As a military veteran working security jobs in Nashville, Justin Cummins was at a crossroads and wondering what he should do next, before deciding to study history. After completing his degree, he learned about StoryCorps’ One Small Step (OSS) initiative and thought, ‘This is in my wheelhouse; we’re archiving conversations and people’s personal experience to create a historical narrative.’

Now, a year into his role as an OSS Facilitator, he reflects on the program and what it means for this moment in time.

After facilitating numerous OSS conversations, we asked Justin what surprises him most about his work. “We turn on TV and we immediately think that we’re all opposites,” he says. “The truth is, most of us are in the middle. You might lean a little bit more left; I might be leaning a bit more right. Or vice versa. But the truth is, we largely all want the same things.”

“I wasn’t expecting that so many people just really want to talk to someone who is different from them, but also similar to them too,” Justin notes. “So many OSS participants share that they struggle to talk about politics with their family or their kids. And a lot of people see OSS as an opportunity to talk to someone who believes differently than them, and help them learn how to have a conversation with someone that they’re close to,” he observes. “And while that could be sad, it makes me happy that people are seeking these types of conversations out.”

As a Facilitator, Justin helps participants feel welcome and relaxed to have a conversation that helps them learn about each other and what they have in common. “Every day that I go to work, I’m eager to discover what will come from a conversation between two strangers. And there are moments when all the hairs on my neck stand up. And I think, ‘This is amazing! Two strangers having one experience that can have a lasting impact.’”