The week of November 7-13, 2010, was Gay Pride week on the campus of Spelman College – one of Atlanta’s five HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities) that comprise the Atlanta University Center (AUC). And while Spelman sponsors the Pride activities, students from the other four institutions (Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, Morris Brown College and the Interdenominational Theological Center) are invited to participate. Spelman openly celebrates the lives and accomplishments of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and questioning (LGBTQIQ) students.
On October 15, 2010, the StoryCorps Atlanta team packed up its equipment and headed down to the Robert W. Woodruff Library – the library that serves the students of all the institutions and the heart of the AUC. By recording on neutral ground, students, faculty, and alumni were assured a certain degree of discretion. Jeshawna Wholley (pictured above) is President of Afrekete, the organization that serves and supports Spelman’s gay student body. She masterfully organized the recording for StoryCorps and enlisted the help of her Morehouse brother and friend, Daniel Edwards (pictured below), to recruit volunteers and interview participants.
From the beginning, Jeshawna was clear about wanting to host an evening of listening during Spelman’s Pride Week. Her belief that hearing the stories of real people tied in nicely with StoryCorps motto, “listening is an act of love.” On that evening, November 9, 2010, Jeshawna and her team played edited segments of the StoryCorps interviews interspersed with commentary from her and others who had recorded on October 15th. Many of the speakers not only shared poignant stories of coming out and of being out on the campus of an historically Black college or university, but also shared what their experience was like recording their story with StoryCorps. There were numerous testimonials about the importance of individuals recording her or his story with the knowledge that it might benefit someone else.
In the audience that evening were professors, high-level school administrators, community activists, and Georgia House of Representatives member Simone Bell, herself an out lesbian with a powerful story. In her speech, Bell challenged Jeshawna and Daniel to continue their activist work, despite sometimes feeling weary. She reminded them of the strong foundation they are building and upon which, because of them, others will be able to build even more.