Friendship – StoryCorps

18 Years After Katrina, A Grocer Rebuilds His Community One Shop at a Time

To mark StoryCorps’ 20th Anniversary we are revisiting classic conversations from the past two decades with updates from the participants.

This story is from New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. The neighborhood was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and was slow to recover. Almost 10 years after the storm it still didn’t have a single grocery store.

Lower Ninth Ward resident Burnell Cotlon wanted to change that. He saved money by working at fast food restaurants and dollar stores and used it to buy a dilapidated building on an empty block, and opened a neighborhood grocery. 

In 2015 he told his mother, Lillie, how his story started in the days after the flood…

 

Produce, snacks, and a picture of the building before it was renovated at ‘Burnell’s Lower Ninth Ward Market’, New Orleans, Louisiana. By Ian Spencer Cook for StoryCorps. Photo of original building courtesy of Daniel Schergen, who helped renovate it.

 

Burnell Cotlon and customers in his store in the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans, Louisiana in September, 2023. Courtesy of Burnell Cotlon.

 

Top Photo: Lillie Cotlon and Burnell Cotlon in front of Burnell’s store, ‘Burnell’s Lower Ninth Ward Market’ in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 19, 2015. By Ian Spencer Cook for StoryCorps.

 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired September 22nd, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

First story aired on August 8th, 2015 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

This story is featured in Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, a collection that celebrates the passion, determination, and courage it takes to pursue the work we feel called to do from Penguin Books.

In the Midst of a Shooting, Two Strangers Play an Important Role in Each Other’s Lives

 

In April of 2022, a gunman wearing a gas mask dropped smoke grenades on the floor of a New York City subway car and opened fire on the passengers, resulting in the injury of 29 people. As the car pulled into the next station, passengers fled, and chaos ensued.

Mayra Kalisch and Eric Acevedo, strangers who had never met despite living two blocks from each other, were there to witness the aftermath.

What happened in the next few minutes forged a special bond between them, but also sent them down different paths in the months that followed.

Top photo: Mayra Kalisch and Eric Acevedo at their StoryCorps interview in New York City on May 11, 2023. Courtesy of Brett Tubin.
Middle photo: Mayra Kalisch and Eric Acevedo pose at the 45th Street Station in Brooklyn, New York where they first met in 2022. Courtesy of Eric Acevedo.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired August 25th, 2023 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

 

 

“You Are Seriously Fearless”: A Niece Thanks Her Favorite Aunt For Her Wisdom and Friendship

Menaja Obinali was born in 1948 and grew up in Franklin, a small Louisiana town. She was one of eleven children, and loved dancing, reading and making art as a teenager. One day an unexpected event shifted the course of Menaja’s life.

Undaunted, Menaja went on to get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and later moved to Dallas to get a master’s degree in theology. That’s when she moved in with her sister Connie and 5-year-old niece, Jarie.

Jarie, who still lives in Dallas, interviewed Menaja for StoryCorps when the Mobile Tour passed through in 2014.

Photo: Jarie Bradley and Menaja Obinali at their first StoryCorps interview in Dallas, Texas on December 13, 2014. By Callie Thuma for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired June 23, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

‘Your Heart is On Protein Powder:’ Reflections On Love and Family

 

Mason Best seems to have a lot on his mind. At 12 years old, he already has a lot of thoughts on life and love. Mason came to StoryCorps at his local Boys Club in Queens, NY. 

Roseann Smith and Mason Best on New Year’s Day 2023. Courtesy of Roseann Smith.

He decided to invite his mom, Roseann Smith, to sit down for a conversation. The duo got right to the serious stuff.

 

Top Photo: Mason Best and Roseann Smith at their StoryCorps interview in Queens, New York on March 25, 2023. By Julia Kirschenbaum for StoryCorps.

This recording was made possible by a partnership with The Boys’ Club of New York.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, the National Endowment for the Arts, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Originally aired April 28, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Mile in Her Shoes: How A Polio Survivor Forged Her Own Path

Shirley Duhart and her three younger brothers were raised by a single mom in Vine City, Georgia: a segregated, poverty-stricken area at the time. She contracted polio when she was 2 years old, just five years before the vaccine was released. Undaunted, she went on to have a successful career in the tech industry, and to mentor youth on how to navigate college and the corporate world.

Shirley Duhart on the Emory University campus in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1990s.

And Shirley has always defined herself in her own terms, evident in the way she dresses. While her doctors recommended she wear flat, well-balanced shoes, Shirley has been wearing pumps since she was thirteen. She came to StoryCorps with her longtime friend and doctor, Dale Strasser, to talk about why her shoes mean so much to her.

Shirley Duhart and Dale Strasser at their StoryCorps in Atlanta, Georgia on January 17, 2023.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Originally aired April 21, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Pulled Into A Historic Flash Flood, One Man Saves A Stranger’s Life

In September 2009, after several days of heavy rain, the Atlanta metropolitan area suffered intense flash flooding. The catastrophic event killed 10 people and caused millions of dollars in damage. Sweetwater Creek, in Douglasville, was the site of some of the most devastating damage. 

Zack Stephney was 37 years old at the time, and working as a shop foreman at a large trucking company near Douglasville, which was located next to the floodplain. That morning, he rushed to work to help his fellow mechanics move the company’s semi trucks away from the rising waters and out of harm’s way.

A couple of months after the flash flood, he came to StoryCorps with his friend Melissa Brooks to remember the unique circumstances of how they met that day.


Zack Stephney’s coworkers assisting him as he swam out to rescue Melissa Brooks. Photo courtesy of Zack Stephney.

 

Top Photo: Melissa Brooks and Zack Stephney at the site of her rescue in December of 2009. Photo courtesy of Zack Stephney.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired April 7, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

The Facebook Post That Led To A Kidney Donation: “You messaged me. And you didn’t know me”

It was 2014, when Kim Pratt was suddenly rushed to the ER. She remembers feeling too weak to stand and was soon diagnosed with septic phenomena. Doctor’s told Kim’s family it was unlikely she would live another 48 hours, and they placed her in a medically induced coma.

But Kim survived and woke up two weeks later.

“The room was full of medical people, and they were discussing how Mrs. Pratt had her dialysis treatment today for five hours. And I was saying to myself, ‘What is dialysis and who are these people?’” she remembers.

That was the moment when Kim first learned her kidneys were failing, and she would need to spend the next five years on dialysis. A long and arduous process, she received three treatments per week, leaving little time for anything else. “When I became sick, everything stopped. I was pretty much a full time dialysis patient,” she said.

All the while she held out hope that she’d find a willing donor.

Middle Photo: The bumper sticker and flier Kim created in 2018 to help her find a potential kidney donor. Courtesy of Kim Pratt.

“It’s an interesting thing when you find yourself needing an organ,” said Kim. “It’s not something you can go rent or buy. You have to rely on the unconditional kindness of another human being.”

Kim came to StoryCorps with her friend, CJ Johnston, to remember what happened next.

Top Photo: Kim Pratt and CJ Johnston at their StoryCorps interview in West Warwick, RI on April 8, 2022. By Eleanor Vassili for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired March 24th, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

The Women Behind The Men – James Brown’s Backing Singers Look Back on Life’s Choices

As a kid growing up in the late 1950s, Sandra Bears used to sit at the top of her basement steps, and watch her older brother’s singing group practice. She and her girlfriends decided they wanted to do the same thing, so they started their own group.

By the time they got to Roosevelt High School, in Washington, D.C., they were recording songs together. One day, they held an audition for a new member, and that’s when they met 16-year-old Martha Harvin. She hit her first note in harmony with the girls… and the rest is history.

3 out of 4 of the members of the girl group “The Jewels” (Sandra Bears, Grace Ruffin, and Martha Harvin pose for a Dimension Records publicity portrait in 1964 in New York, New York. Photo by James Kriegsmann/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Image.

The girls started performing out across the country, and they eventually were invited to a one week show for up and coming artists at the Apollo Theater. Every night they got a standing ovation, but one special night changed the course of their lives.

Martha High performing with James Brown.

Sandra and Martha came to StoryCorps in 2022, to look back on that time, their life choices, and their lasting friendship.

Top Photo: Martha High in Amsterdam, and Sandra Bears in Washington D.C., at their virtual StoryCorps interview on May 14, 2022, for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired December 16th, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

“It Feels Like a Gift”: How Taking a Name Kept One Man’s Legacy Alive

In 1981, the death of 21-year-old Cameroonian man Acha Mbiwan devastated his family. Losing Acha — known for his mischievous sense of humor and prodigious intelligence — sent shockwaves through the family’s tight-knit community.  

For more than 40 years, they found it difficult to even speak about Acha. But little did they know that Acha had befriended an American man in college named Atiba, who was so moved by Acha’s death that he took his friend’s last name, Mbiwan, as a tribute.

In 2012, Acha’s sisters Didi Ndando and Egbe Monjimbo learned of Atiba’s existence after stumbling across him on the internet. All three sat down for StoryCorps to talk about what happened next.

This story was adapted from the StoryCorps Podcast. To hear the full story, listen to the episode: “One Who Is Understanding

Top Photo: Didi Ndando, Atiba Mbiwan, and Egbe Monjimbo at a reunion for Atiba’s family in Atlanta in 2014. Courtesy of Egbe Monjimbo.
Middle Photo: Acha Mbiwan posing in a photo booth in 1980 in Paris, France. Courtesy of Egbe Monjimbo.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Originally aired December 2, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition

Your support makes it possible for StoryCorps, an independently funded nonprofit, to collect, archive, and share the stories of people from all backgrounds because everyone’s stories deserve to be heard.

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Separated by Time and Distance, Best Friends Reunited After More Than Three Decades

Pak Yan and Joe Chan grew up in the same neighborhood in Hong Kong. They developed a close friendship, learning to ride bikes without training wheels and walking each other to school every day. Then, in 1962, Joe’s family moved to the U.S., seeking refuge amidst the Great Chinese Famine.

Pak Yan (left) and Joe Chang at a StoryCorps interview in San Francisco on September 18, 2014. By Geraldine Ah-Sue for StoryCorps.

An ocean between them, the two sent handwritten letters weekly via airmail. But after several years, as they moved and their addresses changed, the two lost contact. Pak often wondered what had become of his friend, and when he was 30 years old he also moved to the U.S. Years later—in 2000, when the internet was still relatively new—Pak decided to use Yahoo to search for his friend. He found 108 Joe Chan’s and called them one by one, leaving voice messages until he finally reached Joe on the 104th call.

“It’s like we just picked up where we left off,” Joe said. In 2014, the two men came to StoryCorps to remember their reunion.

 
Top Photo: Pak Yan (left) and Joe Chan (right) at Friendship Park in Richmond, CA soon after they reunited. The text on the rock reads ‘friendship’ in Chinese. 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired November 25, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Your support makes it possible for StoryCorps, an independently funded nonprofit, to collect, archive, and share the stories of people from all backgrounds because everyone’s stories deserve to be heard.

Donate