Larry Long is a Twin Cities singer and songwriter, who uses his work to inspire others. He is executive director of the Minneapolis-based nonprofit Community Sense of Place and recently started the program Elders’ Wisdom. Larry Long started the Elders’ Wisdom Children’s Song program with the belief that people are never too old—or too young—to learn tolerance and understanding. www. America.gov’s profile on Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song asked “Can Tolerance Be Taught?” which takes a closer look at how our program is exploring that question through our work in schools and communities.
Clarence Schadegg interviewed Long for Access Press.
Access Press: Why did you start Elders’ Wisdom?
Long: Elders’ Wisdom, brings together all of the elements of building community. It is intergenerational. It passes the story—the torch from one generation to the next. It teaches the values of respect—to honor the life of another. We truly do stand on the shoulders of others.
In a personal way—it was my grandfather who helped heal me when my father passed away 45 years ago when I was 13.
Access Press: How do the experiences of older people from Elders’ Wisdom empower younger people to keep positive even when surrounded by negative events that in some cases derail the future of so many young people?
Long: I didn’t realize the depth of this until someone observed the impact of this work on children—empathic relationships—and how intergenerational learning helps heal others in a way that is deep and meaningful.
Access Press: How does music and poetry help the feeling of defeat and rejection among younger people?
Long: I can only speak to this in a personal way. This is what Martin Keller wrote about my experience in his article, Finding His Voice—and Helping Others Find Theirs. “You wouldn’t know it that the man whose made a lifetime singing and sharing stories could barely utter a sentence as a child.”
My grandfather would console me, he explains, by saying ‘Moses stammered and look what he brought to the people.’” But the youngster soon discovered that whenever he sang, both his fear and stutter disappeared.
Since then he’s helped others find theirs: The family farmer, Lakota Warriors, civil rights workers, the local violinmaker, the school cook . . . His hundreds of ballads readily capture a personalized history of our time, while embracing our common humanity with stories about those history makers who are known and those who are all but forgotten.
Access Press: Have you had people with disabilities participate in your programs on Elders’ Wisdom?
Long: Recently, we honored an elder at Sanford Middle School. His name is William Lewis Dye, Jr. His song is “Don’t Let No One Ever Stop You.” He has extreme vision loss. When his song was sung, he wept, while a Somali elder placed his arms around him in comfort.
Access Press: How do you believe self-advocacy may benefit elders and youngsters who experience the negative side of our society?
Long: When ones sense of self is lifted—one loses their fears—can understand justice —and that their own individual struggle is not just their own— but the struggle of others—a rising tide lifts all. When those who are on wheels have access to theatres, schools, sidewalks—they’re no longer in the closet—they are not only seen by the world but are able to share the world with others and the world discovers all of these life stories and incredible people that use to be relegated to the backrooms. This goes for everyone who was held captive—either by others or by their own fears of rejection. It is a benefit to all. Dr. M. L. King once said something to the affect—when the slave is set free—so is the slave-owner that dysfunctional relationship is no longer there and equality has replaced it. All of this is at the core of our country’s values we just have to remind our youth of this pillar of equality and justice.
Long performs throughout the region and is available for performances. Anyone wanting more information about Long, his songwriting and performing, and his work with elders and other communities can visit his web site www.com munitycelebration.org