Featured photo: Participants of Voices from the Dwelling tell their stories on May 3. (photo by Cetera Jacobs)

“Some stories are hard to hear, but trust me, they are harder to tell, harder to live, even harder to heal; they’ll haunt you if you hold them in,” sings Felicia Thomas in the Winston-Salem-based church for marginalized populations known as the Dwelling on May 3.

Thomas is one of nine performers in a stage production of monologues, stories and songs called Voices from the Dwelling that ran at the church from May 2-4.

The event is a collaboration between the Dwelling and Authoring Action, a Winston-Salem-based organization that encourages young people to use creative writing, spoken word and film to express themselves. This is the third installment of Voices from the Dwelling, which debuted in June 2023. The project is funded for a final show this fall, but organizers hope to raise money for subsequent performances, says Authoring Action co-founder and Executive Director Lynn Rhoades.  

The event, which takes place twice a year, brought together survivors of domestic violence, homelessness or childhood abuse to share their stories and educate audiences.

“We write to issues that are relevant and prevalent to human development and change,” says Authoring Action co-founder and Artistic Director Nathan Ross Freeman.

The performers worked with local artists for eight weeks to craft the show. The resulting works were based on three guiding themes: promise, peace and justice. In creating the pieces, Authoring Action utilizes a unique writing process called ‘Writing to the Senses’ which begins with a discussion of the three themes where participants are only allowed to ask questions. The conversations, which were often vulnerable, allowed performers to dig into their pasts and support each other through difficult moments.

Participants of Voices from the Dwelling tell their stories on May 3. (photo by Cetera Jacobs)

“It gave us a chance to let out our pain without actually having to relive it by putting it in words,” says participant Druharrlvin Grier.

The final product of the project is made complete when Rhoades takes the finished pieces of writing and combines them into a three-act performance.

“It is designed so that when you write, the finished work is something only you could have written,” Freeman explains of the pieces.

The performers also created paintings, which decorated the walls and stage of the church during one of the performances on May 3. 

“I think that was an important piece as well: using the art to not only verbally express but visually do it as well,” participant Shafon’Da Grimsley says.

An audience of almost 40 gathered in the church on May 3.

In the middle of the performance, Grimsley discreetly passes a tissue to Thomas who started to cry as participant Angel McMillan shared a story of childhood abuse.

Thomas’ song, which she collaborated with Winston-Salem based singer-songwriter Tiffany Thompson to write, demonstrates one aspect of the show: that telling your story is healing.  

“The workshop brought me peace because I got out what I have been holding in for years and I finally feel free because I let all of that go,” Thomas says.

Thomas spent time in foster care as a child where she experienced sexual abuse at the hands of her foster father. For her, joining the collaboration was an act of agency. She wants to tell young girls who are being abused in foster care that it is okay to speak out.

“You don’t have to be scared; there is someone out there who will listen to you,” she says. “I wanted to speak out and tell my truth because you never know who is going through it.”

Participants of Voices from the Dwelling tell their stories on May 3. (photo by Cetera Jacobs)

Most importantly, the participants hope to call audiences to action against inequity, not just sympathy.

“I feel like we called our audience to action to do something about domestic violence, child molestation, the homeless situation in our city, and to advocate for everyone who cannot speak for themselves,” Grimsley says. “It all ties together because it pulled something out of us that we wouldn’t have even thought to share.”

“The audience that we are speaking to can influence change because of who they are and their social status in the city,” Grimsley adds.  

While homelessness, domestic violence and police brutality remain potent issues in Winston-Salem, it is time for a change, and that’s something the performers hope comes through in their pieces.

“We are speaking for those who have not been heard, who don’t have a voice, or who can’t speak for themselves,” Grimsley says.

Learn more about Voices from the Dwelling at authoringaction.org.

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

⚡ Join The Society ⚡