Jessian grew up poor in Madison. Every day she wondered how she would eat, how she’d be safe and how she’d navigate her way to something better. She served time in juvenile corrections and a group home only to return home to the same situations that were so bleak and there seemed no way out of.
And so it went for her year after year of her youth. Life was hard on the inside of correctional facilities and on the outside at home. Then one day she faced a tragedy unthinkable involving a family member being killed.
Eventually she had to decide if the life she grew up in was the one she wanted to pass on to her own children. It wasn’t.
Today, she has been an honors level student and has dedicated her life to making an impact on others who are just like her. She wants to show others that they’re not stuck in their situations, that they can do something different.
Sagashus Levingston knows about feeling stuck in a situation. The chaos, the pain, the vision, the joy.
She talks about the lives her parents carried on. The drugs, the sex game, child abuse, bad times, good times, wonderful moments. She put her successes, her dreams, her PhD, and the work she does today with other women and the community out there in raw, powerful tales.
Love Wisconsin, a new collaborative storytelling project, gave these two powerful and successful women — and many other Wisconsinites of diverse backgrounds and experiences — a platform to tell their tales no matter how raw, no matter how they’d be judged.
Love Wisconsin stories are first-person narratives by people from all over the State of Wisconsin. People submit their tales one chapter at a time during a period of days. It’s like getting to know someone one paragraph or image at a time.
Now, Love Wisconsin has launched a Facebook Group dedicated to spurring online conversations about the stories people tell.
“We started the project because we wanted to use the internet to introduce people to one another, people that may never get a chance to meet in real life,” said Megan Monday, one of the group’s founders. “We represent different parts of the state, different racial and ethnic identities, and a wide range on political points of view too.”
Research showed that Love Wisconsin’s Facebook page was in the top five percent for engagement rate globally. That spurred the group to want to expand on its online presence to include a community forum of sorts.
“We thought that we might learn a lot if we could be in a deeper conversation together,” she said. “We thought about what many are doing with in-person facilitated conversations, and wanted to try to take some of those learnings online.”
Annette Miller, who is on the board of Madison365 and is the CEO of EQT by Design will be the lead facilitator for the online discussion group.
Monday said it had been really important to share the stories of people living in different areas of the state, with different racial and ethnic identities and different life experiences.
“We’ve been going for over two years now, but in some ways it feels like we’re just getting started,” she said. “There’s a lot to learn just from listening to each other.”