How Broken Bones Make Great Stories – by Deborah Levine

My kerfuffle with a department store floor ended with me lying on the floor. All that went through my mind was, “How will I get everything done for our Women’s History Storytelling celebration?” Part of me muttered, “We’re doomed!” But part of me said, “Ah, the Broken Bone Factor! This isn’t a disability – this is diversity at work! ”

This wasn’t my first experience with the Broken Bone Factor. Chicago 1990, I sat in my office, staring at the cast on my broken foot. I’d survived three years planning the National Workshop on Christian-Jewish relations, but oversee the actual 4-day conference was like running a marathon through the world’s hottest topics: Church-State issues, International wars, Life & Death. The convention center had just called yelling, “Extra security!” Sighing and muttering, “We’re doomed!” I hoped that maybe broken bones and breaking ground went together. Amazingly the planners produced the best religious diversity conference I’ve ever seen. Thank you, planning committee, always.

Still, I was eager to turn the page, to create a sweet interfaith network in Chicago’s DuPage suburbs, work from home, and be with my daughter. Yup, I was gonna lay down my sword and shield by the Chicago Riverside Drive and do war no more.

Then I opened The Chicago Tribune and on the front page, above the fold, were hundreds of teenagers marching in the streets, yelling, making rude gestures, joined by the police, and by – my neighbors? Yes, my hometown in DuPage County imploded over the relocation of the Christmas tree in the town’s high school.

“We’re doomed!” I muttered to my broken foot. But, the DuPage Interfaith Resource Network broke new ground in unchartered territory. Fortunately, the advisory committee got me through some of the loudest 4 years of my life. Now, 2 books later, and 20 years of Diversity Thanksgiving celebrations, there’s a path to community peace. Thank you Advisors, especially my chairperson, Sister Marge Boyle, always. Marge, your 25 pre-Catholic nun years as a NASA project director sure came in handy.

By now, I was bold and decided to go ground breaking on purpose. I became the media and community liaison for the Tulsa Oklahoma Federation shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing. I wanted to witness this domestic terrorism, to see personally how this could have happened. The allure faded when we started getting physical threats. Yes, the FBI trained me in counterterrorism procedures. Yes, I’ve gone undercover. And yes, my media work went national over a local neo-Nazi hot line. I’d still be muttering “We’re doomed” if it weren’t for Oklahoma’s “Say No to Hate” committee. Thank you, always.

Next, it was Going Southern for me with sweet flowers and sweet smiles that reminded me of my Bermuda childhood. Picture me, the new executive director of Chattanooga’s Federation, chowing down at the Big River Grille with the architect, planning a Jewish cultural center with enough glass to rival Chattanooga’s Aquarium. Suddenly, breaking news on the TV reports a bombing of a California Federation and shows police leading preschoolers single file out of the building. Yes, good-bye glass and hello security. No, I hadn’t broken anything yet, but better safe than sorry.

I didn’t mutter “we’re doomed!” until I got a mysterious illness on a Federation mission to Uzbekistan and had to resign. While I healed, I called some women friends, New Southerners like me as well as long-time Chattanoogans, to form a diversity network. We made a date for lunch on September 12, 2001. No, I didn’t plan our first meeting for the day after 9/11. And yes, what followed has been a Women’s Council on Diversity Marathon: educational forums, global leadership classes, 3 books, youth video projects, the, and then, Women Ground Breakers Storytelling.

The Women Ground Breakers is the reason why I stopped muttering “We’re Doomed!”  Take a look at their stories and you’ll see why: WomenGroundBreakers.


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