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What does Alexander Hamilton, hip hop, and storytelling have to do with water?

Posted By Karen E. Menard, Wednesday, January 4, 2017

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Education Division – Consumer Outreach Committee Blog

 

 

All Things H2O                                January 2017 Issue

 


 

What does Alexander Hamilton, hip hop, and storytelling have to do with water?

 

 

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This year the Value of Water blog theme was population.  I wrote a blog this year for the Value of Water about how communicating with our population is more important now than ever.  Our communities are growing and becoming more diverse.  Our utilities are tasked with meeting those rising demands and the messages we are sending to our customers regarding the challenges we face should be as diverse as our populations.  I recently attended the 10th Annual North Texas Regional Water Conservation Symposium in Arlington, Texas that is a collaborative effort between Tarrant Regional Water District, Dallas Water Utilities, and North Texas Municipal Water District.  The symposium theme?  Communicating the value of water.

 

Why?

 

As one of my favorite quotes by Baba Dioum states, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.”  Education and communication are not the same thing, but awareness is a piece of the educational process.  How can we ever expect our citizens, councils, and stakeholders to value, conserve, and invest in water if we don’t tell them why they should?  How can we ever expect them to care if we are using the same tactics we’ve always used?  Why is a symposium focused on communication so relevant today?

 

Because water is the cornerstone of modern day civilization and we need to start talking about it like it is.  Not using scare tactics.  Using stories.

 

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One of the presenters at the symposium was Greg Wukasch from the San Antonio Water System’s education program.  His presentation was titled “The Art of Whispering:  How to Share your Story.”  Storytelling is my buzz word of 2016.  I first heard the idea of communication as storytelling from Greg earlier this year, and as a writer I was fascinated.  But Greg will even tell you that many people simply don’t care to hear your story, and he says that’s ok.  Greg says focus on the ones that do, build your tribe, and help them help you spread your water story to people you may not otherwise have an audience with.  While a part of me does agree with this, a part of me also struggles with this idea anytime he says it.   Maybe it’s the naivety of my youth or my passion for what I do, but I’ve always felt that it’s possible to make anything a story worth sharing.  As a writer, I see this as my calling.  As a creative tasked with communicating the value of water, I see this as my challenge.

 

In 2016, Lin Manuel Miranda and the Broadway musical Hamilton, validated this feeling for me.  In 2009, at a White House spoken word and poetry performance, Miranda performed a song from the “concept album” he was working on; a hip hop album about the founding father Alexander Hamilton.  The crowd laughed and even chuckled throughout the performance, as if to say “sure guy, this is cute but a whole album about a historical figure that lived over 200 years ago?  Good luck.” Miranda was already a Tony award winning playwright, and still the crowd seemed doubtful. 

 

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Fast forward seven years later and Hamilton has won 11 Tony Awards, is sold out in both cities it's showing in, has a mixtape album topping the music charts and has a cast that was part of a political scuffle with the vice president elect.  Miranda is close to becoming a member of the elite club of artists that have won an Emmy, Tony, Golden Globe, and Oscar award.  All of this from a story about a man that lived over 200 years ago.  How is this possible?  History isn’t sexy.   At least not to the mainstream public.   Only when a big time director makes a big budget film.  You’re wondering what this has to do with water.  Water IS Alexander Hamilton.  We as educators and communicators ARE Lin Manuel Miranda. 

 

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Water has a great story.  Especially when we connect water’s story to our own.  A lot of people today, especially children, don’t have a connection to the outdoors.  They need ours to set the stage, to provide the why.  Why should we care about water? And why storytelling? Stories are innate within the psyche of humanity. History, tradition, values used to all be communicated via stories.  List three things you learned at the last meeting or presentation you attended.  Drawing a blank?  What’s the last story someone told you?  Stories tie information together in a way that people remember.  Stories tie people to more than just facts.

 

Hamilton’s success comes not only from being a great story but also from Miranda’s ability to illuminate its significance using the spotlight of relevancy.  Miranda made Hamilton relevant to a new audience through the creative use of popular norms.  Lin Manuel Miranda has told a story that has inspired the masses, that people want to be a part of.  He has told a story that is inspiring others to read the same 800 plus page biography that inspired him to write the play.  An 800-page nonfiction piece of historical literature.  Say what?  But again, what does this all mean to water?

 

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Validation.

 

We may never have a mixtape album topping the charts or an 800 page biography, but we have bill inserts, social media posts, and water quality reports.  We have stories to tell our residents about their infrastructure, their water quality, their water sources.  The beauty of it is we don't have to tell it the way we’ve always told it.  We don’t have to stick to the established vernacular, layouts, and AP style.  We have the opportunity to mix the old with the new.  We have the opportunity to turn our story on its head and tell it in a way no one else has ever tried.  Before we can start though, we have to recognize the value of our own story.

 

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Hamilton is successful because Lin Manuel Miranda saw the value of Hamilton’s story and was inspired to tell it his way.  Our first step is to value our own story, the story of water, and not be afraid to tell it our way.  The time is now. The tools are readily available.  I don’t know about you, but I am not throwing away my shot.

 

About the Author:

 

Stephanie Zavala is an Education Specialist in the Water Utilities Division of the City of Mansfield and the Keep Mansfield Beautiful Coordinator.  She has a Bachelor’s degree in Business as well as a Master’s in Environmental Science from Texas Christian University.  In 2015 she became a Certified Public Communicator through TCU’s School of Strategic Communication.  She has been in the environmental outreach and education field for nine years.  Her programs and outreach efforts won several awards from the Texas section of the American Water Works Association in 2015, and she also won the 2015 Public Educator of the Year award for the region from the Texas Water Utilities Association. 

 

Tags:  hamilton  hip hop  mansfield  storytelling  water 

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