Last month, StoryCorps Facilitator Mitra Bonshahi and I went to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY, to visit El Puente, a community organization that – through the engagement in the arts, education, scientific research, wellness, and environmental action – promotes leadership for peace and justice. There, we set up a Door-to-Door recording day, where youth from the El Puente Scholars program had the opportunity to talk with El Puente founders, leaders, and artists about their experiences in the community and their visions for the future. The El Puente Scholars program is a holistic internship program for high school, college, and out of school youth that builds leadership skills in addressing social justice issues within their community while gaining life management skills and self-empowerment through arts and culture.
The scholars present couldn’t have been more excited. Recording during an off-week for NYC Schools, they arrived early and some were just hanging out with their shoes off, comfortable to slide silently in the offices’ hardwood floors. Scholars Alex and Emmanuel had the chance to speak with one of El Puente’s founders, Eugenio “Gino” Maldonado, and eagerly listened to Gino speak of his first impression of Brooklyn after moving there at the age of 9 from Puerto Rico, and of how he became involved with El Puente.
Artist and teacher Juan Carlos Roselló spoke with Katia and Emmanuel about a Williamsburg that was once known as Los Sures, and about the evening his parents allowed him to stay up and watch Johnny Carson – an evening that changed his life since he was introduced to Chuck Berry and, as Juan Carlos put it, was thus introduced to “salvation.”
During their interview, Tina and Zuelay were able to learn from Joe Matunis about the many murals El Puente has helped with, and about Los Muralistas. During the afternoon slots, Nathalie and Patrick talked to Peter Miranda about Teatro El Puente, and the work that Peter does educating the community about HIV/AIDS. Eric, during his turn, had a chance to practice his Spanish skills by talking to Yazmin Borrero, who’s been part of the administrative staff at El Puente for years. The recording day ended with Jonathan and Rabel’s talk with Asenhat Gomez, who, as she described, arrived at El Puente as a teenager looking to become involved with her community and to practice her English and just never left. Asenhat is now the Program Director at El Puente’s Bushwick offices.
We had a wonderful recording day, and were lucky to see so many youth willing to learn from older generations – I’m left with the image of Katia, taking notes during her conversation with Juan Carlos, making sure she could look up the names of artists and places he was talking about. Can you think of someone you’d learn from? Like the El Puente scholars did, you should bring them in for a StoryCorps interview! Do it today!