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Charleston Living Magazine: Listening as a Living

A walk through the International African American Museum

By Tim Lowry

“So, what do you do for a living?”

I recently found myself at a cocktail party where this was the question being tossed out like a fishing line with the hope to catch something interesting. It was hard to generate a conversation from the predictable answers—doctor, lawyer, engineer—the assumption being that everyone already knew about those professions. One man said he worked for the IRS and immediately found himself drinking alone. Eventually, the question was tossed in my direction and I took the bait by answering “I am a professional listener.” There was a questioning look on several faces and finally someone asked, “What is a professional listener?” Ah! The tide had turned and now the fish had become the fisherman.

The doctor, the lawyer, and the engineer leaned in. (The IRS agent stood at a respectful distance looking on with intensity.) I said, “Yesterday, I stood at the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean and heard a million African voices…”

I then proceeded to tell my new friends about my work as a historian/folklorist/storyteller and how I had recently previewed the new International African American Museum at 14 Wharfside Street in Charleston, set to open at the end of June.

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