The Hope of Storytelling
While Lulu Mulalu ’18 was a student at Bennington College, her studies, which ranged from psychology, drama, voice, writing, and French, always circled back to the importance of language and storytelling.
“I was interested in how people tell their stories and how writing gives voice to people who may not otherwise have a voice,” said Mulalu.
Mulalu personally explores this idea through her blog Lessons to My Daughter, the title of which refers both to her future children and to the reclamation of her younger self, “the innocence we lose as we grow up.”
Writing a blog that documents her post-graduation journey, and all the challenges and growth found in the process, is Mulalu’s way to combat the picture-perfect presentation of life usually found on social media.
“Instead, I wanted to talk about the mess and the reconstruction of the self, and sometimes you have to lose yourself in order to find yourself,” said Mulalu. “This blog is a way for me to share myself and encourage people to share their journeys with me. It’s a nice way of connecting our stories and learning to tell my own story with respect and dignity.”
Through her work as Hubbard Hall Center for the Arts and Education’s 2018-2019 Fellow, Mulalu has taken this conversation offline and expanded it into to the Cambridge, NY, region and beyond.
Mulalu first heard of Hubbard Hall’s fellowship through faculty member Kirk Jackson, who encouraged her to apply.
“I was an international student at Bennington, and I’ve moved so many times that I didn’t want to make another big shift. I wanted to stay connected to people and the place I’d spent four years at,” said Mulalu.
In addition to honing her wide variety of skills in social media, marketing, and fundraising, the fellowship has provided Mulalu with the opportunity to develop and facilitate Community Collaboration events, including open mics, story nights, and Breaking Bread, a monthly potluck for members of the LGBTQI+ community.
At Hubbard Hall, Mulalu found herself working with kids who identified as LGBTQI+ but who felt like they didn’t belong in the regional community.
“I wanted to create a space where we could gather and people could know that they're not alone,” said Mulalu. “In small towns, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only gay or queer person, but there’s a wide array of people here. It was important for me to connect generations so younger kids could have older adults to look up to: adults who talk about their partners, getting married, going through life experiences.”
These older adults, explained Mulalu, help younger people realize that their experiences and feelings are shared by others in the community, so they don’t have to face challenges alone.
When people start talking and hear the similarities between their stories, it gives them hope.
Lulu Mulalu '18
“This space brings together people who have felt excluded or isolated and allows them to open up: so whatever work we’re doing, we’re doing together,” said Mulalu.
Every other month, Breaking Bread events alternate their focus, either staying private to the LGBTQI+ community or opening up to include the public.
“These events are also learning opportunities for all involved,” said Mulalu. “I didn’t want to make them completely private because education and learning are important, so it would be a shame to not open up to the public. It’s a space and learning opportunity for everyone who comes.”
The feedback from the first two dinners of the six-event series, said Mulalu, has been resoundingly positive.
“It’s been such a blessing and wonderful opportunity to work for a space like Hubbard Hall that wants to cultivate this community and be as sensitive and inclusive as possible,” said Mulalu. “It’s been heartwarming, too, to hear from other people how needed and necessary this program is.”
The local community’s feedback has affirmed what Mulalu herself first felt upon moving to the region.
“When I first moved here, it was so easy to have reservations and be scared of opening up and being vulnerable,” said Mulalu. “But the more I do, the more I understand that vulnerability is key to finding your own inner peace and communicating your authentic self with others. Having a space where you can say, ‘this is me,’ without anybody denying you, is so important.”
Mulalu is excited to see the local community take ownership of Breaking Bread and hopes the project continues after her fellowship year is over. As for her own next step, she is exploring a wide range of options, including entertainment law, drama therapy, and occupational therapy.
“Through running Breaking Bread and story nights, I have found that I’m passionate about advocacy work. I find it motivating to give voice to people who have been marginalized, and that’s been a growing need in me,” said Mulalu. “I see that part of my purpose on this Earth is to help, so that’s something I want to continue to do.”
For current Bennington students also searching for their life’s work, Mulalu encourages them to boldly pursue their ideas and passions, even if the thought scares them.
“A lot of the work I do requires me to speak with people, and I’m actually pretty shy, but I am finding my voice, bravery, and strength. So I’ve been growing in that way, too,” said Mulalu. “But if you’re passionate about something, sit down and make a vision board, come up with definitive steps, and make sure you’re actively engaging in what you care about.”
At the same time, said Mulalu, trying something new can bring unexpected and valuable gifts.
“Take an opportunity like Field Work Term to explore different facets of yourself,” said Mulalu. “Expand on the places, people, and things you interact with. You can be interested in one field, but you should also take time to step outside your comfort zone. That will feed your vision and give you perspective.”
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer