Storytelling in Health Advocacy: Portraying "Harriet Tubman" In an HIV/AIDS Awareness Program.
By Karol Brown
You might think it is reaching rather far out of the box to consider Harriet Tubman as the appropriate personality to portray in a health advocacy project on HIV/AIDS. It is not as far out the box as you may think. Famous people are known for marketing products in all forms of media. Health promotion campaigns use some of the same marketing techniques as business. The difference in this case is that the product is not something for people to buy but rather it is to motivate people to change behaviors or to take some action to possibly change their health outcomes.
Motivating people to make change is challenging. Health educators search for creative techniques to reach target audiences. Storytelling opens up the mind for imagination, self-examination and discussions that can motivate change.
Do you still think there is a big jump from a 19th century ex-slave and HIV/AIDS? Let us look at three possible links. Storytellers can make a seemly abstract connection between a character in a story and a health message by identifying:
* Significant date, place or time
* Historical characteristics or achievements of the character
* Theme of the campaign
These factors provided a successful connection between Harriet Tubman and HIV/AIDS.
The date was the first connection. Harriet Tubman died on March 10, 1913 at age 93. In 1990, President George Bush signed a proclamation designating March 10 as Harriet Tubman Day. In 2006, the US Department of Health and Human Services office of the National Women’s Health, began promoting March 10, as Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
People admire Harriet Tubman for her achievements on the Underground Railroad. I have portrayed Harriet Tubman for over 10 years, I know her character, and she was strong, brave, and committed to caring for others. Harriet Tubman was a strong vocal advocate for civil rights and human rights and great American heroine. She is someone people are interested in meeting and who’s stories make connections to people of all ages.
The theme for the Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is "Take Action Against AIDS." Harriet Tubman’s stories are empowering examples of how she took actions in her life to emancipate herself and others. She possess the same mental strength, bravery and self-esteem needed to break through the barrier of slavery in her time as the women of today need to get through the stigma of talking about HIV/AIDS and to take actions to save their own lives.
"Harriet Tubman-Woman of Action/ Woman and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day" was the title of our event. No, Harriet Tubman did not talk about AIDS as that would have been out of character. The program opened with a short video presentation of a HIV/AIDS documentary separated by some music and then moved into the storytelling program. Additional information on AIDS was available during intermission.
The event was successful at increasing the attendance from usual free HIV/AIDS health education program attended by about 50 people, mostly health educators, up to 200 paying general public attendees. This program also brought a new audience to storytelling.
In targeting a health message, storytelling can become the link needed to draw the audience. Historical figures are never too far out the box for consideration to speak to today’s issues. The creative storyteller can find the connections.
Karol Brown is a storyteller from Washington State who creates a unique blend of storytelling and health advocacy in her performances. For more information, please see her website at visitharriettubman.com Follow Karols Twitter at @browntones.