Story Contributed by Rebecca Wehner, Bay Path Student Newsroom Contributor
As women, we deserve to feel powerful. There is a story behind our names, our birthplaces, our dreams, yet we rarely stop to consider it in our daily lives. Onawumi Jean Moss gave Bay Path students the opportunity to shine a light on their stories, while she shared her own with poise and charm. Moss, a storyteller and acapella singer who lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, was delighted and moved all who were watching her Zoom event, titled "Me, Myself, and I: From Surviving to Thriving." Through endearing anecdotes and inspiring thought exercises, Moss encouraged us to be strong and firm in our identities, what she referred to as "I Am-ness."
Onawumi's granddaughter, Rene Gabrielle, served as a guest speaker at the beginning of the event, showcasing a video presentation that featured many notable aspects of her grandmother's life. Born in Tennessee, Onawumi grew up during the Jim Crow era. Despite her family growing up amidst discrimination and hardship, she still had faith in the little things; she loved writing poems, singing in church, and participating in school. When she was an adolescent, she won second place in her school's "I Speak for Democracy" essay contest, earning her a spot on the front page of the local newspaper: a feat quite impressive for a young Black girl at the time.
While Onawumi thrived in the classroom and the arts, not everything in her life was so easygoing. When she was in high school, her uncle was badly beaten by the police. As a result, her aunt was so stricken with shock and fear that she had a stroke, and Onawumi was left to take care of her. Despite her struggles and setbacks, she persevered, becoming the first in her family to go to college and beginning her career as a professional storyteller in 1993. Some of Onawumi's stories about her life are bright and upbeat; some are more serious. However, she believes that we all must "use the past to build a better and brighter future."
Onawumi then led a segment on her concept of "I Am-ness" by asking for Bay Path student volunteers to speak out and introduce themselves as follows: "I am...I am from...I am a rising scholar...I am envisioning myself to be...". When each student got their turn, Onawumi urged them to let go of any nervousness and to speak with confidence and precision. Those watching sent encouraging messages using the chat feature to cheer on the student speaking at the time. The purpose of this exercise was to take pride and responsibility in where you came from and to not let fear and uncertainty stand in the way of your goals.
Onawumi expressed the importance of stories throughout the event, saying she believes that every experience has a lesson attached to it that you must seek out and discover. "All you have to do is look back," she said. Other students shared stories of their own, about their families and friends, and sought to find meaning within them with the assistance of our storyteller guide. The night closed with a moving moment where Onawumi sung the beautiful and powerful phrase, "I am truly amazing", over and over again. Onawumi Jean Moss helped us all to feel truly amazing and value all our life stories.
This article is also featured in the March 2021 issue of the Network News Student Magazine.