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.”