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Opalanga D. Pugh

Professional storyteller Opalanga D. Pugh was born on October 31, 1952, in Denver, Colorado, to Mary Edmonson and John Harris. She also grew up in Denver. In 1975, Pugh received her B.S. degree in communication studies from the University of Wisconsin. Her senior year, as an undergraduate student, she studied at the Imo University of Lagos in Nigeria. Her more extensive informal education includes studying under the instruction of traditional griots in the Gambia, and workshops with African dance choreographer Baba Chuck Davis; African shamans Malidoma and Sobonfu Some; futurist Jean Houston; and motivational speaker Les Brown. Pugh has immersed herself and her work in the realm of communication—including (but not limited to) public relations, group facilitation, mental health, and outdoor education.

Pugh spent an extensive amount of time working, traveling and studying in nine West African countries including the Gambia and Nigeria. While she was there, her studies served as primary sources of learning African oral tradition. Since 1986, she has been a professional storyteller. In addition to that, she has done various keynote addresses as well as facilitated workshops and programs. To date, Pugh has made presentations at thousands of schools in thirty-seven states across the country and over 500 corporations and nonprofit organizations. Her work has taken her across the world. She has shared and collected stories, and hosted events and ceremonies in the United States, Canada, Europe, West Africa, and the Caribbean.

In 1995, Denver’s Westword Magazine named Pugh “Best Storyteller.” She also received the Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts that year. The following year, she was featured as an “African American Living Legend” by NBC-TV. She has been featured in the following publications and media outlets: Women Who Run with the Wolves, The Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and on Black Entertainment Television (BET). Pugh was awarded the Urban Spectrum Newspaper “One Who Makes A Difference” Award. She also received the Ambassador of Peace Award from The Conflict Center in Denver.

Other accomplishments include her work with the international relief organization, CARE, to coordinate and present components of their global conference for over 60 country directors surrounding the theme of gender equity and diversity. Pugh was also instrumental in assisting the grieving Columbine High School staff and students through ‘story intervention’ after the tragic shooting in 1999.

Opalanga D. Pugh was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 3, 2008.

Ms. Pugh passed away on June 5, 2010.

Accession Number

A2008.120

Sex

Female

Interview Date

11/3/2008

Last Name

Pugh

Maker Category
Middle Name

Donna Jessie

Schools

East High School

Ebert Elementary School

University of Colorado Boulder

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

University of Lagos

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Opalanga

Birth City, State, Country

Denver

HM ID

PUG02

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Colorado

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

Stories Are Not Just Meant To Make Us Smile. Our Very Lives Depend On It.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Colorado

Birth Date

10/31/1952

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Denver

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Lentils (Curried)

Death Date

6/5/2010

Short Description

Professional storyteller Opalanga D. Pugh (1952 - 2010 ) was a scholar of African oral traditions who facilitated ceremonies and workshops across the United States, Canada, West Africa and the Caribbean.

Employment

Trans-Alaska Pipeline System

Salvation Army-Booth Memorial Home

Adams County Library

Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Opalanga D. Pugh's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Opalanga D. Pugh lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her mother's upbringing and education

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about her mother's creativity

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her maternal grandmother's personality, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers her maternal great-grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her maternal grandmother's personality, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about her mother's experiences in the medical field

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her maternal great-grandmother's appearance

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Opalnaga D. Pugh describes her likeness to her maternal family members

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about her paternal family background

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about her stepfather's parents

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Opalanga D. Pugh recalls her step-grandfather's experiences in the segregated South

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her step-grandmother

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers her stepfather's career

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about her brothers

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers Ebert Elementary School in Denver, Colorado

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her early personality

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about her childhood in Denver, Colorado

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers her early religious experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Opalanga D. Pugh recalls the integration of the Denver Public Schools

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about her involvement in the Black Power movement

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers a Black Power march in Denver, Colorado

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers her parents' response to the Black Power march

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her community in Denver, Colorado

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers the start of her adolescence

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Opalanga D. Pugh recalls her campaign for student council secretary

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her early aspirations, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers her junior high school math teacher

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her early aspirations, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers her time at the Colorado Outward Bound School

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers matriculating at the University of Colorado Boulder

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers living in Dayton, Ohio

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Opalanga D. Pugh recalls her decision to study abroad in Nigeria

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers her arrival in Lagos, Nigeria

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Opalanga D. Pugh recalls her educational experiences at the University of Lagos in Nigeria

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers Nigerians' misconceptions about African American women

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about her Yoruba naming ceremony

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes the Yoruba language

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers her experiences in Lagos, Nigeria

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Opalanga D. Pugh recalls her departure from Lagos, Nigeria

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her move to Fairbanks, Alaska

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Opalanga D. Pugh recalls working on the Trans Alaska Pipeline System

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers meeting Eldridge Cleaver

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her work at Salvation Army Booth Memorial Home in Anchorage, Alaska

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Opalanga D. Pugh reflects upon her time in Anchorage, Alaska

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Opalanga D. Pugh remembers her introduction to professional storytelling

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Opalanga D. Pugh shares a parable about gratitude

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about fable singing

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about facilitating broom jumping ceremonies

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about officiating end of life ceremonies

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her ceremonial instruments

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about the importance of godparents

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about mentoring her nephew

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about roots and wings ceremonies

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Opalanga D. Pugh reflects upon her career as a storyteller

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about her experience with cancer, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about her experience with cancer, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Opalanga D. Pugh talks about her interest in sharing her life story

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Opalanga D. Pugh reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Opalanga D. Pugh describes her advice to future generations

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Opalanga D. Pugh plays the mbira

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Opalanga D. Pugh narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

6$2

DATitle
Opalanga D. Pugh remembers a Black Power march in Denver, Colorado
Opalanga D. Pugh remembers her introduction to professional storytelling
Transcript
But I remember the day that Martin Luther King [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] was assassinated and I was a junior in high school. And, and it was a sad day. And I remember, you know, we had this school assembly in East High School [Denver, Colorado] and they had called us all into assembly and I remember the principal, Mr. Colwell [Robert Colwell]. He, he called us all in and, and you know, people were just crying, it was such a blow. And he was saying that Dr. Martin Luther King wanted us to be peaceful, that he was about nonviolence, and you know, that we should keep our focus and you know, 'cause riots was breaking off, you know, Watts [Los Angeles, California] was burning and you know, it was all across the country. It was like (makes sound) just jumping off. And then I remember this brother named Michael Dehue [ph.] he was from Oakland, California, he was in the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense [Black Panther Party], and also another brother named Lauren Watson who was a local person here. He's another person that should be interviewed on this HistoryMakers [The HistoryMakers]. So they came in, they had their black leather jackets, had their black tams, and then they just like rolled up into the high school, you know right on through the auditorium, up on the stage and took the microphone from the principal. Talking about, "All power to the people." And we're like (gesture), "Power!" You know he said, "Power to the people," we said, "Power!" He said, "They have killed our black shining king. The dream is dead." He said, "Why are you sitting here? You should be back in your community." And then there's like that moment of silence, you know, people was just like deciding on what to do. It's like--. And then I could hear (claps hands) boom, it was like one of the seats--hit the back of the chair 'cause somebody had got up, then another one, and then another one and another one, and people started getting up, you know. And I got up and we were going down the hallway and we were trying to head to this community. Manual High School [Denver, Colorado] is like one block from where I live right now. That was--you know, this is the heart of the black community where I'm at. East High School is like--was on the edge of black and white 'cause we had integrated. So we were making a, a trail down here to go to Five Points [Denver, Colorado] back into the center of the black community. But on the way out, there was--then you could feel that anger coming up, you know, and then black kids was like beating white kids head. I mean I remember this one white girl was in a--that's when they had phone booths that, you know, you could close the door and--I remember this guy just like kicked the door open, just pulled her out, ho, ho, I was like oh my--then I remember I stopped him, like, "No this is not--I don't think Martin wanted this," you know. And they were just running across--it was just pandemonium, running across the football field. And so then we finally gathered in the park and then formed a parade down to, to Manual. And again, the music was such a part of our, our movement and this is awesome, again back to music is medicine. I mean that's how our, our slave ancestors I think made it through dark nights would be able to call those songs that could warm the soul. And so we were doing all these revolutionary songs: (singing), "Revolution has come. Off the pig! It's time to pick up your gun. Off the pig! No more pigs in our community. Off the pigs! What we need is black unity." And you know, we were singing and chanting, you know, and coming down to Manual. But when we got to Manual, which is an all-black school, their principal had like locked the doors, I mean put the chain lock on the doors and they were up in the second floor and they were waving down at us. We're like, "Come out, come out," you know, but they wouldn't--they wouldn't come out. So we just kept going down to Five Points and we were singing, you know, the revolutionary songs and you know, once in a while they throw in 'We Shall Overcome,' you know, that, that--. And what were some of the other songs that they were signing? (Singing), "Power to the people, power to the people." You always do call and response. (Singing), "Stone people's power, stone people's power, power to the people, power to the people, said power, power. Free Huey Newton [Huey P. Newton]," so we'd just go run through all the political prisoners.$Nineteen eighty [1980], I came back, again my [maternal] grandma [Jessie Howard] got sick and that was interesting 'cause I really had a job in Puerto Rico, but I stopped in Denver [Colorado] to check on my grandma and she just had an appointment to go to the doctor and they end up taking her to the hospital and then ultimately she went to a nursing home. She never came back to her house from that doctor's appointment. And I decided to stay in Denver. And from--so from 1980 I've pretty much been here as my base. I worked at Adams County public library as a media, public, public affairs person. So I was still, still writing and press releases and in charge of the audiovisual collections for Adams County public library. And it was a thirty hour job. So I began to pick up storytelling on the side, you know. But I was also producing storytelling hours working with the children's librarians. Producing storytelling hours for cable television, also producing adult public affairs programming. That I won an award for a program I did on literacy in Colorado. And I interviewed Famous Amos [Wally Amos], the cookie magnate, who was the spokesman for Literacy Volunteers of America. And so that--that was very meaningful. So that was another form of storytelling, but it was through video, through the movement. And but I was beginning to pick up so much work storytelling that I had like thirty hours of storytelling and thirty hours at Adams County public library which like was a sixty hour week. So I knew I had to make a decision. And so when I decided to go I started saving my money and you know, getting my dental work done 'cause I was getting ready to break camp. And, and it was 1983 in March where there's a National Storytelling Conference held here in Denver. And at the end of the conference they have a place, you know, for a story swap, or new people to bring their story forward. And I brought Sojourner Truth. And she was probably the first historical character who came through me. Excuse me. And I say through me because she was six foot tall and so am I. And I just kind of feel her speaking in my ear. And I came forward and I did the speech called Ain't I a Woman? And it was a speech that she, she gave at a Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio in 1855 [sic. 1851]. And they were afraid for her to speak because they thought that the women's--the issue of women's rights be con- be confused with colored folk's rights. But she just took the stage anyway. And she said, "Well children, why there so much racket? It seems to me there's something out of kilter. Now I think between the white women in the North and, and the women in the South all working for our rights, the white man be in a heck of a fix pretty soon." So she went on to, to speak her truth, you know. And it was so well received that--at this conference there were a lot of librarians and teachers and they became probably my first line of support to invite me into the schools, do school assemblies, to be in the library programs. And so it's beg- it's just kind of developed from there, you know. I've joined the National Association of Black Storytellers. I was at their first gathering and we're celebrating twenty-five years now. Nineteen eighty-six [1986], you know, I've been telling as full time storytelling as an independent way of making my life and my livelihood since 1986. You know, paying my car, and paying my mortgage and so it's, it's been a journey. It's been quite a journey.