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Keeping storytelling alive

People sometimes forget that storytelling often was used before the written word.

Before the Gospels were composed, for instance, stories of Jesus were told in the oral tradition by his followers.

And a famous teller of tales was enslaved by ancient Greeks, who wrote his stories long after he died. They became known as Aesop's Fables.

"He could neither read or write, but he was a master storyteller. His stories are known and told all over the world," said Karima Amin, a former Buffalo schoolteacher who resigned in 1994 to make storytelling her full-time profession.

An East Side resident, Amin is co-founder of Tradition Keepers: Black Storytellers of Western New York and Spin-A-Storytellers. On Saturday, the two groups will present "Tell Me a Story -- 4," the fourth annual storytelling workshop and performances, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library on Jefferson Avenue.

"Storytelling was the way that [cultural groups] passed on history and tradition and our worldview. Things that were honored and celebrated were often passed on through storytelling," Amin said.

The workshop includes three sessions. Two of those will feature Jocelyn Dabney, a member of the Cleveland Association of Black Storytellers and the National Association of Black Storytellers. Dabney will perform with her husband, Robert, a singer and a percussionist on African drums.

A resident of Youngstown, Ohio, Dabney received a master's degree in storytelling and reading from East Tennessee State University.

"It was my mother who got me started. She always would tell us stories, stories of her childhood, traditional fairy tales," Dabney said by phone.

"Back in the day, everybody was telling stories. It's just when TV started that we stopped talking to each other. And now people are texting all the time," said Dabney.

Storytelling is key for all groups, but especially for African Americans, said Sharon Holley, co-founder of Tradition Keepers and Spin-A-Storytellers and a retired Buffalo & Erie County Public Library librarian.

"We have so much information and history about our culture and past that we're just forgetting or ignoring by not talking about it. Storytelling allows a person who is not a historian or scholar to tell those stories," she said.

In addition, storytellers can embellish the facts to make a point -- as when elders tell young people about walking 20 miles to school.

"Maybe it was only two miles, but they are making the point 'I didn't have it as easy as you.' You did whatever you had to do to get there," Holley said.

To register for "Tell Me a Story -- 4," pick up forms at the Merriweather library, 1324 Jefferson Ave., or email bushs@buffalolib.org. For more information on the workshop, call the library at 883-4418.

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Have an idea for a person, organization or event that would make a good East Side Story? Email it to eastsidestory@buffnews.com, fax it to 856-5150 or call 849-6026.

email: dswilliams@buffnews.com