StoryCorps San Francisco kicked off National Teachers Initiative interviews this fall with a unique and innovative Bay Area high school, Downtown College Preparatory. DCP is a public charter school in San Jose, California whose educators work closely with students and their families to promote academic excellence and to develop the self-confidence and community support they’ll need to succeed in college and beyond. The school prepares students – most of whom are first-generation Americans and will be first-generation college students – to thrive at four-year universities. They do this through a singular goal set for each student: DCP students must gain admittance to a four-year academic institution before graduating from high school.
StoryCorps Atlanta set up recording equipment at the Michael A. Grant Boys and Girls Club in Austell, Georgia to record conversations between young men, their families, and mentors through 100 Black Men of North Metro, Inc.
Today, the dropout rate for African-American boys in urban environments can be as high as seventy percent, and more African-American men are incarcerated or in the criminal justice system than were enslaved in 1850. With this in mind, 100 Black Men of America’s national chapters serve a vital role in the African-American community, helping families navigate the challenges posed by neighborhoods burdened with drugs, crime, and scarce resources.
Earlier this year, StoryCorps Atlanta headed to the Mainstreet Community Services Association, Inc. to record the conversations of residents who have staked out their piece of the Mainstreet Community legacy. Community Association Manager Nadine Rivers-Johnson organized a successful on-site recording day in the community’s clubhouse, rolling out the red carpet for the StoryCorps team.
Located less than five miles from the historic Stone Mountain Park, Dekalb County’s Mainstreet Community is a residential community that was developed based on the tenets of the Greenpeace Movement of the early 1970′s. Today, the Mainstreet Community vigorously guards its proud heritage even as it charts a new path into the twenty-first century.
In early December StoryCorps Facilitator Kevin Oliver and I made our way to East Salinas, California to visit Sherwood Elementary School and collect stories for the National Teacher’s Initiative. There, we met educators who enjoy their work and shared what it’s like to teach children whose parents are often migrant workers. Fact is, some of the educators we talked to also have parents who are/were migrant workers, and in the case of teacher Gloria Baker, once worked in the fields themselves.
This fall, San Francisco’s St. Anthony Foundation celebrated 60 years of providing food, shelter, clothing, and health services to much of the city’s homeless population. The day kicked off with a Hope Rally on the steps of City Hall and finished with a BBQ Block Party in the heart of the city’s Tenderloin District. StoryCorps San Francisco was there to share some of the many stories we’ve recorded with St. Anthony’s community for the past three years.
On the eve of the fifteenth anniversary of Atlanta’s Black Gay Pride weekend, StoryCorps Atlanta partnered with the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History to host, Pride and Community: Preserving the Black LGBTQ Experience. Since opening its recording booth in Atlanta two years ago, StoryCorps Atlanta has captured and archived hundreds of stories from the African-American community, and many of the participants who have come into the booth are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender or queer. This evening was an opportunity to celebrate the lives and stories of Atlanta’s Black LGBTQ community and discuss why it’s important for its members to preserve their stories.
StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled to the City of Roses to record stories of the area’s teachers for our National Teachers Initiative. While in Portland, StoryCorps Facilitator Gaspar Caro and I spent a day at a middle school operated by Self Enhancement, Inc., which has grown from an after-school basketball camp into an agency that serves thousands of students. The next day, we drove down the street to Jefferson High School, where we spent two days recording the stories of teachers who have participated in the Oregon Writing Project at Lewis & Clark. OWP trains teachers to help their students explore and gain a critical understanding of the world through writing.
Two OWP teachers we met were Chrysanthius Lathan and her former professor, Thomas McKenna. According to Chrysanthius, she began standing up for herself in class as a result of her brief interaction with Tom six years ago.
In Indianapolis, Indiana, Dan Taylor, who is affiliated with Teach Plus Indianapolis, recorded a StoryCorps interview with Aaron Wallace, 13. Aaron was Dan’s student at the Tindley School last school year. At Tindley, Aaron and other students attended Saturday school with Dan whenever he thought they needed extra attention.
Dan and Aaron talked about Dan’s teaching, which Aaron says is “strict but fun.” Dan confessed that he tries to emulate the teaching style of his 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Lewis, who sang and danced in her classroom. Dan says that with Mrs. Lewis, “every day in the classroom felt like an educational Mardi Gras.”
Toward the end of their interview, Aaron told his former teacher of the difference his methods have made in his life. Aaron used to have trouble with reading and writing, but teachers like Dan have helped him make progress. Aaron recalled Saturdays spent in Dan’s classroom playing learning games, which have fueled his desire to become an engineer. Dan told Aaron that “caring and work make a great classroom.”
StoryCorps Facilitator Gaspar Caro and I traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, as part of the National Teacher’s Initiative to record the stories of public school teachers and students in the area. St. Louis is one of 20 cities participating in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s American Graduate Initiative, a multifaceted initiative focused on building the knowledge, understanding, collaboration and resources required to improve high school graduation rates.
We had the pleasure of spending one day at Shearwater High School, an alternative school that helps students attain their high school diplomas and prepares them for college. Walking through the hallways of Shearwater, you are greeted with hand-painted signs of uplifting messages, like “Life is what you make it.” It is a place where young people who have faced serious obstacles in their education come for a second chance.
StoryCorps’ National Teacher Initiative took me and my co-facilitator, Naomi Greene, to St. Louis, Missouri, to record with public school teachers. During our stay, Gateway Institute of Technology High School Principal Beth Bender recorded with her friend, co-worker, and fellow teacher, Amy Horton.
After sharing stories about her childhood and school day memories, Beth broached the elephant in many classrooms and school hallways: sexual orientation. In doing so, she described the importance of strong student-staff relationships and the challenges she has faced as a principal who is also a lesbian.
Facilitator Yazmín Peña and I traveled to Chicago, Illinois, to visit The New Teacher Project, where we recorded stories of new and experienced teachers of Chicago Public Schools. Among our recent StoryCorps recruits was Arelys Villeda, who invited her former 8th-grade teacher, George Drase, to participate in a conversation.
To kick off their talk, George asked Arelys why she became a teacher. She smiled coyly at her former teacher and said, “I’ve always loved school supplies.”
But of course, there is more to the story than that.
The Record Street Home in Frederick, Maryland, is a very special place. In continuous operation for over a century, this home for older women was established in a three-story red brick house just steps from the town hall that President Abraham Lincoln visited after the Civil War. Today, the 19 residents of Record Street Home participate in a thriving community where, according to resident Eloise Grove, age 83, they “are waited on hand and foot.”
Board members at the Record Street Home contribute to that loving care. Every year, board members are matched as “Big Sisters” to individual residents, and over the years these pairs have developed close friendships. Several “Little Sisters,” all in their 80′s and 90′s, were interviewed by their Record Street “Big Sisters” during StoryCorps Door-to-Door’s visit on Veteran’s Day. Most of these conversations focused on the women’s experiences and memories of World War II.
Amidst a sea of young adult books, language arts textbooks, and teachers from all parts of Florida, two English teachers sat down for conversations with the mentor-professors who trained them in graduate school. They came to record their stories for StoryCorps’ National Teachers’ Initiative, which celebrates the brilliant and courageous work of teachers around the country. StoryCorps partnered with the Florida Council of Teachers of English (FCTE) to record for two days at its annual conference in Orlando, Florida.
Cari L. Sadler, who had just completed her seventh week as a teacher, interviewed Joan F. Kaywell, her professor at the University of South Florida (USF) College of Education. Joan told Cari about her relationship with her mentor, Ted Hipple, and described the Ted Hipple Young Adult Literature Collection, a collection of autographed YA books that she started to honor Ted after his death. Cari pointed out that Joan honors Ted the most by passing onto her students the support and respect that he gave to her. Cari confessed that while Joan intimidated her early on, she is now inspired to maintain academic rigor by Joan’s example and teaching.
Middle Tennessee State University commemorated its centennial by hosting StoryCorps in Murfreesboro, TN, during homecoming. John Harris and Laurie Witherow, friends and coworkers at MTSU, recorded an interview during our visit.
John was born blind and still has limited sensitivity to light. Growing up in Munford, TN, near Memphis, his family did not know of a school for children who were blind. So, John spent most of his early childhood and pre-adolescent days playing in the front yard with his grandfather. They listened to Brooklyn Dodgers games over the radio together, and John followed the sportscaster’s descriptions while he pitched rocks to himself, swinging at them with a broomstick. When it connected with the rock, John finished out the play and took bases along with the Dodger hitters on the broadcast.
Tom and Jean Gaunt recorded a StoryCorps interview in Indianapolis, Indiana, in partnership with The New Teacher Project and Indianapolis Teaching Fellows. Jean shared that teaching had been a lifelong interest she put off while raising a family. At 55 years old, though, she realized that her experience raising their children and foster children was a crucial asset in her goal of becoming a teacher.
When Jean was accepted by ITF, she worried that she would not connect with her mostly African-American, special education students. However, during her first year year in the classroom, Jean quickly learned the power of playfulness on her students.
When Hillery Rink booked a StoryCorps appointment to talk with his partner Sean Rindge about how they met, little did he know that the two would help StoryCorps Atlanta mark an important occasion, also: the 1,000th interview in our booth at WABE.
Hillery had two strong reasons for wanting to visit StoryCorps. “I wanted to document some of our stories for us to have when we got older and our memories started getting foggy. I also felt it was important for people to hear that how two gay men met and started their life-long relationship isn’t that different from how millions of straight people do the same thing.”
Sean, his partner, told us, “I was intrigued, albeit a bit hesitant, by Hillery’s suggestion to do the interview. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to talk for the full length of the time, but we know how that turned out.” The pair talked for 40 minutes and covered events from just their first few years together.
Sean had made personal recordings of his grandmother several years ago, and “the response from the family who got recorded copies of our talk was overwhelming.” This time, too, family and friends have requested copies of their StoryCorps CD, which Hillery and Sean plan to share. Says Sean, “It really is true that everyone has something to say, and it isn’t just our established writers who should have a lock on it.” Hillery adds, “In this sometimes contentious culture we live in now, I think it is important to remind each other of how we all are much more alike than we are different. StoryCorps is a great way for us to spread that word.”
While our peers in Brooklyn, New York prepared for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Facilitator Mariel Gruszko and I traveled to Dearborn, Michigan to record a different group of 9/11 voices. StoryCorps Door-to-Door partnered with the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), a non-profit organization committed to advocacy and empowerment, to record the stories of Arab and Muslim Americans.
We heard from a variety of community activists, family members, and friends who talked about how their lives changed after 9/11 and how they worked to build bridges in their communities in the 10 years since the event. The slideshow includes photos of StoryCorps participants and the Arab American National Museum, where they shared their stories.
StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit Levine Children’s Hospital for three recording days. During these days we had the opportunity to listen to the stories of current and former patients and their parents, as well as hospital staff.
We set up our recording equipment in the hospital’s Family Resource Center and listened to stories of resilience and hope. Children came in to talk about what it felt like to confront death and spoke of how the strength of their families and friends helped them through. They spoke of finding fun and laughter inside the hospital walls. Hospital staff talked about being the support of parents and children, of how the babies of strangers become their own. They recalled falling in love with babies and experiencing the loss of them along with their parents without losing sight of the other children that still needed care.
Often, a StoryCorps interview is just a starting point for other conversations. Forty minutes in the MobileBooth has a tendency to get the conversational juices flowing. Luckily, on September 6th, our Opening Day in Tacoma, WA at the Museum of Glass with our local radio station partner Northwest Public Radio, there were waterside surroundings, hor d’oeuvres, and people on hand to swap tales–inside and outside of the MobileBooth.
Inside the Booth, Jack Creighton shared stories with Jimmy Collins of his years as a Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army (CASA). He recalls meeting with one soldier at Walter Reed Hospital. The young man was slated to lose his right leg, but, he said to Jack, “My left leg is gonna be ok.” Jack reflects, “He said that with maturity that just overwhelmed me. It was not ‘woe is me’–it was a very positive response, and really emotionally triggered me.”
On August 21st, StoryCorps kicked-off it’s two-week Historias Mobile Tour stop in Pasco, WA. Historias is an initiative to record, preserve, and share the stories of Latinos across the US and has become one of the largest collections of Latino voices in the country. This was our second tour stop in Tri-Cities, following three weeks of recordings with Northwest Public Radio. For our two week Historias set of interviews, we partnered with Radio La Campesina 96.3 FM (this is the first time we partner with a Spanish Language radio station during our MobileTour) and the Pasco Public Library continued to be our site host.
Felipe Tapia and his wife, Cody Mains-Tapia, came during Opening Week to share the story of how they met. Felipe was born in Mexico City, and though he had fond memories that brought a smile to his face, he talked about having a very difficult childhood, surrounded by violence, and learning to fight and defend himself at an early age.
Yearning for a change in his life, he looked towards a new horizon and came to the U.S to join his mother. During his interview, Felipe talked about how, soon after coming here, he discovered that it was not quite the “paradise” his mother would speak of. He had to work in the fields and that, along with the language barrier made for a challenging transition. He needed an escape from his newfound struggles, and found it in dancing. As it happened, it was during one of these outings that Felipe’s life took a turn, and her name was Cody.