Master storyteller shares tradition with Liberty students


Storyteller Jocelyn Dabney of Youngstown is enthusiastic about the African-American oral tradition. She presented a program Friday at Liberty High School for pre-kindergarten through fourth-graders from E.J. Blott Elementary School.

Jocelyn Dabney Story Teller

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Jocelyn Dabney is a story teller in the African-American oral tradition.



It’s the message that drives storyteller Jocelyn Dabney. And the message — be it creativity, individuality, determination, duty or another attribute — is geared to the audience.

The message Friday morning from

Dabney to some 150 pre-kindergarten through second-grade students at a 9 a.m. program and another 150 third- and fourth-graders at a 10 a.m. presentation was multifaceted and a whole lot of fun. The students attend E.J. Blott Elementary School here.

The Youngstown woman, accompanied on the drum by her husband, Robert, began her presentation with a bit of background.

“Oral tradition is important in African-American tradition,” she said. The call and response figures into this.

In a poem about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dabney called out “Dr. King,” and the students responded with “was a man” then everyone added “who saw the mountain top.”

Dabney ended each stanza with “glory” and the kids called back “alleluia.” The poem took Dr. King to the top of the mountain, where Dabney told the children about “free at last.”

The students responded enthusiastically to Dabney, who engaged them with hand-and-body movements and had them follow along. She asked them to “snap their fingers and shake their shoulders.” The students caught on quickly with responses and mirrored Dabney’s inflections.

Dabney told them the story of “sody salyratus,” a key ingredient in biscuit making. In succession, a mother sent her daughter, son and Papa to the store to get the ingredient, but on their trip home, they each took the same shortcut and were eaten by a bear.

Finally, she sent a squirrel to the store and he, too, was ambushed by the bear but ran up a tree.

“Now the squirrel had to use his brain because the bear could climb,” Dabney said. The squirrel climbed out on a small branch, and the bear followed and fell and out popped the daughter, son and Papa. Dabney told students it was important to have a plan.

The “Elephant Walk” song was a delightful exercise of words and motion as students followed Dabney in motions mimicking an elephant’s walk and swinging trunk.

In a light-hearted way, a story about how a farmer tried to trick an eagle into thinking he was chicken sent children the message about being true to one’s self.

In the end, the eagle was drawn to the sun, stretched his wings and soared. Dabney urged children “not to be bound to the ground” but be eagles and “fly on, fly on.”

Her husband added to the presentation by singing “I Believe.”

Dabney told children that “stories are good for the heart but best shared with someone.”

Dabney is a retired Youngstown school librarian and her husband, a Delphi retiree. She began storytelling in 1990, took a class at Kent State University and eventually earned a master’s degree in storytelling at Eastern Tennessee University.

Dabney said she hoped the storytelling would “help children use their imaginations.”

Fran Klanica, Title I teacher, arranged the program that related in part to Black History Month in February. She noted the program took place now because of snow days.

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