We had the good fortune of connecting with Saundra Gilliard and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Saundra, every day, we about how much execution matters, but we think ideas matter as well. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
I did not come up with this idea for my business, it came to me. It developed from my love for stories and my passion for promoting equality for women.
When I was in college, I came across the works of Zora Neale Hurston. I fell in love with the beauty of the voice she gave women. About 25 years ago, I became a professional storyteller as a side hustle. As I studied the art and science of storytelling, I discovered the power inherit in crafting a narrative and speaking it to power. I spent more than 15 years casually using story as a framework to help women reimagine themselves in the male dominate narratives. Then it suddenly came to me that I could use the story framework as a strategy for social change. Femininely Free! uses story-based analysis and strategies to shift social perspectives about woman.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I AM A STORYTELLER! I became a professional storyteller in 1995. That next year, I attended my first storytelling festival in Philadelphia, PA, hosted by the National Association of Black Storytellers. It was at that festival that I witnessed the inherent power of the Oral Tradition. It was pure education and entertainment all in one. I learned about the craft of story, the history of a people and the nuance of cultures. After that festival I dedicated my life’s work to using story to educate those in my immediate community about history and culture. At that time, my main focus was to tell the stories that were not told in the dominate narrative about African-Americans and to breath life into the unsung heroes that had been erased from history. Since I started my journey in 1996, I discovered the power that story has in shaping perspectives, setting norms, and creating cultures. I became particularly interested in the role story played in marginalizing women. I noticed that there were not many folktales, fairytales and folk lore that glorified women, especially African American woman. I decided to use my craft of storytelling as a force for change. I use the story framework and story motif to navigate social change. I am a social advocate and champion for the release of the feminine energy. I believe that stories are the universal tools that will reshape social thought. I AM A STORYTELLER!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
As a transplanted Philadelphian, I had the luxury of learning to get around the city as a tourist. There were so many beautiful historical and cultural experiences that I had as I made my way around the city’s cultural path. I enjoy the African American Museum in Philadelphia (one of the first museum on the collection of African American history), the city mural arts tour, the African American Historical Markers tour, The Negro Baseball league Memorial Park, The Paul Robeson House, The Johnson House, The Belmont Mansion in Fairmount Park, The Barnes Museum and The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz. The Philadelphia Folklore Project has also been a port for current practicing Folk artists. I am a vegetarian. Many of my favorite restaurants did not survive the 2019 pandemic, however, my local favorites, Atiya Ola’s Spirit First Cafe and The Nile Cafe, are still nourishing the soul.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would like to honor my inspirations, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Cade Bambara, Audre Lorde, and bell hooks. I would like to acknowledge my life forces, my mother Mary Alice, and my mothers by love, Alberta Foster and Delores Hammond.
I give a shout out to my stand-with-me-sisters – Debra Hammond, Gerri Walker, Iya Omomola, Dr. Elaine Terry and Dr. Caroliese Frink Reed.
I give praise to myfuture tellers, Nia Davis, Noni Davis, and Saige Davis
Facebook: Femininely Free
People’s Light and Theater Kristen White Raymond Holman