Brooklynites past and present, young and old came out last night to hear a curator talk at MoCADA, marking the end of the exhibition “The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks.” Over twenty artist are represented in the exhibit, and their work speaks to the changes happening in communities throughout the borough, and how residents are responding to these changes. StoryCorps collaborated with MoCADA to record the stories of several of the artists, some of which were presented during last night’s program. (You can read more about the opening of this exhibit from the March 16th post, “The Gentrification of Brooklyn”)
The evening began with New York Facilitator John White, who shared stories from the StoryCorps archive about memories of New York neighborhoods. Then curator Dexter Wimberly spoke about his own experience of growing up in Brooklyn, and what this exhibition means for him. There are still a few days left to enjoy “The Gentrification of Brooklyn” at MoCADA – it closes on Sunday, May 16. Fortunately the stories of the artists, along with thousands of other New Yorkers, will live on through StoryCorps.
When Julia Anne Bourne was diagnosed with cancer, she got mad. Then, she got busy raising awareness and money for breast cancer research. Since she was “incredibly” healthy – a marathon runner and a cyclist – Julia felt blindsided by her cancer diagnosis. One of her friends was uneasy about Julia’s breast cancer diagnosis. “It scared her. If this (breast cancer) could happen to me, it could happen to her.”
Julia decided she would not be a “happy camper” and fight her disease with stoic passivity. She describes participating in a breast cancer event not long after her diagnosis. “I was confused when they saluted breast cancer survivors. I was told that I was a survivor even though I had just been diagnosed. What other disease labels you a survivor based on just the diagnosis?”
A self-described “cancer curmudgeon,” Julia dislikes the ubiquitous breast cancer “pink fluff.” Says Julia, “I prefer white – the color of research labs – rather than pink.”
In San Francisco, we have a new outreach partnership with Marriage Equality USA’s LOVING Quilt Project. The LOVING Quilt Project, curated by the effervescent Maya Scott Chung, is a traveling exhibit of quilts featuring beautiful story and photo collages of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex married couples along with their families. The project is about honoring families affected by the legislation against the right for all to marry. We are so thrilled to be working with this fantastic project to celebrate and preserve the voices and stories of these couples.
Dr. Erica Britton and Gwendolyn Bikis first met at a book club. They have been married several times; their right to marry has been overturned and marriage certificates nullified a few times over the course of their relationship. Last married in 2008 – the ‘Summer of Love’ – they are one of the 18,000 couples whose marriage is still recognized by the state of California after the passing of Proposition 8. As Erica says, ‘We are one of the fortunate few.’
Erica and Gwendolyn came to the StoryBooth and shared some of the moments when they felt “most married.” For Erica, it was after their wedding ceremony when the party was dying down, and she and Gwendolyn were sitting on the back of a pick-up truck, their feet dangling, watching the sunset and catching their breath together for the first time that day. For Gwendolyn, she feels most married on Saturday afternoons at home, when they argue about what to watch on TV. This, of course, made Erica laugh.
I have always been an avid singer–a choir geek through and through. Being on the road with the Mobile Booths makes it somewhat difficult to be part of a musical ensemble, since I am jumping from city to city every month. Therefore, I often live vicariously through StoryCorps participants who come in to talk about their own musical experiences. I was overjoyed when 10-year-old Julian Picazo came to the MobileBooth in Reno, Nevada with his violin teacher, Caroline Karl – known as “Miss Karl” to Julian.
Julian picked up the violin in second grade. His father, who plays the guitar, encouraged him to play. Julian remembers, “When I started the violin, he told me not to quit because he knows that it’s really fun. And so do I. I said don’t worry, I’m not going to quit. I love playing the violin.” Now Julian and his father teach each other songs, and Julian has even started teaching his little sister to play the violin as well.
Julian’s love of the violin is abundantly clear. As he tells Miss Karl, “I don’t want to miss any single day I can. I don’t care if I’m on vacation or not, I just want to go to violin class. I remember this day I was really, really sick. I didn’t go to school, but I did go to violin class!”
After driving two days from New Orleans, MobileEast arrived in Dayton, Ohio where Supervisor Whitney Henry-Lester, seasoned Facilitator Jeremy Helton, and I were warmly welcomed by staff and members of WYSO, our local broadcast partner in the Miami Valley.
On our first day of recording, an enthusiastic group of participants made their way to the Booth, in front of the Schuster Performing Arts Center in downtown Dayton, and introduced us to the area by sharing their stories.
One of the first participants was Margaret E. Peters who came in to interview her friend and colleague Willis “Bing” Davis. During the interview, Mr. Davis shared stories about growing up in East Dayton’s small African American community. In the 1940s West Dayton could boast a significant African American population, but only about 200 African American families lived on the east side of town, he explained. The four streets around Diamond Avenue, with their community center, church, and playground, created a unique environment for its youngest residents. “The extended family concept of the South and Africa was prevalent all the time, which could not have happened in a larger community,” he said. “Someone you hardly even knew could chastise you and correct you right there, take you home and tell your parents exactly what was going on,” he remembered.
But both Margaret and Bing agreed that the smallness also meant a lot of camaraderie and mentoring from older members in the community. Bing talked about his high school teacher and coach, Dean Dooley: “More than a teacher, he was there, he talked with my family, talked to my mother, aunts and uncles, to point me in the right direction.”
After bidding farewell to sunny Fresno, CA MobileBooth West traversed the Sierra Nevada and Donner Pass to land safely in Reno, Nevada. “The Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno is famous for its bedazzling casinos and breathtaking landscape. In the midst of this city’s bright lights and April snowstorms, people came downtown to record conversations.
For one of the first conversations of the week, Reno local and Moscow native Sacha Gousev came with friend Kim Palchikoff to talk about his life-long circus career as a master juggler with the Moscow Circus.
Sacha fell in love with the circus at the age of five when his parents took him to see his first show. “Moscow Circus is a little different than American circus,” Sacha explains. “It’s kind of like . . . du Soleil, you know? It’s a big, big production. It’s not like here, with clowns walking around and selling ice cream and stuff. I was pretty amazed. I remember jugglers. Especially jugglers.”
Remember that time when you were little and snuck out of the house to visit the corner store for a bag of cookies while your parents were asleep? Or the time you tried to run away because your mom wouldn’t let you eat SpagghetiOs for dinner, only to walk around the block and go straight back home?
Moments like these are the reason we have mothers; to steer us straight when we need guidance, and to act in our best interests in the moments we don’t know what they are. It is this wisdom our mothers possess that is the central theme of Dave Isay’s’ new book Mom: A Celebration of Mothers From StoryCorps.
On Sunday, April 24th Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, came to the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco to celebrate our moms. And what better way to do this than to have some of the mothers and their family talk more in depth about their personal stories featured in the book!
During our recent stop in Louisiana, the Mobile East Team closed our Booth in New Orleans for two days and headed to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola. There, we found community both behind bars and outside the cell blocks.
Clifford Hampton and Kuantau Reeder have been incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary 51 years and 17 years, respectively. They discussed the choices and circumstances that brought them to prison, how their outlook has changed since their incarceration, and their hopes for the future. They also discussed punishment, redemption and forgiveness.
Maurice Rabalais and his mother, Dora Rabalais, talked about what it is like living, working and raising a family at Angola Prison. The Rabalais family has lived and worked at Angola Prison for three generations. Maurice and Dora talked about the closeness of the community of employees at Angola. Maurice spoke of how he feels at home as soon as he sees the Louisiana Penitentiary sign at the gates to the prison and that when he helps a co-worker at Angola it is likely he’s also helping a neighbor.
There is one great question that does not appear on StoryCorps Great Question list: “Will you marry me?” I’ve twice witnessed the excitement of two people deciding to spend the rest of their lives together and it always inspires. It makes you want to run out of the StoryBooth and fall in love.
Joel Weber first came to the Booth to interview his brother. After their conversation he told me he wanted to propose to his girlfriend Laurel Pinson and asked if I could help him out. I told him that we’d do our part to provide the romantic ambiance – the warm wood paneling, the soft lighting – but that he’d have to be the one to pop the question. For those who have never been to the StoryBooth in Foley Square, you are missing out on one of the most intimate getaways in Manhattan. Bring your dates… I mean, book your appointments there now!
Good friends Maria Mouchess and Patty Garcia could be sisters. In fact, if you were to see them together there would be little doubt in your mind that these two share a curious symmetry, like two pieces of a puzzle that fit together perfectly.
I had the opportunity to play a part in their StoryCorps experience when they came into the San Francisco StoryBooth recently. As members of Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Maria and Patty share a passion for molecular biology, a field in which they are working towards their Doctorates at U.C. Berkeley. Much of their conversation focused on the emerging role of minorities, specifically Latina women, in the ever-expanding world of scientific research. Both Patty and Maria seek to bring diversity to their field and to promote an intersection of science and culture, an idea people rarely stop to consider. But the two women have a connection that runs deeper than similar academic motivations.
(Maria and Patty)
As the children of parents who immigrated to the United states, they share a deep and unwavering commitment to their families and to the importance of education. Patty tells the story of her mother who, as a young child, would wake up before the sun rose to pick fruits and vegetables in the San Joaquin valley in order to help her family make ends meet. She would then arrive late to school where she sat in the back of the class, ignored by her teacher and saddled with the task of trying to learn in a language she did not speak. After months of hard work, she had shown such improvement and resolve that her teacher moved her to the front of the class; a moment she has been proud of ever since. She went on to finish high school and received scholarships to go to college, all the while continuing to pick fruit and vegetables with her family every morning. Through her mother’s example, Patty has learned a thing or two about responsibility and perseverance.
In her own life, Maria has reached similar conclusions:
‘Thinking about growing up, my mom… she works at Target stocking things… my dad used to drive a truck taking people to and from the airport. To me that’s very laborious compared to now, where I’m sitting around talking to people about my ideas in a very academic setting. To me those are two very different worlds… I almost feel selfish because I never had to go through that process and they did it all for us. Because of that I feel a very great sense of responsibility to help my parents as soon as I can, and I feel a responsibility generally towards my community.’
It is this feeling of debt to the greater community that acts as the glue to Maria and Patty’s relationship. How to give back to others what one has been given? To pass along a lineage of honor, respect, and dignity and promote the common good? These are the questions that Maria and Patty will spend the rest of their lives answering.
We are so excited to partner with SACNAS as part of the StoryCorps Historias initiative, and we look forward to recording more of their wonderful stories.
StoryCorps Door-to-Door travels all over the country recording the stories of everyday Americans; however, sometimes we prefer to stay right here in New York City. After all, this is the city of a million stories. Two weeks ago, we had the pleasure of recording some native New York stories with the 300 West Block Association of Chelsea. Mrs. Eleanor Horowitz, a long-time Chelsea resident, opened her home to other residents and StoryCorps for this recording day.
Although today Chelsea is thought of as a well-off part of Manhattan, this wasn’t always the case. When Eleanor and her husband moved into the neighborhood in the 1970s, her mother was horrified that the young couple would be living in a place that had garbage cans on the street. Eleanor’s interview partner, Marina, remembered that when she was growing up during that time, Chelsea was often the place people came to for illegal activity. Marina remembers how she and her friends knew which blocks to avoid when they went out. Despite the unsavory characters of the neighborhood, Chelsea was a place where neighbors knew one another and kids played outside. However, the neighborhood is changing.
Bidding a fond farewell to Los Angeles, MobileBooth West recently headed up and inland to Fresno, California. Nestled in the heart of the Central Valley, Fresno welcomed StoryCorps with some of its legendary greenery. Radio Bilingüe, our broadcast partner, greeted us with a bag of tangerines from the sound engineer’s tree. A farmers market bustled next door as MobileBooth West set up for a month of Historias recordings with Fresno’s Latino communities.
Our evening listening event was a hit. Hugo Morales and Lourdes Oliva Medina of Radio Bilingüe welcomed everyone to Arte Américas while our community partners-many accompanied by family and friends-introduced themselves.
Snacking on ceviche, taquitos, and aqua fresca, people settled into chairs as StoryCorps’ Anna Walters played some favorite clips from past StoryCorps conversations. Martin Pereyra López, representing the Union de Ex-Braceros e Inmigrantes, ended the evening with an unexpected concert, playing a song he wrote about his time as a bracero in the valley.
MobileBooth West couldn’t be happier to be in Fresno, where participants are sharing multigenerational stories of family, migration, education, the campo, and the Fresno that pulsed at the heart of California’s Chicano and Farm Workers movements.
Site Supervisor Whitney Henry-Lester and I recently took a day trip to the community of Kenner, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans, for a field recording at the Greenwalt Adult Day Health Center. First, Melba Dwyer was interviewed by caregiver Gaynell Bean. Melba talked about her husband, Louis, and their six children. The next pair of participants were Patricia Landry and her mother Marie Ayo. Marie talked about what it was like being married to a railroad section foreman and about the time her family lived in a box car, no doubt an early precursor to the MobileBooth! Carolyn McKnight interviewed her sister Eunice about her happiest moments, which included her baptism at age 18.
Caregiver Denise Hall used her interview as an opportunity to tell Lena Anderson just how much she appreciates Lena’s sense of humor and all the fun she brings to Greenwalt during her visits. Caregiver Roslyn Buggage accompanied Kathy Roland to her recording, which just happened to take place on Kathy’s 65th birthday. Finally, Becky Rousseau and her mother Doris rounded out the day with stories about Doris’ love of softball and how the sport not only kept her in great shape, but also led her to marry Elmo Rousseau, her former coach.
In early March, StoryCorps Atlanta spent a day recording stories of hope, redemption and service at City of Refuge, a neighborhood-based service center in the Vine City community of Atlanta. We had an opportunity to listen to some of the staff, volunteers, and residents while we were there. Based on the stories we heard and the people we met, City of Refuge assists the helped to become the helpers.
“It’s a privilege to be in this space and place and do what I do,” says Dr. Charles Moore, who heads the free clinic at City of Refuge. Dr. Moore and his research advisee, Sheri Davis-Faulkner, were one of the six pairs to share their stories at City of Refuge. As a physician treating patients with head and neck cancers, Dr. Moore grew frustrated that by the time he saw patients, they had few treatment options left. He kept thinking, “Somebody needs to do something to help these patients.” One day he thought, “Maybe that person is supposed to be me.”
As a young girl, Sheri studied ballet from ages 3-13 and her ballet instructors told her she needed to lose weight. Her baby-sitters armed Sheri with the self-confidence to “decide what my body looked like and not to feel like I needed to fight my body.” As part of her doctoral research, Sheri wanted to help middle and high school students in urban food deserts (locations with limited access to whole foods and fresh fruits and vegetables). She needed a site that would agree to provide space for her field research on childhood obesity and body image.
On February 10th, StoryCorps San Francisco paid a return call to St. Anthony Foundation, deep in the heart of the City’s Tenderloin neighborhood. St. Anthony’s responds to the needs of poor and low income people and has done so for the past six decades. By providing for basic needs like food, clothing and healthcare, the Foundation’s programs are a gateway for people to take significant steps toward a more stable life.
Our previous visit was arranged by StoryCorps Facilitator Alex Lyon, who also works at the Tenderloin Tech Lab. Every year the Lab aids nearly one thousand homeless and low income clients to overcome barriers to accessing technology. (Check out Alex’s Post from 10/19/09)
For our second day of recordings at the St. Anthony Foundation, Alex coordinated with Lydia Bransten of Guest Services, who helps to manage the dining room at the Foundation. At noontime each day, a meal is served to hundreds of neighborhood people. It was among this group that Lydia selected the day’s StoryCorps participants.
Barbara Andrews came to StoryCorps to do something slightly different than most people do. Instead of having a conversation with a loved one, Barbara used her 40 minutes to record a letter in sound to her granddaughter, Megan. Barbara began, “Megan, when you were a little girl, you always wanted me to tell you a story about when I was a girl. This is the way I remember it.”
Our playhouse was the body of an old Model-T Ford. We put water in the radiator and could turn a little spigot so we had running water. This house was like Laura Ingalls Wilder. There was no electricity or running water, so you know the kind of bathroom we had.
Barbara spoke about meeting her husband, George, and having a large family. Toward the end of the recording, Barbara started to talk about “the old brown house at Bass Lake.” Barbara and George lived in the house for more than 50 years and raised many children and grandchildren there. To her, it was “a paradise.” But after the kids moved away and George died, the house was different.
Now the old brown house is really quiet. There are no longer sounds of laughter or fighting or playing or babies crying. There’s nobody singing and no more sounds of cooking or cleaning in anticipation of coming company. But then when I am really quiet in my own heart, I begin to hear those beautiful sounds again. I hear the creaking of the old rocking chair where I sat and held sick babies. I can hear the soft sounds of Grandpa George as he attempts to get ready to leave for work without waking me.
As Barbara got older, it became harder for her to stay at the old brown house, and recently, she decided to move into town.
After all those years it was really hard to leave the old brown house at beautiful Bass Lake. But with the love and support of my family and friends, I find myself very content in the little white house which we are busy filling with many good memories.
On opening day in New Orleans, Patti Adams, flutist for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, told her husband, percussionist Jim Atwood, why she loves New Orleans. “It celebrates the senses on a daily basis. It’s so interesting to live here.”
Jim agreed. “New Orleans is a great place if you like art, architecture, history, food, or music.”
“And great people!” Patti chimed in. “It’s filled with great, interesting, wonderful, loving people. And that’s what life’s all about.”
The MobileBooth East staff couldn’t agree more.
StoryCorps last visited the great city of New Orleans in May of 2006, just 8 months after devastating Hurricane Katrina slammed the southern coast of the United States. Now, five years later, the MobileBooth has returned for 5 weeks of recording, hoping to collect 150 stories of all varieties. The MobileBooth is parked outside of the National World War II Museum until April 17th. We are happy to be partnering with WWNO, Common Ground, Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Center, Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, Edible Schoolyard, Puentes New Orleans, and the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, among many others.
I was finishing up my last days in the New York City offices in early January before shipping out for our East Los Angeles Historias stop, when I received a phone call from Shifra Teitelbaum, director of a youth organization in South Los Angeles named “youTHink.” She was interested in getting her youth involved in Historias, our initiative to collect stories from Latinos. After a few hours, we had made a plan to record for a day at Southern California Library — a people’s library dedicated to documenting and preserving the histories of communities in struggle for justice.
Recently those plans became a reality. At the library, students from youTHink came with family members and friends to talk about their experiences living in Los Angeles. Iabeth Briones came with his brother, Eliseo Monclova, and talked about the time he spent living on the streets with his mother. (more…)
As part of an ongoing collaboration with MoCADA (the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts), New York City StoryBooth staff completed a day of recording in the basement of the building that is home to both StoryCorps and the museum in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. Curator Dexter Wimberly worked with StoryCorps to bring in a diverse group of artists to talk about their work, life, and inspirations, which led to the opening of the exhibition “The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks” at MoCADA on February 4th.
While I was away, super StoryBooth interns Charlotte Okie and Liam Pierce attended the event to work the crowd, dish about StoryCorps, snap a few photos and take names.