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Ex Fabula: African-American History Month — Honoring The Past

Art Montes
Storyteller Jeanette M.

Every February Americans are encouraged to reflect upon the struggles and triumphs of African-Americans, to honor their rich history and important accomplishments and recognize their voices and continuing journeys.

Growing up as a black child in the ‘50s and ‘60s was a formative experience for storyteller Jeanette M. She recalled the overt racism she experienced as a young girl in St. Louis – particularly and unforgettably from a nun at her Catholic school — and her decision to try to “live white” to avoid the hatred. Jeanette told the audience at the "Break Free" StorySlam Spectacular in January 2018 that it worked to an extent — she became more popular with her white peers as she took up polka and bridge.

Jeanette's family relocated to Milwaukee, where the racism was strong but more subtle. Now a young woman, she took a job as an operator at the telephone company. Here, too, Jeanette realized she needed to present a version of herself that acted white in order to succeed and move up. So move up she did, but at a personal cost.

Jeanette was often the only black person in the room when she hung out socially with other managers, and she became the poster child of diversity for the company while brushing off whispered criticisms from black coworkers.

In the '80s, Jeanette pursued a college degree at Alverno – and it opened up a new world of thought and awareness about being a black woman that she had never had before. Between her studies and joining a new employee manager group at the telephone company, Jeanette’s days of living a dual identity were coming to an end. And she finally felt whole.

Listen to Jeanette's story here:

Upcoming events: The next competitive StorySlam, with the theme of “Damaged Goods,” will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20 at Lakefront Brewery. Visit for more information.