As part of StoryCorps ongoing Military Voices Iniative and in partnership with The Service Project, participants Major Amy McGrath and Major Tegan Owen talk about being Marines and one of the first women in combat (McGrath).
She recalls watching a documentary as a 12 year old girl in Kentucky that inspired her to fly air craft carrier fighter jets. There McGrath’s journey began. There were obstacles. After learning of the combat exclusion law she wrote letters to her local congressman, senator and house armed services committee members, asking them to change the law so that she could fulfill her dream to be a fighter pilot. None of them said she could be a pilot, one said there were a lot of other jobs in the military that she could pursue, perhaps nursing. The dream carried her to the Naval Academy. Good fortune followed McGrath there. At the end of 1993 congress repealed the combat exclusion law, opening many of the jobs that had previously excluded women. After graduation from the academy, she was commissioned as a Marine and began flight school. She became the first woman Marine aviator to fly in Afghanistan.
“A lot of people ask me if it’s harder being a woman flying? I don’t think it is. I just try to take it in stride”.
She continued, “what the guys were looking for is ‘what does she do when she fails?’ Once they found out that I’m gonna pick up and learn from that mistake and move on and do better next time, they were ok. There is pressure but you just have to know about it and deal with it”.
As part of our ongoing Military Voices Initiative, StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled to the Human Rights Campaign Headquarters in Washington, DC to record stories in partnership with the Military Partners and Families Coalition (MPFC), a non-profit that provides support, advocacy, education and outreach for partners and children of LGBT service members — including families of service members on active duty, in the reserves, national guard, and veterans.
During our stay in DC, I met Allyson Robinson, who came to StoryCorps with her wife Danyelle and shared her story of coming out as a transgender woman and, in her own words, eventually living a life with honesty reflecting who she truly is.
Allyson, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, spoke about having to suppress her feelings of who she really was throughout her Military career. During her time at West Point, she said she was in denial and would overwork to suppress her needs to express herself as a woman and felt guilty whenever she did. “I lied and I hid a lot. I kept a suitcase inside another suitcase in a a trunk room at West Point where I would keep some clothes and make up,” she said.
Allyson spoke about contemplating suicide as the only way out before realizing she had to “live life with honesty, quit fighting and just be,” she added. This is when she decided to come out to her wife, who she was married to since 1994, and their four children.
Her wife, Danyelle, talked about what went through her mind as her then husband came out to her as a transgender woman. ” I remember being bewildered and knowing it was better to know, but at that point I didn’t know what it meant. There were questions out there that I didn’t know”.
Danyelle said she admired Allyson’s honesty and stood by her side. “I let time work through all of the questions and details.” She explained how their four kids were accepting and how easy they took it. “They were wonderful, they were the easiest part.”
Allyson explained what she feared the most through the years, which was to lose her family, did not happen after she came out and how glad she is of it. She took the opportunity to thank her wife for sticking by her side throughout the difficult transition.
In 2012, after serving four years as first Deputy Director for Employee Programs at Human Rights Campaign, Allyson Robinson became the executive director of OutServe-SLDN, a leading advocacy organization serving active-duty LGBT members of the military and veterans. She lives in Maryland with her wife and four children.
American writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell once said that “the job of an educator is to teach students to see the vitality in themselves.” When StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled to our nation’s capital as part of StoryCorps’ National Teacher’s Initiative, we met those very educators, the the men and women who dedicate themselves to the teaching profession and the positive impact they make on our education system. We partnered with District of Columbia Public Schools, who invited a few of its public school teachers and students to record stories of how their passion and creativity inspire young people to learn and grow in the classroom. Lisa Jones was one of those teachers.
Last month, StoryCorps Door-to-Door once again visited our nation’s capital. This time, Facilitator Susan Lee and I had the privilege of recording stories at the American Library Association’s annual conference. JoAnn Jonas (L) and Lisa Von Drasek (R) are two lovely ladies who shared with us why they love their jobs as librarians.
Lisa inspired Jo Ann to become a librarian, and she used the StoryCorps interview to ask her mentor, Lisa, about what had inspired her to become a librarian. Lisa remembers meeting the Coordinator of Children’s Work at the Brooklyn Public Library. After speaking with Lisa about her love of children’s books, she suggested Lisa explore becoming a children’s librarian. Within one month of that conversation, Lisa quit her job at a prestigious publishing company, landed a job as a librarian trainee and began her graduate work at Pratt Institute in library sciences. Of her first week working in the library, Lisa says, “I remember feeling comfortable immediately. I remember thinking that ‘this is what I was meant to do.’”
So, why do Lisa and Jo Ann love their jobs? As Lisa says, “A kid who is looking to build a model rocket and the kid who is looking for information about spiders…to be the person there for them at that moment and to know that that individual is growing and changing. The ability to be in that position, that’s why I love my job. Every minute is different. Every minute is changing. It’s always a surprise. By the end of the day, I could never have predicted what happened.”
Thank you Lisa, JoAnn and the thousands of librarians around the country who help us all learn and grow!
The Latin American Youth Center, (LAYC) Art & Media House is the perfect place for a creative teen. Picture this: the school day is over and you can head to a building that serves as Art Gallery, Recording Studio, Computer Lab, has a basketball hoop out back, a yard big enough for you to garden in, and a room full of musical instruments. All that AND there’s some popcorn while you hang out with your friends in the kitchen? Yep! Perfect.
StoryCorps Door-to-Door made an Historias stop in Washington, DC and the Art & Media House served as one of our local partners, letting us use their amazing recording studio for two recording days, as well as helping us celebrate the Historias Initiative at their Art Gallery. There we had the opportunity to meet some very talented youth. Among them were Jefferson, a filmmaker, Joel, a photographer, and Shannon (also known as Lady Limelight), a poet. These teens shared with us their talent and hopes, with Lady Limelight gracing the attendees of the Historias celebration by reciting one of her poems about the impact of gentrification in D.C. During his StoryCorps interview, Joel talked about all the Dominican delicacies his grandma cooks, and about how the food helped him connect with a country he’s never visited. In his part, Jefferson spoke about his fascination with horror and suspense movies, about how they instilled in him the desire to direct, and how relevant to everyday life they can be. StoryCorps had the chance to record the voices of these youth, right as they are preparing to create goals for themselves and to discover who they are. The Art & Media House encourages them to discover their true self through art, in its many forms.
Brookland is a neighborhood in northeast Washington, D.C. and is home to Catholic University (not to be confused with Brooklyn, New York, the home of StoryCorps). Brookland was also home to two brothers, David and Eric Toatley, in the 1950s. They came to StoryCorps to record their memories of the neighborhood.
“My parents moved [to Brookland] in 1946 and got the house on the G.I. Bill. And the blessing that I am showed up in 1947,” said David. His younger brother, Eric, quickly added, “And they improved it in 1951 when I showed up!”
Eric remembered Brookland as a diverse, middle-class neighborhood that was a great place to grow up. “Every house on the block had two or three kids, if not more, so you had plenty of playmates. You could just go from house to house all day long until the street lights came on and it was time to go home.”
On Sunday, January 18, StoryCorps Door-to-Door had the pleasure of recording stories for Every Child Matters at their first-ever Children’s Inaugural Ball in Washington, DC. This free, kid-friendly event gave children the chance to celebrate and welcome our new president, and featured live music, arts and crafts, interactive exhibits, play areas, and a story-time stage. Parents and children from all over the country were in attendance, including members of Congress with their families.
Michael Petit, Founder and President of Every Child Matters, kicked off the recording day in an interview with his daughter Nicole (pictured below). Michael talked about how his parents taught him to value education, hard work, and compassion. He was proud to be the first to attend college in his family, where learning about government and the effects of poverty in the U.S. led him to embrace politics as a vehicle for change. He founded Every Child Matters because, “if politicians aren’t friends of children, they shouldn’t hold office.” We’re glad to say everyone we met on Sunday was a friend to children, and we’re honored to help preserve and share their stories!
We volunteered to go to war
–took games to the troops to make them smile
and were all the world like the girl next door
with a touch of home for a little while.
From “Where Can I Find Them?” by J. Holley Watts
We have all heard about the Vietnam War. Some have lived through it and some, like me, have only seen it in films like Apocalypse Now and Platoon. We are familiar with the voices of the men who bravely served, but what about the women? I had the unique opportunity to talk with and listen to the stories of American women who served alongside their countrymen in a war far from home.
Opened in 1921 by Founder Duncan Phillips, Washington, D.C.’s Phillips Collection is America’s oldest museum of modern art, and during our visit we toured the museum’s extensive collection that is still mostly housed in its founder’s 1897 Georgian Revival home. What makes The Now so special for the museum is that its walls are now the temporary home of African-American artist Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series. Told through vivid patterns and brilliant colors, Lawrence’s series is the first to narrate the 20th-century exodus of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North. The Phillips Collection only owns the odd numbers of Lawrence’s series, but for the first time in years the entire 60-panel series is on view at the museum until October 26, 2008.
On their way to a picnic beneath the famous D.C. cherry blossoms, immigration lawyer Miriam Riedmiller stopped by the booth with her mother, Avelina Bustamante, and her “favorite intern,” Elizabeth Olsen. Hats on, the ladies talked about the Filipino customs they maintain at the office–including sitting down to eat traditional food at lunch time and Mrs. Bustamante having her own office in her daughter’s practice. When Mrs. Bustamante is not helping clients, she glues beads on everything in sight- not even the umbrellas are safe.
In the words of Sir Francis Bacon, “Knowledge is power,” and what better place to find such knowledge than on the 530 miles of bookshelves lining the Library of Congress.
The MobileBooth sits quietly in front of the Jefferson Building of the library, where 10,000 StoryCorps recordings are housed at the American Folklife Center. Facilitators Nick Pumilia and Sarah Geis were so taken by the largest library in the world that they took a time-out from recording oral histories to read up on “Folklife and Fieldwork” in both English and Spanish.
And we found that knowledge and power unite when facilitator Mitra Bonshahi interviewed Congressman Earl Blumenauer about his love of the library, especially the Members of Congress Reading Room. In the members’ room, the Congressman is able to loosen his bow tie and absorb the beauty of the seven panels lining the ceiling, each representing a phase of achievement in humanity.
What more can we say then to look back once again to wise words of Francis Bacon, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” We’ll eat to that, Sir Bacon!
Anticipating trouble on the Hill, facilitator Mitra Bonshahi joins the tour in Washington, DC, to lend a hand. The facilitators proposed that all StoryCorps interviews be conducted without actually recording anything, or taking notes, but were advised to return to the regular format. When asked to explain their involvement in the project, they pled the fifth.
On the footsteps of the Capitol, Principal Griot LeAlan Jones welcomed the press to the national launch of the StoryCorps Griot INITIATIVE.
Esteemed Congressman Charles B. Rangel kicked off the morning’s remarks. Mr. Rangel was followed by StoryCorps’ fearless leader Dave Isay, CPB President Patricia Harrison, and NMAAHC Deputy Director Kinshasa Holman Conwill.
Before heading out of town for the next chocolate city, the Griot team stopped off at the D.C. staple Ben’s Chili Bowl. Known for famous clientele like Bill Cosby, the hot dog joint has been honored with the naming of the alley adjacent to the building: Ben Ali Way. Ironically, we had a celebrity sighting while we were in the restaurant when Mr. Cosby himself stopped in for his favorite chili half-smoke!
Photos courtesy Rob Lowell
StoryCorps leaves the nation’s capital and embarks on a second year of touring the country. Next stop for this mobile booth: Pittsburgh, PA.
Joseph Galindo and France Sundt after their StoryCorps interview.
Suzanne Joi and Toby Blome are amongst a group of mothers who have joined the organization Code Pink and converged on the nation’s capital for the month of May. They are here to protest the current war in Iraq. They came to our booth accompanied by a handful of fellow protesters. Eventually, they settled into our recording studio and shared their thoughts and feelings about the country. They also talked about the activities they have been engaging in during their stay in the capital.
Ryan Peavyhouse (above left) flew all the way from Atlanta for the day to have us record his grandfather’s storytelling. David Groy recounted many of his grandson’s favorite stories about serving in France during World War 2.
General Donald Scott (below left) asked his wife Betty to talk about what it was like for her to raise their boys whilst he was away fighting in Vietnam. William Taylor’s hopes to continue a military career were dashed when he contracted polio. He cherishes his memories of working in the military, on the Manhattan project in particular, but he also appreciates that the path he was forced to take allowed him to stay closer to his family.
Racquel Kelly says it helps her to talk about the morning of September 11th, 2001. She was sitting at her desk, in the Pentagon, when a plane crashed into the side of the building. Racquel says she is a different person now. Coping with her survival is not always easy but her son and the love she feels for him remains her main source of strength as it was when she was physically recovering from the injuries she sustained during the attack.
When Connie Carter first came to work at the Library of Congress in 1965, librarians wore white gloves. Although much has changed since then, Connie’s love for the institution has endured. Connie hopes to continue working as a reference librarian until 2020 and plans to come back for a StoryCorps interview to celebrate her retirement then! In fact, Connie has already returned to our StoryBooth: She surprised facilitators Justina Mejias and Nadja Middleton with a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Thanks Connie!
Melvin Watt is one of a number of Representatives to Congress that decided to visit our StoryBooth. He talked to his cousin Geneva Melissa Williamson about his childhood and his trajectory from schoolboy to attorney to politician. The two cousins also talked extensively about their family’s traditional reunions where relatives have been swapping stories for generations and oral history is eagerly embraced by the youngest family members.