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Speaking to the World

Michael Patrick MacDonald

Michael Patrick MacDonald

Best Selling Author & Community Activist


Michael Patrick MacDonald is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, All Souls: A Family Story From Southie and Easter Rising: A Memoir of Roots and Rebellion. He has given over 300 campus lectures as his works are frequent “First Year Experience” selections at colleges and universities throughout the country. He has been awarded an American Book Award, A New England Literary Lights Award, and a fellowship at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Study Center. Read More >

MacDonald grew up in the Old Colony Housing Project in South Boston, a neighborhood that held the highest concentration of white poverty in the United States. After losing four of his eleven siblings and seeing his generation decimated by poverty, crime, addiction, and incarceration, he learned to transform personal and community trauma, becoming a leading activist, organizer, and writer. His efforts have built diverse, class-conscious coalitions to reduce violence and promote grassroots leadership from within the communities and families most impacted. He co-founded Boston’s first Gun Buyback programs as well as local support groups for survivors of poverty, violence, and the drug trade.

At Northeastern University’s Honors Department, he serves as Professor of the Practice, teaching his curricula: “Non-Fiction Writing & Social Justice Issues” and “The North of Ireland: Colonialism, Armed Resistance and the Ongoing Struggle for Peace with Justice." Next year he will lead a "Dialogue of Civilizations" to the North of Ireland with the course, Redemption Songs: The Role of Our Stories in Restorative and Transformative Justice. Beginning in Boston, students will witness local restorative justice efforts, before going to post-conflict Derry & Belfast in the North of Ireland, where survivors of “The Troubles” are leading the call for a Truth and Healing process. The role of personal story, arts, expression and witnessing will be central to the course.

Macdonald’s community-based writing and healing curriculum, The Rest of the Story is currently used with survivors of homicide victims at The Louis D Brown Peace Institute in Boston. The goal of the curriculum is to help victims and survivors use writing and storytelling to transform trauma to voice and agency. The curriculum was piloted in 2015 at Crittenton Women’s Union, with women who were transitioning out of poverty. In 2017, The Rest of the Story will be used with young people in East Boston facing gentrification and displacement, as well as with Massachusetts survivors of loss to the opioid epidemic.

MacDonald has been a contributor to The Boston Globe’s Op Ed page and a Senior Contributing Editor for the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University for work on the 40th Anniversary of desegregation/Busing in Boston. MacDonald has accepted the position of Senior Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development at the McCormack Institute for Social Policy and Global Studies. In the summer he teaches "Storytelling & Global Justice" at Harvard University Summer School.

He is currently working on his third book, which utilizes his trademark storytelling narrative to reveal issues of generational trauma & painkilling in working class and poor communities. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

The Charlie Rose Interview

Son of Southie Watching Bulger Trial

The Importance and Impact of a Memoir

Speech Topics

Grassroots Organizing to Reduce Gun Violence

Coming from a family and community that suffered from gun violence, Michael Patrick MacDonald recognized that those most affected by gun violence are also those who would be the key to solving the problem. Operating under this belief, he worked to recruit survivors across the racial divide in Boston’s most impacted communities. The result was Boston’s successful Gun Buyback program—which offered cash and vouchers to people who turned in their guns, no questions asked—of which MacDonald is founder and lead organizer. Through four annual Gun Buybacks, the program collected and destroyed over 2,900 working firearms and promoted a diverse citywide grassroots movement led by youth and survivors of gun violence. Following the Gun Buybacks, Boston experienced two years without one single juvenile homicide and a nationally recognized anti-violence movement was born.

In this program, speaker Michael Patrick MacDonald tells audiences about the factors that made the program such a success, sharing both the high-risk stories behind the hotline calls and the unprecedented history of the grassroots movement itself. The Gun Buyback’s effectiveness—due in large part to Boston’s populations coming together across boundaries of race and neighborhood balkanization—is a lesson in how a united voice for peace on the streets can make a profound and measurable difference in a community.

Finding Your Voice: Helping Young People Transform Trauma into Leadership

Michael Patrick MacDonald is the author of two best-selling coming-of-age memoirs: All Souls: A Family Story from Southie and Easter Rising: A Memoir of Roots and Rebellion. Both deal with the issues he experienced growing up in South Boston’s Old Colony Housing Project, an area found to have the highest concentration of white poverty in America and some of Boston’s highest death rates from substance abuse and its attendant violence (including suicide). Having lost four siblings to poverty, violence, and the drug trade, MacDonald has used his personal story to promote a conversation about trauma in the lives of young people and about the possibility for individual healing and community-wide change. Read More >

Before becoming a full-time writer, MacDonald worked as a community organizer, helping to build coalitions to reduce substance abuse and street violence by promoting leadership from among those most impacted by the drug trade. “Finding Your Voice” uses stories from his own teen years to illustrate the impact of poverty and trauma (specifically violence and drug abuse) on young people and the transformative power of empathy and listening among service providers and therapists. This lecture strives to help youth workers and service providers: Read Less ^

  • Feel and truly understand the mental and physical impact of trauma on young people in the most vulnerable coming-of-age years. MacDonald’s description of the effects of PTSD on a teenager (particularly the alternating hyper vigilance and numbing) is harrowing and illuminating.
  • Understand the transformative power of active, empathetic listening when working with young people, giving them a space to tell their stories. Much of MacDonald’s talk is about what happens when a professional really listens and young people see that he or she actually cares as a human being, not just as a professional. Such breaking down of barriers through empathetic listening proved life saving in MacDonald’s own experience with a particular counselor.
  • Learn the importance of “storytelling” or telling one’s story in traumatic recovery. MacDonald will include strategies for breaking down barriers to communicate and will stress the importance of finding ways to create space for young people to tell their stories, to own them, and to make use of them in the world.

Using Circle Process as a Technique for Creating the Space to Tell Our Stories (Workshop)

In this workshop, Michael Patrick MacDonald provides specific answers to the following question: how do we allow our young people the space to find their voice—first, to find their voice to tell their story at their own pace, completely owning every step they take in that process, and then to find their voice in the world? Speaker Michael Patrick MacDonald says we must begin by listening, something he does with his Circle Process. Circle Process (literally “sitting in a circle”) creates a space without hierarchy where we all feel listened to and where we lose separation, gain empathy for the other, and find company in our stories. It’s all about constructing our narratives, owning our narratives, and finding ways to connect with others through our stories and theirs. From MacDonald’s own experience and his observation of young people healing from past trauma, this has proven to be a powerful way forward in the aftermath of trauma. Read More >

The Circle Process workshop will take place “in circle,” allowing participants to experience the actual mechanisms of the process. Participants will learn to: Read Less ^

  • Explain the Circle Process
  • Identify barriers to transforming trauma and specific exercises to overcome them
  • Use Circle Process techniques in professional settings, whether in groups or one on one (Note regarding one on one: Even if using the Circle Process techniques in one-on-one conversation, one can bring the values of empathetic listening and specific methods of engagement to the table when working with young people who have experienced trauma)

The Legacy of South Boston Crime Boss Whitey Bulger

Our Common Ground: Race & the Unspoken Issue of Class in America

Organizing to Reduce Violence & Drug Use

Cross-Cultural Community Building