One of the greatest quotes I have heard as it pertains to the power of storytelling and the dangers of neglecting it came from a mentor of mine and my former boss at Our American Stories, Lee Habeeb, in a column he wrote for The Federalist in January of 2018.
“To continue to let the Left tell the story of America to Americans without competing fiercely in media is not just gross negligence: It is cultural suicide.”
This is just as true for Alabama as it is for America. Right now, the only people telling the story of Alabama, or the South for that matter, are radical Leftists hellbent on destroying every pillar of truth our society stands on. Can we really rely on them to tell our stories?
Take the major news outlets in this state and what seems like a steady assault on Alabama values. They are like a pestilence, attempting to devour everything that is good, true and beautiful about our state.
A major principle in the realm of handing down our cultural heritage is that the ones who tell the stories get to pick who the heroes are and who the villains are. They pick who the protagonist is and who the antagonist is, as well as who gets praised and who gets vilified.
The same major historical figures we grew up being told were heroes are now being villainized as the worst human beings to ever live. Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the list goes on. All the statues must come down, everything must be renamed.
No one is safe from the onslaught of historical revisionism. This is why we must be the ones to tell the stories.
This revisionism goes beyond major historical figures and extends to everyday folks. Habeeb hits the nail on the head when he points out that CEOs and business owners are demonized when we allow the Left to be the ones telling the stories. If they aren’t demonized, their stories are neglected and ignored.
The folks who have founded and run businesses are the ones creating jobs, and the taxes they pay fund the roads we use and the schools in our communities. Many of these successful entrepreneurs are very philanthropic as well. These business owners deserve to have their stories of achieving The American Dream told in a powerful way. How else can we learn from them? They are the heroes, not villains, of our culture.
Case in point: I would be willing to wager that if you asked random people in Alabama who Miller Gorrie is, very few would recognize his name. Many of you reading this probably aren’t familiar with him either.
In 1963, Miller Gorrie purchased the name and assets of the Thos. C. Brasfield Company, a construction firm with a respected name in the Birmingham area. Miller was in a position to make this investment because he wisely invested earnings from his paper route as a boy in IBM stock. He cashed out when he was 27 years old for just under $100,000 (Roughly $700,000 in today’s money.)
Miller began work on small commercial renovations. In 1967 he changed the name to Brasfield & Gorrie, and moved the headquarters to their current location. Those small projects turned into bigger ones, and those bigger projects into major ones. You have no doubt seen some of the construction projects built by Brasfield & Gorrie: The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Regions-Harbert Plaza in Downtown Birmingham, The Omni Nashville Hotel, the AT&T ‘Batman Building’ in Nashville, The Georgia Dome, and the Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham.
Today, Brasfield & Gorrie is one of the largest privately held companies in Alabama with $3.98 billion in revenue, employing 3,300 people, nearly 1,000 of which are Alabamians.
Miller Gorrie achieved The American Dream. A risk-taker and an innovator, he invested his life savings into a company over 50 years ago and now employs thousands of people and his company has built some of the most incredible structures in the country. Alabama is a better place because of this man, yet very few people know his name.
This is just one story of one incredible entrepreneur from Alabama. There are many more, and the people of Alabama should know their stories.
This takes us to the imitative power of storytelling. This power is unique to stories and the imitative power of storytelling is unparalleled. As we hear stories of entrepreneurs taking risks to achieve The American Dream, we are inspired to do the same. When we hear stories of William Wallace sacrificing his life so that the people of Scotland could be free from tyranny, we are inspired to fight. We feel stories in our souls and the inspiration from them gets into our bones.
I think most people have seen the movie The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock. The movie is based on a book that told the story of the Tuohy family in Memphis adopting a poor black teenager, Michael Oher, and helping give him love and direction. Michael Oher went on to play college football for Ole Miss and was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
I have been told by a friend who is close to the Tuohy family that Leigh Ann Tuohy, Oher’s adoptive mother, received thousands of letters and emails since the film’s debut from people saying they adopted because they watched the movie or read the book.
This is the imitative power of storytelling. We must tap into this power.
It is imperative that we tell our own stories. We must celebrate the core values that unite us as Alabamians. We can’t surrender the hill of media and storytelling without a fight. We must win this battle at all costs.
Bryan Dawson is CEO of 1819 News and lives in Wetumpka, and is filling in for regular Friday columnist Matt Murphy today. To comment on this column, send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com