Check your privilege

by Jessie O’Brien

When Daniel Sullivan was hired right out of college to teach in the Watts district of South Central Los Angeles, he knew he wasn’t hired because of his abilities.

‘“(The principal) wanted to give me a leg-up to get me into the teaching profession. I was aware that it unfairly benefited me,” Sullivan said. “I was hired because of my white male privilege.”

This is the story Sullivan will be telling as part of The Raven Narratives, a storytelling series that’s the Colorado version of The Moth, a popular podcast and live event series. Every installment centers around a certain theme, and eight storytellers will share their experiences in 8 minutes or less.

Co-producer Sarah Syverson thought it would be a fitting topic for the times, as stories about sexual harassment and racism consistently make headlines. The idea was initiated after a friend told her a story about how he, a white man, was arrested with his black friend. He was able to get out of jail after being bailed out by his parents, who had the means to do so, while his black friend had to sit behind bars.


The Raven Narratives storytellers all approach the topic from a different angle. One speaker will talk about his relationship with his dog, another about the Confederate flag. One storyteller will discuss the word’s Latin roots.

Participants pitched ideas to Syverson and co-producer Tom Yoder. Syverson and Yoder hold workshops for the storytellers. Yoder said they help participants form a narrative arch and refine the clunky bits. Yoder and Syverson ask participants to fill in small details so the story becomes vivid in the audience’s mind – What did your skin feel like? What was the weather like?

For Sullivan, he thought back to his time at the Watts middle school. It was overwhelming, but the African American teacher mentor he was assigned to, Yvonne Hutchinson, didn’t give a damn.

“She said, ‘I am not interested in you becoming a better teacher for yourself; I am interested in you becoming a better teacher for my people,’” Sullivan said. “I was benefited by my race. She demanded a higher standard.”

Hear the rest of Sullivan’s story and other personal tales of privilege on June 15 and 16 at the Sunflower Theater and Durango Arts Center, respectively, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

“I ask (the audience) to be there and to listen deeply, to suspend judgment and deepen that sense of hearing people and hearing their stories,” Yoder said.

Firefighters and evacuees can receive free tickets to this weekend’s show. Email Syverson at [email protected] to reserve a spot.


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