Carolynn did that same thing 50 years before on one of her grand adventures to research plastic pollution in our oceans and create momentous change towards a healthier ocean and planet. I want them to go to tiny little town in Japan and find the school where their Uncle Marcos and Aunt Shannon taught English and roam the village where they made friends for life. I want Miles, Malcolm, Rae and Marshall to know they can just take a backpack and find a home anywhere in the world as long as they bring an open heart. Tears streaming down my face I looked over at Julian, who was staring sort of cautiously at me as I shared. When I finished, he said, with a slight laugh, “Wow, baby, okay. I was only gone for like 4 minutes. Let’s go home and blow our goal out of the water, Heather Box. Let the multi-generational love adventure begin!”

We ended our campaign with 327 donors and $35,549 dollars and we are now in Fiji running storytelling workshops with climate activists and artists from around the region. We are headed to Solomon Islands in a few weeks to work with activists on the ground there and plan to go searching for the cannon Grandpa Bill manned in World War II.

My car therapy session and the clarity of purpose it brought me has never been far from my mind since that day at Flax, and as I daydream on the long bus rides around Fiji I continue to be inspired by the future images of my yet-to-be-born descendants and the memories of Uncle John, Great Uncle Bobby, and all the Boxes and Luthers that came before me.

Truth Takes Time

Heather Box

Zane Sikulu sharing his life map with the group. 

Zane Sikulu sharing his life map with the group. 

­By Heather Box

It is a common practice that midway through our workshop I will notice Julian with an unusually serious face signaling to me to come outside. I know the routine. He is going to tell me we have fallen behind in our agenda and he is going to stress that we aren’t going to make it through our curriculum. I will listen to him until he throws his hands up and tells me there is no way we can catch up, then I know it is time for my standard response and I start to assure him that people are getting a lot out of the workshop even if we aren’t going to make it all the way through the curriculum. I have to remind both of us that in our workshop people are in the process of taking a major step in their own leadership and we can’t just rush them through. We usually go back and forth a few times before we start laughing and head back in together to finish the best we can.

But last Saturday when he pulled me aside I didn’t feel I could assure him of anything. The day had been going great, but then there was an extra long lunch break and it seemed all of the inspired energy from the morning had dissipated. And with a group of ten people from ten different islands there were a lot of cultural considerations in the room and as facilitator we didn’t know exactly how to push or encourage the group. The most obvious challenge was that most people weren’t opting to share in front of the large group, which made it more challenging for Julian and I to assess how well the participants were grasping our curriculum.

Outside, Julian pulled the folded paper out of his pocket with the agenda scribbled on it, “We are so behind Heather, and I am not sure it is resonating with people.” I felt tired and worried that we had come all the way to Fiji and five hours into the first day of our workshop we weren’t sure it was working. We had been trusted with two of the four days of an inaugural retreat where a group that calls themselves the 350.org Climate Warriors had come together from islands all across the region to launch a Pacific Islander storytelling project around climate change and to develop a new leadership structure for the group. Our workshop and each warrior having the experience of powerfully telling their own story were critical components of their project. I looked at Julian, my face was hot with worry and asked, “Is this the one workshop that isn’t going to work?” I threw my hands up. Julian looked down, shook his head and said decidedly, “We need to get a few people in front of the room.”    

So we set out and spoke with people one by one and asked them if they would be willing to get up in front of the group. We got a few reluctant yeses and we knew that was all we needed.

What happened that afternoon will forever inspire and motivate me to do this work.

We gathered in a large circle and our few brave volunteers spoke up and shared their stories. Julian and I listened on the edge of our seats, anxious to see how willing people would be to deeply share their stories. Julian set the timer for four minutes but as soon as the first Pacific Climate Warrior started to share, the room transformed and I saw Julian decide to stop the timer and let the person share for as long as they needed to. Courage, honesty, vulnerability, love, laughter, and tears poured down across the room and one by one each person stood up to share their truth from the bottom of their heart.

As I sat there cross-legged on a couch, my knee touching the leg of the love of my life, I watched the group commit to being their full, beautiful selves in front of each other, knowing that 327 incredible people funded us through our Indiegogo to be in this room with these people, I was overcome. I searched for words for how I felt: lucky, blessed, honored, grateful…they all seemed so insufficient.

Then I saw Koreti, the leader of the group, stand up and share her truth in such a powerful way that gave each one of us in the room the space to be our full, complicated selves, and the truth of what I felt overcame my whole body: freedom. That was what I felt right then: free. There has never been a room where I felt this statement more truly: Your truth will set us free.

That is what I watched that day. I watched courage being passed around like a hot potato, I saw love exchanged with reckless abandon and felt peace come over the room as each and every one of us grounded in the truth of ourselves and each other. I left the training last week more motivated than ever to do this work, and as we head into four trainings this week in Fiji’s capital city I am bringing the power shared in that room with me.

The Climate Warriors have all gone back to their islands and are working on getting ready to share parts of their stories publicly. Their stories of love, perseverance, and the choice to live fully stand to inspire the whole wide world.

MPP Training With Climate Warriors

Heather Box

We are starting a two and a half day training today in Fiji with 350.org's Pacific team who call themselves the Climate Warriors. We are working with the MOST amazing group of people from all across the island nations in the South Pacific. We are excited to be building deep relationships with people who have grown up across the world from us, and to be sharing stories, celebrating our common humanity and making plans on how to support each other's work going forward.  

MPP Goes to FijI

Heather Box

We are so excited to announce that we will be heading back out on the road to bring our storytelling workshop and one-on-one coaching to change makers across the globe.  We are leaving next Monday!

Our first stop is Fiji where we will meet with climate activists from around the Pacific Islands who call themselves the Climate Warriors. They are part of the amazing 350.org network. 

In 2013, we had the honor of attending 350.org's Global Power Shift where we met young  change makers from nearly every country on earth. We made friends for life there. The Climate Warriors were a few of those friends.

Ten Climate Warriors and activists from the Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tonga, Tokelau, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand are meeting next week in Fiji to participate in a variety of trainings. Two days will be dedicated to the Million Person Project's storytelling workshop. We will support the warriors to tell their stories, and then train them in how to conduct our storytelling workshop with others. Afterwards the warriors will return to their islands and train their partners and peers to tell their stories so that the voices of the people on the front lines of climate change are heard around the world.

Every morning Pacific Islanders wake up and the oceans creep closer and closer. Just this month, Vanuatu and other Pacific Islands were slammed by Cyclone Pam. These nations are having to rebuild huge parts of their islands from the ground up. Climate change is a harsh reality for Pacific Islanders and now, more than ever,  we need stories that help us understand their experience, acknowledge our interconnectedness, and act from a place of love and our common humanity. The Million Person Project exists to help those stories be told. 

We are excited, we are honored, and we are MOTIVATED to do our best work possible because we understand that their voices stand to inspire the whole world into action around climate change. 

Follow along!

xoxoox HBOX and Julian