Letting Our Personal Histories Teach Us


Lately I’ve been diving back into history, and it increasingly strikes me that we have to teach more about this aspect of our lives and our work in community engagement.We owe a lot to history.


Whether we know it or not, young people and their adult allies who are calling for the world to change and actively struggling to make a difference today are the successors of generations who have been at work doing the same. We also have our own personal histories, including our family history, our community’s histories, and our personal life stories.

All of these drive our understandings of what is going on in the world, what change needs to happen, and how that change can and should happen.I’ve done a few things to get a hold of my own life’s history. My brain doesn’t naturally proceed in linear thinking patterns, so it takes a little mining for me to pull out chronological pasts for myself.

When thinking about the activism and community organizing in my life, I usually start when I was 14 and first exposed to conscious critical action: A group of anti-war protesters asked my dad to read some of his poetry to them at a  gathering at Omaha’s War Memorial park. I don’t remember much about the occasion beyond the expression my dad poured into his recitation, and the appreciation of the folks afterwards. That was in the spring of 1989, since then I have seen, participated in, and led dozens and dozens of actions focused on changing the world.

However, I only learned that was where my roots are by doing this conscious naming of my own history in social action.Looking further back, and getting more personal still, I find that experience has led me in a determined course towards this moment in my life, this time when I stand at this precipice. From here I look back and see so many roots, be they childhood homelessness and poverty, border-crossing and living “illegally” in the United States, and many other experiences that gave me more than a superficial awareness of oppression, among many other lessons.

Sure, a lot of them sucked- but that is where I came from. Denying these roots doesn’t feel right to me; embracing them, while hard, is a way I build my sense of personal power and capability: I don’t leave the past behind and ignore it ever happened.

Instead, I acknowledge the impact on who I am, how I am, where I am, and what I do. I am the sum total of everything I’ve ever done, as well as everything I’ll ever do! This is the first step to letting our history teach us.

How To Embrace Your History

  1. Make a list of the work you have done to change the world.
  2. Make a list of the experiences you have had in life that have changed your world.
  3. Draw a picture that shows how those two sets of experiences are connected, either directly or indirectly.

Let me know how your personal history teaches you, and I’ll keep writing about how mine is teaching me.



Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker and writer who researches, writes and shares about youth, education, and history. Learn more about me at https://adamfletcher.net

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