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Cornetta Lane is connecting people through stories and cycling

Photo by Franise

Storytelling have always been important to Cornetta Lane.

And so it was natural that she fell back on the power of stories to help heal after her father was shot and killed by his wife in 2015. She looked to Satori Shakoor, founder of the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, to help craft a narrative of her father’s life and of her loss.

“The art of crafting that story, going from my Rolodex of memories, helped connect me to him,” she remembers.

The experience made her determined to preserve many more stories from Detroit’s Core City neighborhood, where Lane, 29, grew up. “Stories have a way of connecting us we never knew existed,” says Lane, who earned a degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Wayne State University in the hopes of becoming an ambassador.

In a way, she’s achieved her dream.

Through her program Core City Stories, she has helped residents use their own words to shape public understanding of her beloved neighborhood – and have fun doing it. Participants take a bike tour of the neighborhood and make stops along the way to enjoy some front porch storytelling.

Her first bike tour took place nearly two years ago in August, drawing 40 participants. With the help of seasoned-storyteller Shakoor, neighbors crafted stories to share as the cyclists stopped at their porches.

What began as a loosely-constructed event for neighbors ultimately evolved into a citywide project now called Pedal to Porch. Pedal to Porch uses Core City Stories biking/talking method, allowing participants to gather material from a variety of Detroit neighborhoods. The program recently received a $30,000 grant from the Knight Foundation.

“Stories are the thing that will help Detroiters – old and new – and will help them see what they have in common,” Lane says.

In March, some of these stories were included in a documentary screened at the Detroit Free Press’ film festival, stories like one told by Maureen Dritsan. Dritsan, a retired vocational rehabilitation counselor, raised her family in Grosse Pointe Park but moved back to the city about 25 years ago. As a child, Dritsan and her family were displaced from their neighborhood due to eminent domain; their small home was razed to make way for a new I-94 interchange. At the round oak dining room table in her East English Village home, Dritsan drinks coffee and shares stories of neighbors past and present. She credits Lane with helping her share a universal story of neighborly affection.

“She’s an amazing person,” Dritsan says. “I hadn’t known about her losing her dad, or that that was how she got the idea to document her stories. She’s so enthusiastic and smart and positive. You just want to be around her.”

Lane feels tremendous excitement about expanding her beloved project, and helping neighbors all over the country (and beyond) craft narratives that explore the delicate distance between private and public.

Lane also sees the exchange of ideas leading to greater engagement, increased voting and perhaps gains in political clout for the neighborhoods she loves.

“People can influence votes,” she says. “That’s the next thing. We want organizations and policies that connect them to their fellow Detroiters, their fellow Michiganders, and that help influence policy.”

With her Knight Foundation grant, Lane begins work expanding Pedal to Porch this summer, with events planned for Woodbridge and Islandview in Detroit, as well as in Toronto, Washington D.C., Charlotte, Houston and Baton Rouge.

Always, though, Lane’s memory drifts back to Core City and her childhood.

“I’d wake up at 7:55, brush my teeth and run across the alley to school,” she recalls. When she describes the relationship she had with her father before his untimely death, her face brightens. Telling their story helped her feel connected to her dad. “Stories create empathy,” Lane says. “It’s a loving homage.”

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