Mel Harper hosts Story District's Southside Story Sessions through February 2016. (Kimberly C. Gaines)
Mel Harper hosts Story District's Southside Story Sessions through February 2016. (Kimberly C. Gaines)

Story District returns “East of the River” with its monthly program that teaches volunteers the intricacies of storytelling and then gives them a chance to display their prowess at the microphone.

The sessions, which kicked off in October, resume on Thursday, Nov. 5 and continue on Dec. 3, Jan. 7 and Feb. 4, in the Uniontown Bar and Grill in Southeast [2200 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.]

The non-profit organization, Story District, established in 1991 and based out of the Columbia Heights community in Ward 1, has evolved over the years and now offers programs in all of D.C.’s wards.

Amy Saidman, artistic and executive director of Story District DC, along with Mel Harper, East of the River project manager, have been instrumental in the creation of the new program.

“We have sponsored bigger programs in the past that required a greater time commitment but this time we were looking for something that was smaller in scope, required less of the participant’s time and was held at a venue that would make people feel more comfortable when it was their time to step to the mic,” Saidman said.

“October was a great beginning and because the restaurant already has its own clientele, we believe each month we’ll see an increase in both participants and the audience,” Saidman added.

Each month has a theme – November’s will be “All in the Family,” inviting participants to share true stories about reunions, traditions and belonging. Those who sign up or drop in can join an interactive one-hour workshop at 7 p.m. From 8 to 9:30 p.m., participants will share what they’ve learned at the mic.

“We teach a more personal style of storytelling – it’s autobiographical in nature which distinguishes it from griots, folkloric, fables and traditional tales. We value those other forms but our goal is to collect the stories of real life experiences. Along the way, we hope we can help people find a path on which they can begin their story. Hopefully, the monthly themes will serve as a spark for a good idea,” Saidman said.

Harper, who lives in Ward 7, said the best thing about Story District remains its collaborative approach to program development.

“I started with them in 2014 as a participant, taking a class on storytelling,” she said. “I joined the East of the River ‘Home Sweet Home’ cast. Then I was invited to work on another project. We brainstormed and came up with the five sessions now being offered, collectively called the ‘Southside Story Sessions.’ There are countless ways to get involved and share your gifts.”

Saidman calls the entire experience “rewarding.”

“We’re holding these workshops and open mic sessions in Ward 8 but we know it will expand beyond this community,” she said. “From a chance to be featured in our larger shows next year to improving one’s skill at storytelling, this is a tremendous opportunity to be part of a larger audience and touch a lot of lives.”

For more information including free RSVP, go to A minimal charge at the door will apply for those who do sign up prior to the event.

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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