Love at the heart of community discussions for ’11 Days’ in Philly

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Jos Duncan is chief storyteller at Love Now Media, a social enterprise with a mission to tell stories through media. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Jos Duncan is chief storyteller at Love Now Media, a social enterprise with a mission to tell stories through media. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Love matters in every part of our lives, and it’s important to talk about it, especially through neighborhood-based storytelling. That’s the way Jos Duncan sees it.

The artist and filmmaker is behind a series of of events called “11 Days of Love Stories.” The program begins tonight in Center City with conversations about love, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn spoke with Duncan about love.

The language of love can be different for everyone …

Everybody talks about love differently from my experience, and that’s one of the most beautiful things. Love is sometimes purely romantic relationships, and people talk about being married for a long time or how their grandparents met. And then there are people who feel that love is really about having equity, having access, having experienced justice working, having felt supported and being well. So, it plays out in so many different ways. I think it really depends on how people have learned to define love and how they’ve experienced it in their lives.

It is a great question. What is love? Big-letter love, little-letter love. What about for you? 

For me, love is extending my skills, my gifts to my community and to the people in my life — and listening. Listening is such a huge part of love. One of the things I really want to share through the series of programs is gathering with people to really listen to them. How often is it that we have people talking at us? We’re not feeling necessarily seen or heard. So, it’s an opportunity for people to come together and to tell their own stories.

It’s all in the name of love. So it’s not about attacking people or challenging people’s political views, it’s just about people sitting together in these spaces in different neighborhoods and listening. Love is listening for me.

What about when love is a hard thing to feel, to get in touch with, for an individual? What can you do in these spaces to kind of draw that feeling toward people or draw it out of people? 

I get a lot of people — when I tell them what I do, I tell love stories — they’re like, “Oh no. I want no parts of that,” because they’re torn or they’re not feeling that right now. And I think you know, oftentimes, when people are not feeling love, it’s because there has been some kind of an injustice, some lack of communication about a system or process, some lack of access to something that people deserve.

Thinking about love as an essential tool is an important part of thinking about how to help people feel again. We often don’t take time to listen to people about what they even really want and need. It’s go, go, go.

In just listening to people about what went wrong, you can find what made them feel disconnected from love. And it’s like, how can we give you that? Can we give you a little bit of — a taste of that  — in this moment? So that’s what I try to do.

Jos, you’ve heard so many love stories. What’s your favorite?

One story I’ve experienced really brought me to this work, and I feel like it’s a part of my own love story that I’ve been sharing in being able to work with people in the North Philadelphia community where I grew up. I grew up at 16th and Master in a place called Beckett Gardens. It’s low-income housing, and I lived there through a lot of transitions in the community … violence, drugs and all of it.

Then, some developers came into the neighborhood and they actually developed a lot of the places in the area, and the residents were able to stay and enjoy that. I got to witness urban development without gentrification. And, then I got to go back to that community and help people in the place where I grew up to tell their own story through a 10-minute documentary that actually aired on WHYY.

It was one of the most beautiful love stories that I had the opportunity to be a part of, because so often people are displaced from their communities. And they don’t have the opportunity to come back to where they grew up and create something to tell the story of a community that went through a transition, and they don’t have the opportunity to see those people living comfortably and benefiting from the new resources in that community. That’s one of my favorite love stories. You can witness love and feel love, but if justice be present, but if equity be present, you know a system working correctly is present.

What has love taught to you? 

Wow, that’s a good question.

I’m not going to define what that love is, which ever one comes to mind today. 

Love has taught me to love — just to love more. So it probably sounds so cheesy and cliche, but I always come back to love. Before I started doing this work, I don’t think I always came back to love as my foundation, but doing this work has taught me to look at where is love in this. And that has helped me to, I think, be more grounded. It’s helped me to be a better human being.

I think that’s why I’m so excited about this series, because I feel like I want to share this with people. It’s not that these are going to be new love stories. I mean, love is all around us, but I’m happy that we’re taking this space and creating the time for people to come and just take the layers off, share the love that’s already present.

Jos Duncan is a storyteller and filmmaker. Her “11 Days of Love Stories” series begins tonight. Some of the events are free. For more information, go to LoveNowMedia.com

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