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Intisar Abioto ’08, left, and her sisters, Amenta and Kalimah, traveled to Djibouti as part of their "People Could Fly Project." In Djibouti, they met men and camels returning from Lac Assal, the lowest point in Africa, with salt from the lakes shores.
Posted 03.17.08

Student's Dream Gives Flight to Multimedia-Based Oral History Project

Intisar Abioto ’08 had a recurring daydream where she traveled to all parts of the world, adventure-seeking, meeting new people and hearing their stories – especially people her own age.

“Our positive stories aren’t always represented in books or movies or on TV, and what the repercussions of this are, is that young people don’t see themselves as heroes,” says Abioto, a dance and English major. “I wanted to take the stories of young people who are following their dreams and doing amazing things.”

Determined to make her dream a reality, Abioto applied for a grant last summer in attempts to fund a project she titled The People Could Fly (Project). The title is based on Abioto’s favorite childhood book by Virginia Hamilton. Abioto proposed traveling to various cities across the country and world to collect the stories and dreams of young people, in particular people of color. Abioto’s grant application for the project was denied. But she didn’t give up hope.

“I never understood why, as a child, you’re always told you can do anything you want to, but then when you get older, you’re pretty much told to get real and do something that makes logical sense,” Abioto explains. “So here I was being told I couldn’t do this project because of money, but I told myself, I would make a way because this was my dream and I had to do it.”

Abioto, 21, teamed up with her sisters, Kalimah, 20; Hanifah, 20; Amenta, 16; Aisha, 8, to make the project happen. Kalimah attends Hollins University in Roanoke, Va. where she studies film, and her other sisters live in Memphis, Tenn. Combined, the siblings have skills in writing, photography, video, performance and storytelling -- and apparently fund-raising. Together, they were able to raise enough money from friends and family to travel.

With help from their father, who works in the airline industry, Intisar and her close-knit sidekicks spent the past year traveling within the U.S. to Atlanta, Ga., St. Louis, Mo.; Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York City, Jena, La., Mabon, Miss., Oakland, Calif., Detroit, Mich., Nashville, Tenn. and Raleigh, N.C. They also traveled to Djibouti in East Africa and Intisar traveled solo to Senegal during a school for international training program.

This summer, the sisters are planning to travel to at least four other countries.

Most of the trips are planned a week ahead, or not planned at all. If possible, they will catch any flight out for the weekend and stay with friends.

At every stop, the sisters seek strangers who are willing to talk about themselves. Some interviews are conducted inside airport terminals, where the young journalists, photographers and filmmakers meet an array of people from all over the country.

“There are so many stories out there that need to be told. I am interested in hearing them and recording them, and in this way perhaps help other people to believe, tell, and implement their own stories and dreams,” says the English and dance major. “With this project, I take the stories of young black people, or anyone really, who are following their dreams and doing amazing things.”

Flying, Abioto explains, is a crucial part of The People Could Fly project. In Hamilton’s black folktale book, The People Could Fly, she writes about enslaved African Americas who could fly, but forgot that they could.

“My ancestors were brought here to America, and maybe they wanted to go back, but couldn’t,” she says. “Me? I am able to fly. The fact that I am able to do these things, to fly when they couldn’t, gives me a strength and a purpose to make this project a reality. Flying is a metaphor for freedom, and it is an important theme in our project’s structure.”

Abioto asks her interviewees where they are from, where they are going, what is important in their lives, their dreams as a child, how they inspire others, and “Have you ever dreamed of flying?”

They post their results – through videos, photographs and writing – on their blog-style website, http://thepeoplecouldfly.blogspot.com/. In addition, Kalimah Abioto is creating a full documentary film on the project. More information on the entire project is here.

“Most people are very receptive, and you wouldn’t believe how many different stories we hear,” Abioto explains. “It’s great to just talk to people. This whole project has expanded our minds so much.”
 

By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor