Identity is shaped by the weaving of stories, producing the fabric of our worldview. Expanding our worldview changes the way we relate to other living and non-living beings. Storytelling between generations connects us to embodied knowledge which sustains inspiration, fulfillment and resiliency at every stage of life. If we understand our collective life story, then we can consciously build our future. In the context of historical exploitation and extraction of Indigenous and diaspora Peoples, Global Wisdom Collective (GWC) criticizes ‘interviewing’ which is an unequal exchange of information and limited responsibility of the interviewer to the interviewee. Instead, GWC advocates for intergenerational dialogue which facilitates vulnerability, responsibility, and sustained relationships among youth and elders.
Savannah and Ebony founded SeaPotential to promote representation in and access to marine careers for Black Indigenous and People of Color. SeaPotential facilitates relationships between youth and marine ecosystems. One way SeaPotential fosters connection is through intergenerational dialogue with elders. In June 2022, GWC facilitated an intergenerational dialogue workshop to prepare youth for dialogue with elders. The workshop built awareness of consent, active listening, and empathy. Youth were prepared to learn and record how elders related to water. The workshop taught youth communication skills which have the power to heal waterways and communities.
The following Q & A explores Savannah and Ebony’s experience with intergenerational dialogue and why this mode of communication is integral to SeaPotential’s work.
GWC: Why is dialogue important to SeaPotential?
SeaPotential: Dialogue is important to us at Sea Potential because it is very relationship based. Dialogue can highlight the relationship between the people having it, help build relationships between the people engaging with one another, and reveal our relationships to nature and our communities. Engaging in dialogue is a natural way to find out what is important to people in a community, as individuals' most forefront and impactful memories surface through conversation. We find that dialogue, especially when distinct from interviewing, has a unique way of surfacing cultural connections, stories of resilience, and perspectives that may often go unheard or overlooked.
GWC: What inspired you to start SeaPotential?
SeaPotential: Despite growing up on opposite ends of the country (North & South Carolina for Ebony and Washington for Savannah), we had similar experiences and barriers as Black women trying to enter marine science spaces (i.e being the only Black women in their college classes or at their job, limited opportunities and encouragement to explore their interests at a young age, imposter syndrome, facing racism in the workplace and/or school, etc.).
We did not see ourselves represented in the field of marine science, lacked BIPOC mentors within the industry, and felt the lack of BIPOC representation and perspective being uplifted within the Environmental Justice and Ocean Justice movement. In 2020 we were Americorps members engaging with fairly affluent white communities through environmental restoration events and it felt very unfulfilling. With the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement, we began to strategize how we could use our passions and skills to create a more equitable world.
GWC: Did any experiences or mentors from youth inspire your interest in marine life?
SeaPotential: Ebony often credits nature and water themselves as being her biggest mentors along her path. One of her earliest memories of curiosity and connection was growing up playing in the small creek by her home with her brother and catching dragonflies and frogs.
Savannah agrees that having a personal relationship with water had a big influence on her journey as well, but she also gives credit to a family friend and teacher that recommended she become a marine biologist someday when she was in the second grade, and she gives credits to all the non-human family members ranging from hermit crabs to peacocks that she had growing up.
GWC: What inspired you to develop this project in regards to recording the relationships with water?
SeaPotential: After co-hosting a Water Justice Panel in 2021 with Young Women Empowered and Seattle Urban League and having such rich conversations around relationship to water, we wanted to keep hearing and sharing stories that highlighted cultural and individual connections to water. We also found that trying to research stories around connections to water to incorporate them into our games and activities as well as inform our dialogues around water justice, was more difficult than we hoped for. We felt there were a lot of stories and perspectives around water going unheard, so we decided to try and do something about that.
GWC: What purpose does intergenerational dialogues have in protecting marine and aquatic life?
SeaPotential: We believe intergenerational dialogues have the power to engage the heart of listeners in a way that inspires a wide range of actions whether that is on an individual or community level. Intergenerational conversations tend to evoke a degree of comparison or reflection that gets people who are involved in the conversation or just listening, to think about what the impacts have been on the environment, aquatic life, and our communities in general over time.
GWC: Why was it important to you to organize an Intergenerational Dialogue workshop?
SeaPotential: We felt it was important to organize an Intergenerational Dialogue workshop because it is different from traditional interviewing and knowing the distinctions are important. We also wanted to help curb some of the nerves our participants had about the project in general and this less widely talked about way of sharing and protecting information. For our program specifically, we also wanted to learn from another BIPOC individual or organization that was rooted in community and had philosophies that were rooted in connection and reciprocity. This additionally created a touch point for representation and helped us show our youth that there are other BIPOC people and organizations doing this important work.
GWC: How did you feel before and during the workshop?
SeaPotential: Before the workshop we felt excited to learn but didn’t necessarily know what to expect. We assumed there would be some focus on typical interviewing things, but we were really just feeling open to learning from someone who dedicates their time, energy, and resources towards already doing the thing we were interested in.
During the workshop we felt enlightened by the differences between interviewing and dialogue as well as the impact interviews and filming tend to have on elders who didn’t grow up with tech and came from time periods and communities that were more conversational. We also appreciated the ways that the encouragement of storytelling was built into the workshop.
GWC: What do you feel the youth gained from the session?
SeaPotential: We feel that the youth learned how to listen intentionally and come up with their own follow-up questions that helped guide their conversations with their elders, and how to flow from their elders' answers into the next question. We also feel our youth felt safe to openly share and ask questions throughout the workshop.
GWC: How do you feel after the workshop? Have you sensed a shift in yourself, organization, and/or community?
SeaPotential: Since the workshop, Ebony and I both have a changed stance on interviews; we never again want to be part of an interview, we want to be conversational and create a space for others to feel the same even if our interviewer is coming with an “interview” perspective.
GWC: What role do you see intergenerational knowledge sharing as part of the work you all are focused on?
SeaPotential: We see intergenerational knowledge sharing contributing greatly to the healing of intergenerational trauma we are focused on in our work. These conversations can bring light to emotional or physical places that need healing, and the process of reflecting and conversing with someone can also be healing in its own right. Intergenerational conversations help inform the future or our work and how we help foster heart-based connections to water. And in this project in particular, the sharing of intergenerational knowledge helped show the dynamism of relationship to water and our interconnectedness.
If you would like to learn more about SeaPotential, please visit their website.
Global Wisdom Collective works directly with Indigenous and diaspora communities to protect indigenous knowledge systems. To learn more or to collaborate, please email email@example.com.