Community Storytelling Project: Building relationships through stories


This fall, there will be a series of informal storytelling sessions happening in Seward based around themes such as cooking, gardening, and identity.

The sessions, organized by the Seward Neighborhood Group and the Twin Cities Media Alliance in partnership with Common Bond and Spokes Bike Walk, will be an opportunity for residents and business owners from all backgrounds to meet and learn more about each other. “People who wouldn’t stop and have a conversation on the street can come together over food and have these fun conversations that let you get to know the other person,” explained Lolla Mohammed Nur, engagement editor at TCMA.

Bringing Everyone to the Table

Weekly conversations between neighbors aren’t the only goal. Organizers hope that these sessions will lead to better representation of the diversity of the Seward neighborhood at local events, in community organizations and boards, and in leadership roles. Bruce Johansen, board member of the Seward Neighborhood Group and ReDesign, as well as TCMA’s engagement coordinator, commented, “The boards don’t really reflect the neighborhood at all, so its a pretty narrow slice of Seward that’s at the table and having conversations and making decisions that affect everyone.”

First, Build Trust

To achieve the long-term goal of more diverse leadership, Johansen explained that short-term goals, such as increased communication between residents, have to be reached first. He said, “The first step is having these conversations and building these relationships. Because if you don’t even know who your neighbor is, how are you going to get them involved in your organization and vice versa. So we were just thinking about it logically, what has to come first, before we start to think about leadership.”

Opening up and having conversations with others can be especially difficult for East African residents. SNG board member Tariku Belay explained, “It’s hard for Somali and Oromo people to open up to others. They went through a lot of hardship and don’t want to be reminded of everything they have lost.” He added, “You have to build that friendship before you can ask the harder questions.”

Participants in the June storytelling session at Matthew’s Park. Image by Lolla Mohammed Nur.

The storytelling sessions are the result of a series of conversations between a diverse group of people from the neighborhood. “It was definitely a product of a lot of people’s input and effort,” said Mohammed Nur. “We talked about what the needs are in the neighborhood and, if we did get the grant, what the short-term goals and long-term goals are for breaking breaking barriers and establishing new relationships and leadership in Seward.”

Participants in the June storytelling session at Matthew’s Park. Image by Lolla Mohammed Nur.

Participate in the Storytelling Sessions

The community storytelling sessions are funded by a grant from the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. They will be held on Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. in September and October at various locations in the neighborhood. For more information on how to participate, email Lolla Mohammed Nur at

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