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
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
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.
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
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
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
In addition, Kalimah Abioto is creating a full documentary film on the
project. More information on the entire project is
“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.”