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Oct 18, 2010 10:15 PM by Alison Haynes

Angela Bassett, other storytellers push tolerance

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Angela Bassett says one thing is paramount when she tackles a new project: the story.
Bassett was in New Orleans Monday to join five men and women who will share stories of survival and triumph as part of USA Network's "Characters Unite" public service campaign.
The campaign kicked off what is planned as a five-city tour in New Orleans during a meeting of the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing. The tour's next stop is New York in December and plans are in the works to bring "A More Perfect Union: Stories of Prejudice and Power" to Chicago, Denver and
Seattle next year.
"By nature and by profession, I'm a storyteller," Bassett said, when asked why she got involved with the project. "I illuminate the human experience on film. But most successful films start with the story. So I just have a natural affinity for something like this. ... Not everyone can act, but everyone has a story, has experiences and relationships. This type of sharing shows how we're more alike than not."
Jacqui Vines, senior vice president and general manager of Cox Louisiana, said she's looking forward to her stage debut. Vines is scheduled to share her journey through the foster care system both as a client and a provider. She fostered three young girls - biological sisters - and has since adopted them.
"It's been really kind of fun, a real journey for the four of us," Vines said. "We're creating our story together now as a family."
Ward "Mack" McLendon, a former telephone technician, will tell how he transformed a warehouse for his old cars into the Lower 9th Ward Village, a neighborhood center to help bring his community back together after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.
"I'm no movie star," McLendon said. "I'm just your everyday person and getting the opportunity to do this on this level is huge. To tell this story about my community and what it's going through will hopefully help someone else. It's about how we embrace disaster and change and what we do after."
In conjunction with the main stage events, USA Network and The Moth - a New York-based nonprofit storytelling group partnering in the campaign - are conducting workshops in high schools in each city they visit. In New Orleans, 10 students from Grace King High
School will participate in a four-day workshop to learn about storytelling from Moth experts, said Alexandra Shapiro, senior vice president of brand marketing and digital at USA Networks. Then, they will tell their personal stories at a school assembly.
Shapiro said the campaign is an extension of her company's efforts to encourage "both diversity and shared humanity."
"They're all telling truthful, personal stories," she said. "And we hope through storytelling we can begin to create a more open and honest dialogue."
Shapiro said encouraging conversation is needed now more than ever.
"The unfortunate reality is that hate crimes are at an all-time high. Bullying and religious intolerance are in the news more and more. We all have the responsibility to speak out and set certain standards of decorum that we all need to live by. We're not advocating for one issue or another, but the greatest way to get people talking and sharing is to do it through storytelling," she said.
Bassett said she hoped that the experiences would help bridge the gap between the generations.
"When I was young, my place to tell my story was to my girlfriend or to my diary," Bassett said. "In this day and age, our young people are so high-tech, with their heads in the video games or the PDAs. This is just another opportunity to get back to our humanity."
Shapiro, however, said the digital age isn't all bad.
"I honestly think that technology is just a way to expedite things we've been doing for years," she said. "And telling a story, is just an old-fashioned, social media technique."


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