Queen City Nerve

Charlotte's Cultural Pulse

Artist Statement: Local Poet and Storyteller Hannah Hasan has the Tough Conversations
Voice of the voiceless

By Courtney Mihocik

February 4, 2019

Hannah Hasan is a storyteller.

Not the stories of fiction or elaborate tales of wonderment and far-away places. She tells the stories of people in Charlotte and gives life to voices that fall on deaf ears in the city.

Partnering with Q.C. Family Tree, a nonprofit in west Charlotte’s Enderly Park, Hasan will share the stories of gentrification and those displaced in west Charlotte at Muddy Turtle Talks Gentrification and Conversation on Feb. 9 at Warehouse 242.

The power of storytelling should rouse the community into action to address the problems of gentrification and removal of historically black neighborhoods.

Muddy Turtle Talks will begin with the stories of Charlotte residents gathered and told by Hasan and other artists, then leads into an open and candid discussion about addressing these issues.

Queen City Nerve sat down with Hasan to talk about Charlotte, gentrification and her method of sharing the stories of human experience in our city.

Queen City Nerve: What do you see happening in the city right now?

Hannah Hasan

Hannah Hasan: To see how different the city is, all the changes that have happened is really interesting, but also I’ve always felt like Charlotte is this pot that’s on the stove and it’s boiling. And there’s the lid that’s shaking and a couple of years ago with the Keith Lamont Scott shooting, that lid popped off. But there’s still stuff in the pot and there’s a lot of different people and groups and efforts and artists that are working to try to figure out, “How do we address what’s in the pot? How do we create a city that we can all be proud of? How do we create an identity that we can all be proud of?”

When you ask people what is the story, the identity of Charlotte, you get different answers almost anywhere you go, but the thing that is constant is there’s two Charlottes. There’s the one that is experienced by people who are the “Haves” and at the table and then there’s the opposite of that. So trying to merge those worlds and figure out how to make all of that work is just really interesting to watch.

What’s in the “Charlotte Pot?”

I think everything. You can’t talk about that pot without talking about housing and homelessness and upward mobility. That might be the story of Charlotte right now, is upward mobility. But that conversation about, “How do we ensure our schools are what they need to be, how do we ensure that our communities look and feel the way they need to be, and how do people who work in the city afford to live in the city?”

Then there is the stench of what happens over the course of those few days after the shooting and the [Charlotte] Uprising and the relationship with law enforcement and the relationship with elected officials and organizers, artists, all of those things. All of that is there, and I think the optimist in me believes the desire to make this city what it needs to be is deeply entrenched in all of that.

The upcoming Muddy Turtle Talks event is about gentrification, how does your storytelling play into that?

So this is the second Muddy Turtle [event]. Prior to that, using this format that I use for what we like to call “social impact story sharing,” I’ve done before. This is the first time that I’ve used it with this approach. We had a show in October that was essentially stories that ran the gamut, and it was stories about life on the west side of Charlotte and the goal, my goal as a storyteller, was to share the stories of people just to humanize them. Some of those stories were happy and joyful, some of them would be tragic. A little of everything in between. There were a couple of stories about housing, but really it was just about showing the outside of the community that there are people who live here, breathe here, experience life here, pay attention.

I’ve also found through conversations that I’ve had it could be businesses, because businesses get displaced as well. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been interviewing folks who live, work, breathe in that Tuckaseegee Road area and the different major thoroughfares around. I’ve been interviewing people and just talking to them about their experiences and their experiences with housing, what their fears are for their community, some folks who have already been kicked out and what they’re going to do. And then as a storyteller, I then write those stories, but I try to keep the anonymity of the person whose story I’m telling intact. Then storytellers from the community will learn them and share them at the event.

I will say that last time when I did this, I was so intent on making sure the purity of the stories was kept intact that I didn’t put my hand as a storyteller in it as much. It was almost like I transcribed what the folks told me. This time around, I’m going to take a little bit more creative liberties in sharing the stories in a way that it’s still true, but a little more effective.

What can community members do after hearing the stories at Muddy Turtle Talks?

Last time it was just stories. This time, in addition to the stories, we’re going to have a community conversation, a very candid one with a couple of panelists, but really it’s about the community holding space with each other. And the first step I believe is acknowledgement. I think that’s why something like this is important. Why the arts for social justice? Because we’re the gatekeepers of the truth. As opposed to having all these meetings with certain talking heads and figures and stuff like that, this is a time for the community to come together and say, “This thing is happening.” Whereas I might not be able to change things right now at a systematic level, you can with your vote.

In this space, it’s less about telling the stories and leaving and more about the fact that this is a two-part thing where we can take these stories and use them as real-life examples, and then talk about what could’ve been done. Because most of the time, there’s something that could’ve been done. And addressing gentrification at a systematic level and Charlotte’s housing crisis and all that other stuff, those are really big issues that people are working on.

But this right here, this is about the human experience, and really not only is it about gentrification or forced displacement, it’s about erasure, it’s about honoring the truth that these are historically black communities. By listening to these stories and writing them and sharing them, we give honor to the fact that these are human beings who have had a human experience and they were here.

Muddy Turtle Talks Gentrification and Conversation will take place on Sat., Feb. 9 from 1-4 p.m. at Warehouse 242, located at 2307 Wilkinson Blvd. The event is free. 

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