It was a privilege to be part of launching the 5 Decades Project in Belfast City Hall today. Nearly 150 people took part in the storytelling project through which they found that they had more in common than they ever thought.
Local projects like this have significance for the individuals involved. The risks they take in getting involved in the first place are significant but, as the participants bear witness, the rewards are far greater than the risks. People are able to move from a watch your back outlook on life which turns them in circles, going nowhere and inhibiting vision, to a got your back outlook. It means they begin to understand each other, to look out for each other, to express how the other feels. That makes a significant difference locally. It also makes a difference to society. All across Northern Ireland there are projects like this that, in their own small way, are changing the world.
Maya Angelou said:
Those of us who submitted or surrendered our ideas and dreams and identities to the ‘leaders’ must take back our rights, our identities, our responsibilities.
Through projects like this people take back any surrendering of their ideas, dreams, or identities and they take hold of their responsibilities to make a better world, society and locality. Despite a sometimes turbulent history they face the challenges in a way which is inspirational. Participants in this project encourage leaders and others to learn to make that same shift from watch your back to got your back.
All of this has a a two-fold ambition. Firstly to give participants the chance to have their life story heard and secondly to bear witness to the impacts of violence and division on ordinary lives so that people are inspired to resist ever returning to violence and to apply themselves to the work of breaking down that which divides us. They, as Seamus Heaney put it:
… hope for a great sea change
On the far side of revenge.
In his poem The Road Not Taken Robert Frost reminds us that there is always an easy and well-worn road to travel and there is always a less-worn and more challenging road to travel. In organising and participating in this project ordinary people have followed the road less taken and that, as Frost has it, has made all the difference. Frost concludes his poem with these words:
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The 5 Decades Exhibition can be viewed at Belfast City Hall