To celebrate the 2010 National Day of Listening on Thanksgiving weekend, the San Francisco StoryBooth and the Contemporary Jewish Museum collaborated to put on a fun-filled afternoon of family activities.
The program featured a “listening stick” art-making project, which was a big hit for all ages! In line with the event’s theme, kids and parents sat at tables hanging out together, telling stories, and adorning their crafty cardboard tubes with ears, collaged images, and even some written messages about the importance of listening in their lives.
StoryCorps opened in Oklahoma City to a windy autumn morning in front of the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall. Oklahomans welcomed us warmly even though the weather kept it a little chilly in the Booth.
Mary Sosa and her daughter Stephanie Armstrong came to the MobileBooth through our partnership with the Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma, an organization that helps develop active communities through leadership training and grant assistance. Stephanie was most interested to find out what her mom was like before she became the president of the College Hill Neighborhood Association: “Were you a troublemaker as a child?”
We had a StoryCorps first during our MobileBooth stop in Fargo, North Dakota: a MobileBooth made out of cheese!
Who knew such awesomeness was possible?!?!!
The “Cheese MobileBooth” was made by Prairie Public Radio’s Bill Thomas for our listening event and reception and added to the celebration of StoryCorps’ time in Fargo. We almost didn’t want to eat the booth…but, of course, we did and it was delicious!
Paul Aladin remembers it snowing in October. When he arrived in the United States in 1994, “My first question was, what is this? Somebody tell me, this is called snow. I heard that word in my country many times but never figured out what it is.”
Paul was just 25 when he made the decision to leave his parents and seven younger siblings in Haiti and come to the Midwest, but it is clear that he approaches life with an inner balance not even harsh North Dakota winters can shake: “It does not mean that snow is a bad thing, it means that this is how the temperature is in this part of the world.”
Paul was joined by his brother Ricot for a conversation during StoryCorps’ visit to Fargo. Paul is the founder of United Hearts for Haiti, an organization working to build schools in and around his hometown. Improving education is, he says, “the number one priority,” the first step toward healing a traumatic history.
Last month co-Facilitator Daniel Littlewood and I took the subway from StoryCorps’ Brooklyn headquarters to New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood to visit Art for Change, an organization that uses art and media programs to inspire people to take an active role in social justice. AFC is a non profit that has survived nearly nine years primarily on the passion and the commitment of its volunteers.
Our world is pieced together by a million stories, memories that flow into a pool of words and images that often carry us through our lives as little bright lights of inspiration. When you sit in on a conversation between two people you are given the gift of being transported into that slice of life, that place and time that made such a difference in their lives.
In October, StoryCorps traveled to Anaheim, CA, for the SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Latinos and Native Americans in Science) conference. There, StoryCorps was witness to the encouragement and support that was a common thread through many of the 18 conversations recorded – mostly between students and their mentors.
Many of the students are now in graduate school, but had warm memories of the people who supported them the most during their undergrad years. There were a lot of tears and frequent gales of laughter during these conversations.
Last week, StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled exactly half a mile to arrive at Dwa Fanm, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for the rights of Haitian women in the United States and Haiti. Through education, advocacy, and direct service, Dwa Fanm strives to protect the human rights of the women they serve. The mission of StoryCorps is to record and preserve the lives of people living in the United States. What better place to do this work than in StoryCorps’ own back yard in Brooklyn, NY?
When I reached out to Margarette Tropnas, the executive director of Dwa Fanm, about the organization participating in a recording day, I had no idea that Margarette had such a compelling story of her own to share. Almost two months after my original inquiry, I had the pleasure of Facilitating a conversation between Margarette and her teenage daughter, Melissa.
November 16, 2010 was the one-year anniversary of the first StoryCorps Atlanta broadcast on WABE’s City Café. To mark the occasion, we invited Atlanta Alumni and Community Partners to celebrate our first anniversary. Fittingly, John Lemley, the host of WABE’s City Café, was the MC for the evening.
The evening began with opening remarks by John Weatherford, Chief Operating Officer of WABE, and a special message from Dave Isay, Founder and Executive Director of StoryCorps.
We listened to several StoryCorps Atlanta stories that evening, starting with the very first story that aired a year ago, a conversation between mother and daughter, Joyce and Errin Haines.
At the beginning of November, co-Facilitator Matt Herman and I went to Geneva, IL, to visit the Geneva History Center.
Located in the heart of Geneva’s downtown district, the Center’s mission is to collect, preserve, study, interpret and exhibit significant materials relating to the Midwestern city’s community and to provide related educational and advocacy services to the public.
To celebrate the city’s 175th anniversary, StoryCorps was called to record twenty-four interviews with long-time Geneva residents. Participants shared their memories of the town, their heritage, and their work in education, business, and volunteerism.
On Saturday, September 25, the StoryCorps Atlanta team packed up its equipment and headed to the heart of downtown Atlanta to the second annual Neighborhood Summit. The event, a program by the Civic League for Regional Atlanta sponsored by the United Way and the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, had the theme “Neighborhood Connections, Regional Voices.”
Throughout the day, Summit attendees sat in on workshops that focused on topics ranging from communities using social media technology to organize themselves, to learning about a new plan that, according to the organization’s website, “will determine how the region accommodates population and economic growth sustainability over the next 30 years.” Heady stuff to be sure!
One hundred people came together at the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville, VA, to participate in a school reunion. But this wasn’t just any reunion. This was an event to honor Prince Edward County students who were affected by the public school closings from 1959-1964. The Moton Museum invited StoryCorps Door-to-Door to come to Farmville for the weekend to record the stories of some of these students and teachers.
Following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which held that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” the public schools in Prince Edward County, VA, resisted integration. In 1959, the Board of Supervisors for Prince Edward County refused to appropriate any funds, effectively closing all public schools. The schools remained closed until September 1964 when the Supreme Court, in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, held that closing public schools for the sole purpose of race violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In May, StoryCorps Atlanta Facilitator, Katrina Singh and I spent a day at the Side by Side Brain Injury Clubhouse. The clubhouse, in Stone Mountain, GA, is a place where people living with the lifelong effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) are respected and valued as contributing community members. Members practice life skills such as cooking, counting money and answering the phone.
Members and their caretakers recorded their stories Although the members can’t remember the details of their accidents, they clearly remembered their lives before the accident.
Husband and wife Bisi and Deborah Alabi immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria. They were on the way back from a family friend’s college graduation, when they skidded on ice. After the crash, Deborah, a nurse, could tell that her husband was alive, though badly injured. Now years later, they talked about how happy they are. Bisi can’t work due to his traumatic brain injury, but that seems quite alright with his wife. Before the accident, he worked three jobs as a pharmacist (a day job, a night job and one on the weekends). Now he spends more time at home with his family. Since he volunteers in the kitchen at Side by Side, he’s started helping his wife out in their kitchen (something he never did before the accident). And every day he Skypes with his grandchildren in Las Vegas.
For most job interviews, we prepare ourselves to talk about our career accomplishments, our strengths, and what we could bring to a company. However, if you apply for a position at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, they will ask, “How did you play as a child?”
Last month, StoryCorps visited the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, where the museum’s patrons, staff, and aficionados shared their own stories of playing as children and why they are all committed to helping this institution foster creativity and a love for learning in the next generation. It is no wonder why the Children’s Museum is a recipient of the National Medal from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
On October 18, 2010, Atlanta StoryCorps staff as well as radio station WABE (90.1) President & CEO Milton Clipper and COO John Weatherford, were proud recipients of a Proclamation initiated by Councilman Hall. During the brief ceremony, Mr. Clipper spoke highly of the work that StoryCorps Atlanta has accomplished during its first year and of the strong partnership between the two organizations. StoryCorps Atlanta Site Supervisor, Amanda Plumb, talked about the many community partners cultivated over the past year and our outreach work with homeless and refugee populations, African Americans, Latinos, members of the LGBTQ community and seniors. With all that, however, she also focused on the work yet to do and the communities yet to be reached, and encouraged the Council Members to invite their constituents to tell their stories.
Sagal Radio Services is a nonprofit that broadcasts weekly radio programs aimed at immigrant communities. Their programs, broadcast in 5 different languages, providing information to help newcomers adapt to life in the United States.
Hear Me Today: The Voice of Today’s Teens is a Sagal Radio Services program created by Clarkston high school students who intern with the International Rescue Committee over the summer.
This summer, I visited Sagal Radio Services, where interns, Nawal Abdirahman from Somalia and Ram Koirala and Tara Powdyal from Nepal interviewed me about StoryCorps. After my time in the hot seat, I invited them to return the favor and visit us at the WABE studios to learn how we create StoryCorps. They toured the Atlanta StoryBooth, met WABE on-air personalities, asked questions of the News Director, Michael Fields, and saw how producer, Kate Sweeney edits a story.
When I first saw Jerry McLilly approach the San Francisco StoryBooth, I felt that I recognized him from someplace in the past. As he began to tell his story, it finally hit me: He was that remarkable and unforgettable crooner in the dapper suit that I had heard so many times over the years in downtown San Francisco, singing his signature numbers, “When You’re Smiling” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
Also known as Mr. Smiley, Jerry sang for most of two decades in front of the old Emporium store, before and after it closed (the facade still stands as the entrance to Bloomingdales). We were fortunate that this day in August he brought some songs, his engaging smile and his story to share with us.
While at high school in Detroit, Jerry met Jackie Wilson, who later went on to become a major rhythm and blues star with “Lonely Teardrops” and “Reet Petite.” Jerry was hired for $175 a week as Wilson’s valet and chauffeur when they began a tour of the “Chitlin Circuit” – D.C, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, The Fillmore in San Francisco, and the Apollo in Harlem. Jerry rehearsed with his mentor and role model and began his professional singing career. After some years on the road with Wilson, he performed with a later version of The Ink Spots vocal group in venues around the world.
Having received the National Medal, the highest honor awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Stark County District Library in Canton, OH, invited StoryCorps to record the stories of its patrons. During our visit, Sarah Elizabeth Studer interviewed her grandfather, Paul “Juni” Studer, about his life and some of the lessons he’s learned in the business of sign making.
Paul, called “Juni” by those who know him, began making signs while working in his father’s restaurant in Massillon, OH. While speaking to his granddaughter, Juni described the town’s local culture. “You have to like football. It’s the thing that makes the whole place go.” While working for his father, Juni made signs that listed each local Friday night football game, along with the rival team. His work became known throughout the community, and soon, Juni landed a job at Adam’s Sign Company.
In the beginning, Juni loved his work at the company, but as his job changed, so did his love for his work. After a misunderstanding with an important sign order, Juni and his wife, Dolores, decided to go into business for themselves and opened Studer Sign Shop in the garage of their small home in 1962.
After almost forty years in business for himself, Juni has learned one thing. “You’ve got to like what you do,” he told his granddaughter. “Your future depends on your attitude on Sunday evening. You probably had a party on Friday, went to the movies on Saturday, and now it’s Sunday evening. Are you gonna say ‘Oh no! Another week’ or are you gonna say ‘Wow! Tomorrow is Monday and I’m gonna accomplish this. If you can end up doing something you like, then you’ll be a success.”
In 2010, HIV/AIDS is not as scary a diagnosis as it was in the early- and mid-eighties. Now, almost thirty years since the disease first became part of the public lexicon, HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence. In late-August, StoryCorps Atlanta partnered with Positive Impact to record stories of individuals living with and/or affected by HIV/AIDS.
Trevalle Ambrose arrived early for his conversation with Positive Impact group facilitator Rico Curtis-Davidson. He found out he was HIV positive on his 21st birthday. When he told his family that he was positive they, in his words, “just cut me off.” One year later, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia with his best friend, Devin Murphy. Three days after they arrived, Devin died. Trevalle was alone in a new city, grieving the loss of his friend and estranged from his family. With the help of Devin’s brother, Trevalle found the medical resources he needed. His spiritual journey, though, had just begun. Trevalle would face numerous illnesses – many life-threatening – battle drug addiction, and fight to regain his family’s love and respect. Looking back, Trevalle says, “I was a mess. I was a lost soul.”
The Las Palmas Library in San Antonio, TX, hosted StoryCorps for three recording days from August 15-17, 2010. My co-Facilitator Yazmín Peña and I facilitated several San Antonians’ interviews, including one between Jesse Treviño (L), nationally renowned local artist, and his friend, Gabriel Velasquez (R).
Jesse remembered car clubs from his childhood in the Westside. Their hand-painted posters and colorful jackets inspired him to pin stripe his friends’ cars. He was a serious young artist, and with his diploma, he moved to New York City in 1965. He painted portraits of Greenwich Village roamers and tourists, chasing his dream to succeed as a painter.
A Vietnam War draft notice came in 1966-his dream had to wait. He thought about art throughout his training and service, and took moments for himself to sketch his fellow soldiers on scraps of paper. In Vietnam, he got a care package from his mother and made a painting with its brown paper, brushing bits of color of a woman holding a baby. He avoids remembering the horrors of the war.
A mine destroyed Jesse’s strong hand and hospitalized him for weeks. I asked him how the war changed his art. “It made me more passionate,” he said. “It shook me and I started to look at things the way they really were.” Losing his hand did not stop him. “I’ve created more art this way, after losing my hand,” Jesse continued. Be it his foot, mouth, or prosthetic, he would paint with anything if he had to.