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YouTube, TikTok and TED Talks are popular platforms that use a storytelling format. The success of these sites lies in our love of stories. From early childhood, we are captivated by stories and they continue to engage us throughout our lifespan. Whether we are watching a TED Talk or Tiktok, it is clear that our love of stories is not diminished in adulthood.

We find stories entertaining to be sure, but we are also hard-wired to listen to stories. Studies of brain waves have found there is increased brain activity when we listen to stories . Our imaginations are fully engaged—we are present in the moment—in ways that do not happen when we listen to other forms of information.

Knowing. In this video, created in a workshop facilitated by the Center for Digital Storytelling, Mai Vang documents her experiences learning to advocate for youth and families experiencing homelessness.

Length: 2:51

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[Music] Southside Family Charter School, Minneapolis—A K-8 school with a social justice-based curriculum in front of me are two rows of kids from fourth to sixth grade I sit anxiously in my chair as the teacher begins introductions. 

The chatter quiets down and the presenting begins. Each kid stands up and starts sharing their journey to the South to learn about the Civil Rights Movement. I can feel myself getting hot and tears fill up my eyes. I am so proud of these kids who care so deeply about the same issues I care about. 

I wasn’t just learning about social justice, I was living it. Something that could never be experienced in a normal classroom. HECUA was the best last minute decision I ever made in my college career. Before I was so lost as to what I wanted to do with my life let alone what classes to take for a new semester.  Learning from textbooks was just not enough. I needed something different.

in the next few weeks after receiving my acceptance letter I found myself out of the classroom at homeless shelters in the cold waiting for doors to open. [Music] And then sitting on the blue beds raffled off every night. 

I squeezed myself into a packed hearing room at the capitol to support the homeless youth act and stood in the office of representatives urging my concern. I sat in homes of people on welfare stereotyped as lazy cheating the system when they tell me the 14+ applications they go through and the required 35 hours a week of job searching to keep it. 

I put myself into the stories of families in poverty who by law are above the poverty line and expected to make it in a country with no access to free child care or health care. My heart and my mind was just blown after all the things I soaked in sitting in that classroom with those kids made me realize there is hope for the future and i’m going to make sure it happens. [Music]

Storytelling is a way for people to make meaning from their experiences, share their voices and connect with others. With these goals in mind, what are some of the ways we can use digital storytelling? 

Stories help shift perspectives

The stories we tell help us make meaning out of the things that happen to us. This often leads to greater awareness or seeing things in new ways. In her TED Talk, How changing your story can change your life, Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb explains that sometimes we are “unreliable narrators” and the stories we tell ourselves are misleading. Telling our stories in new ways can help us become unstuck.

All of us walk around with stories about our lives: why choices were made, why things went wrong, why we treated someone a certain way, … stories are the way we make sense of our lives. But what happens when the stories we tell are misleading, incomplete or just wrong. Instead of providing clarity, these stories keep us stuck. We assume that our circumstances shape our stories, but what I’ve found is the exact opposite happens. The way we narrate our lives, shapes what they become. Lori Gottlieb

Stories promote healing and empowerment

Early on, researcher Kaitlyn Schwan discovered how art can be a vehicle for transformative, social change. Research confirms that arts-based activities can provide a safe environment for self-expression for people who have faced trauma or social exclusion (Zarobe and Bungay, 2017).

Stories offer a window on other worldviews

The best stories draw us into another person’s reality and invite to see something new. In doing so, we become more aware of different situations and experiences. Each storyteller is unique which means digital stories will have their own original look and feel. 

The Danger of a Single Story

Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her popular TED Talk, cautions us not to accept a single story about a group of people. She says that simplistic narratives often lead to harmful assumptions. “Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity,” Adichie says.

Have a look at some more examples.


By Marlene

We sat at the window waiting. Each time we seen headlights it would brighten us up with hope. She would cry disheartened as they crept on by. I could never show a tear for keeping strong was for her. The dark we were used to and broken windows. Waiting, anticipating on their arrival. I held her closer than anybody could trying not to cry too. No more cars that night so we gave into troubled sleep. 

I remember one bright sunny day. Dad and I were moseying out of the woods. I was bouncing along with glee dragging behind a small birch tree while he carried four or five small ones. We tied together the trees as the dome was formed and then we built the fire in the centre over which the fish were hung to smoke. The fish we caught mind you. 

We ate as a forgiving and happy family. Oh they loved us so much. It was all over too soon when we felt again the abandonment as they loved the bottle more. 

I am all grown up now feeling all alone without my daughter cause I loved the bottle more.

When will this vicious circle end? I think she is waiting for me, anticipating my recovery.

By Angela

It’s funny no matter how much you try to run away from something. it always has a way of finding you in the end.

I loved art class from a young age—loved being the operative word.

When I was 11 years old, my artsy older sister took me to see an indie foreign film and I had no idea what was happening as I snacked on popcorn and M&Ms. I busied myself with more important things like closely observing the images that were floating across the screen in front of me; big and little shapes, bright repeating colours, unusual sound effects, and the outfits people were wearing. I also began studying their expressions.

But the last time I seriously studied art was in high school and when university work and health issues took over, I put it all away.

One day many years later, I decided that I wanted to write an article for a community newspaper about learning how to communicate with healthcare professionals and how to approach the healthcare system. This had been challenging for me with my own health and I thought that sharing my experiences could lead others to find solutions for many unanswered questions.

I decided to interview one of my doctors who was easy to talk to, encouraging to me and open to my questions. It felt liberating to be creative again. It inspired me to write more articles. I learned that stories that had pictures sold even better, but I had no idea how to take pictures. A visit to the ROM led to an epiphany. As I was taking a look at one of the exhibits, I noticed a guy crouched in the corner taking photos. The funny thing was that he wasn’t taking photos of the exhibit but of the view through the museum window onto the street below.

“What are you photographing?” I asked. “That signpost over there,” he replied. “It has a strange curve to it.” It was then that I decided I had to change my perspective. My photos began to reflect the abstract in a way that made others take note and question what they were seeing. Up close, far away, from a different angle, and through repetition, I question all forms of art that I create whether it be photography, painting, drawing or creative writing.

I’ve always had a strong attraction to the arts, and I managed to run away from it over the years. Now, I’m still running, only I’m moving towards it instead.

By Kate

I am wolf clan from Tyendinega. In the winter of 1997, I was feeling like a brown person taking up space in the world. Barely knowing my language or culture in any significant way. And then one day out of the blue my husband got a job in Fort Francis and our youngest child had just left for university and we were ready for a change. 

After volunteering for eight months I finally landed a job at the Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre. On my first day, I was gifted with an eagle feather and even though I knew nothing of my own culture I felt it so deeply. I learned in order to give proper homage to the eagle feathers they must be feasted two times a year through a special ceremony. 

We were instructed by our boss to wear skirts the next day for the ceremony. We were called to a circle. There was a big drum in the middle of the room. Many elders joined us and special words were spoken in Anishinaabe. Standing in that circle, I felt a big rush of memories that told me that in the circle our people go counterclockwise and I heard my ancestors speaking to me.

Over the next seven years learning more and more about Anishinaabe culture, meeting children who were fluent from birth and how they lived their own way made me want to know more. I started researching my own culture. I found a copy of our very special words before all else and I hung them up in my office. The more I learned of their culture, the more I wanted to learn more about mine, and sometimes during ceremony, I would forget and I would go the wrong way in the circle. The elders would laugh because they knew I was Mohawk and I knew I was Mohawk, too.


Zarobe, L. & Bungay, H. (2017). The role of arts activities in developing resilience and mental wellbeing in children and young people a rapid review of the literature. Perspectives in Public Health. 137(6), 337-347. 

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