Jasmyn Morris (JM): This week, as people all over the country are coming together for Thanksgiving… we’re going to take a break from difficult conversations — knowing you might have enough of those on your holiday plate already — and bring you something a little different…
A few years ago, StoryCorps started a national effort… called the Great Thanksgiving Listen… where young people—and people of all ages really—are encouraged to spend the day after Thanksgiving recording an interview with an elder… using the free StoryCorps App.
Participant #1: Is there anything you want to tell me that you’ve never told me before?
It’s the StoryCorps podcast from NPR. I’m your host Jasmyn Morris…
…and in this week’s episode, an excerpt from The Great Listen from NPR and StoryCorps, our new one-hour broadcast special hosted by NPR’s Audie Cornish…
….here she is…speaking with our founder, Dave Isay…
Audie Cornish (AC): Back in 2014, a million dollar TED prize enabled Dave Isay to create a smartphone app, so that anyone anywhere could record and upload their story.
AC: When you open the app, right like, after you guys launched it and you’re opening it to see if anybody has actually used it; what did you find?
Dave Isay (DI): The next day I was in a car and it was the first time I had to think. And I opened up the app and here I saw these interviews, like popping on popping on popping on, and I started listening. And it was…, I mean, they were like from small towns in Texas and Tennessee …
AC: I want to break it down a little bit, so locations…what were you hearing?
DI: So you could hear, people would be around the dinner table, or you could hear, you know, birds chirping.
Participant #2: There’s 13 children in the family. My oldest was…
DI: You know, so these were people doing it… You know, some people were doing it at school. You could hear lockers shutting.
Participant #3: This is Jacob… I’m being interviewed by Seth Wanamarano, 7th period, choir room… Memphis, Tennessee.
DI: But it was… it was less the background noise than just the fact that people who had no idea what StoryCorps was were picking up the app and asking the right questions and it was happening.
AC: One thing about doing something like an app is you are inviting a younger generation into the conversation. And so what do they say? Like once invited to the party, you know, how do they contribute? And in what ways did that surprise you?
DI: Somehow something about the app or whatever they’ve heard about StoryCorps, whatever their teachers told them, helped them to understand that this is something that’s permanent and not going to go away and they treat it that way.
Participant #4: Okay. So what advice do you have for juniors and also just high schoolers in general and young adults?
Participant #5: This is actually going to sound really cliché but I would say to always trust your gut and to follow your heart. Because I found that’s the only way I would actually be happy, even though there were other options that sounded like a better idea. I think I probably just pushed myself too far in high school and stressed myself out way too much. And in the end it wasn’t beneficial in the slightest.
Participant #4: I think we can all learn something from that.
AC: But the StoryCorps app doesn’t just facilitate conversations between peers; it extends listening across generations to people who aren’t even around yet.
DI: That was, you know, key from the beginning of StoryCorps. And everybody who does it does it for that archival piece of it…
AC: To be part of the record.
DI: …to be part of the record.
AC: Interesting. Because they’re a generation that, right, if you’re into Snapchat or Instagram Stories, or something, you are used to a communication that is ethereal and that is going to…poof.
DI: That’s right.
Addison Daniel (AD): You said life was challenging growing up. Would you mind sharing a little bit of how was it challenging?
Lesley Daniel (LD): Like for instance, Thanksgiving to me was just being thankful to be together as a family. We didn’t have the turkey, the dressing and all of that. I had to work, so therefore I was out there selling soda bottles. And if you turn those in you get five cents a bottle. I had plenty of those. So me and my grandmother and grandfather could just have a meal for the day.
AD: All right. So can you share one of the happiest memories that you have experienced in your lifetime?
LD: One of the happiest experiences that I have spent in my lifetime is when you were born because I’ve always wished for someone to love unconditionally and then God give me you.
And I strive to work hard and set examples for you. I was also grateful to accomplish dreams that nobody believed in me. I was told I’d be nothing. I was told I wouldn’t amount to anything but I don’t have not one degree but I have two degrees. So just always set goals for yourself; strive to be the best. Don’t be mediocre.
AD: Well I think that you’ve already done that to me because I’m the best child that you could ever imagine having. [Laughs] You know that’s true.
AD: Alright that’s the interview for the day. Thank you.
LD: Thank you.
AC: That’s Addison Daniel talking to his mom Leslie Daniel with the StoryCorps app in 2015.
We’ve been hearing this hour about the transformative power of listening that StoryCorps has introduced through its booths and now the StoryCorps app. It allows one generation to listen to another and, you know, just as powerful is the act of expressing emotion.
That gift of expression was critical In April 2015. That’s when the city of Baltimore exploded in riots and unrest following the death of Freddie Gray who had been in police custody.
News tape: Baltimore is burning. After a day of looting and rioters clashing violently with police, tonight a community center in flames lights up the city. As police and community activists try and take back the streets lost to chaos earlier today. CROWD SINGING: …let it shine, let it shine, in my neighborhood. I’m gonna let it shine, oh this little light of mine…
AC: At the time, Dr. Carla Hayden was the head of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free library.
Carla Hayden (CH): It was a crucial time in Baltimore, during the unrest after the death of Freddie Gray, and the community really needed and welcomed the opportunity to tell stories.
AC: So Hayden reached out to StoryCorps and asked them to bring their mobile recording booth to Enoch Pratt. She wanted to capture the voices and the stories of the community.
AC: The place is crawling with media in that moment, right? But there’s a difference between that and being heard.
CH: The place was crawling with media. However the library was directly across from the pharmacy that was broadcast and vividly this burning car. All of that- the public library is such a vital part of that community was directly across the street. And so the community protected that library, as well as saw it as a sanctuary and a place to go. I saw it in action, boots on the ground, literally.
Wilbur McBride (WM): What did you think caused the riots?
Clarice McBride (CM): I think a lot of people were frustrated and just really burned out. You know, if you keep talking and talking and nobody’s listening to you. Nobody’s hearing you. No one’s paying attention to you. Don’t you understand, man, I’m hungry. I said I want a job. And I think that’s the kind of frustration people feel and they just explode.
AC: You said cathartic; How did you know that? What was it that you saw? Or maybe you heard specific stories?
CH: There were specific stories that I had a chance to listen to. What I observed was seeing people after the interviews. They lingered in the library, so you could tell that it helped people. The library was a safe place. And the thought that StoryCorps was the outlet for them to talk.
Participant #6: I made it to the eyewitness news and I said… my exact statement was… They asked me, “What is going on?” And it was the CNN guy and I told him, “Sir it’s not about this moment. It’s about something that has been built up for 20 years that just keep building up and building up.
That day of the twenty seventh, believe me, if any person wanted to find out the ills of my city or how to correct my city, everybody, I mean, from the kids all the way to the adults was screaming their dissatisfactions of this city out. Everybody could, you know, hear that. If you were listening and looking, you were learned.
Participant #7: Look, so it’s complex when you look at all of these things and what we want people to see is that, don’t look at just the media what you saw on TV you saw the riot. You saw the people looting but you have to look deeper to understand the problems, and also the solutions, and see the character of the city. ‘Cause the days after that, you saw people cleaning up you saw people cared about their town and their city. And we have to keep that mindset. And we have to keep people positive and working towards a positive change.
Participant #6: That’s what the work is for. With that I say a question that floats around the city and he says, What keeps you in your neighborhood?
I say to my friends a lot of times, I said there’s two things that we need to decide are we going to have a neighborhood or are we going to have a community. A neighborhood and a community are two different things like night and day. Because i’m noticing that communities are being turning into neighborhoods slash warzones because, before its the police before its even city hall, what are we doing?
Participant #7: That’s the real key.
Participant #6: We got an obligation to go back to be community, citizens and do what we do as Baltimorians as one whole. Not East Baltimore, not west but that’s what got us here. I am Baltimore 41 years. I can’t go nowhere else and be that. And thats where I will end that. Remove the self inflicted nonsense. And us continue to look into that mirror and I guarantee there’s no way change won’t come.
WM: Do you think that there is hope for Baltimore to change for the better?
CM: Of course as long as there’s life. There’s hope. There’s always hope. So long as you ain’t six feet under there is hope. And since I bug you all the time my dear brother. I thank you for this interview.
WM: You’re welcome.
CM: Thank you for taking time to talk to me. And uh maybe we can do this again sometime. On something else.
WM: Uh thank you. This concludes the interview with Wilbur and Clarice McBride at the Enoch Pratt Library StoryCorps. I hope you enjoyed it. Good afternoon… um, Good night. [Laughs]
AC: For the complete collection of StoryCorps at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore, go to StoryCorps-dot-ORG.
In 2016, Dr. Carla Hayden moved from the Enoch Pratt Library to the Library of Congress when President Obama appointed her Librarian of Congress. Dr Hayden was the first woman to take the job and the first person of color. She also took on the responsibility of overseeing the StoryCorps archives, one of the largest collections of human voices ever recorded, that anyone can access.
CH: They can access it physically in the Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington D.C.
AC: So that’s possible as well? You can walk into the Library of Congress…
AC: And say, “Point me to StoryCorps” and there’s someplace to go?
CH: There is an actual physical location in the Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington D.C..
AC: How do these essentially personal stories, right, sometimes family stories fit into the larger historical context. Meaning like, can they teach us anything about a certain cultural moment or event?
CH: Personal stories can give context and depth to a sentence like, ‘there were internment camps during World War 2 for Japanese citizens.’ Now, when you have the person, the grandfather that’s still living, talk about… describe the housing, describe what it felt to stand in a line to wait. Those are things that just that sentence of fact doesn’t give you a full sense of what it actually felt like.
Roy Ebihara: A sheriff and two plainclothes men barged into the house and searched for what they called contraband. They took out my brothers box camera, my father’s shortwave radio and they took the axe to it and chopped everything up. My father never protested; never said a word. He just stood there.
And one night vigilante groups formed in town. We saw the men were holding the oil torches coming across to where we lived. They were going to burn down everything.
The state patrol came roaring in and told us quickly to gather up what we can in pillowcases and whatever can fit into the trunk of the car. I remember my sister Kathy my sister Mary and my brother Bill and I, the four of us were squeezed into the back seat of the sedan and we left in the darkness of the night. We were all crying; we couldn’t stop. It was just terrifying.
And some months later we were put into camps. Do you remember those times?
Aiko Ebihara: I do remember getting on these army trucks. I was probably 5 or 6 years old. I thought I was going on a vacation.
AC: What do you expect that future generations could do with these kinds of recordings?
CH: I think, especially young people now, they’re listening to podcasts. They’re listening quite a bit to audio and I think it gives them another way to experience history.
Everyone can’t write a novel or write a memoir but they can tell a story.
AC: Now the StoryCorps archive that Dr. Carla Hayden oversees is growing by the day. And now it contains nearly a quarter of a million stories. It almost seems, if you stitched each story together, you could assemble a patchwork of our history as a nation. I asked Dave Isay if there’s ever a moment when he felt like they’ve actually uncovered a corner of history that no one expected.
DI: I think that happens all the time. You know, Studs Terkel, the great oral historian who cut the ribbon on our first booth, was a big proponent of bottom up history–history through the voices and stories of everyday people. That is what we’re capturing.
And each one is just a little, kind of, point on a painting. And when you put them all together it becomes this really living sense of what it was like to be at different historical moments
I was just an event playing a story of the guy who was the busboy who cradled RFK’s head after he was murdered, who came to StoryCorps a couple months before he himself died…telling the story of what it was like to be there.
AC: Here’s Juan Romero. He remembers bringing food to Senator Kennedy’s room, the day before the assasination.
Juan Romero: They opened the door and the senator was talking on the phone. He put down the phone and says, “Come on in boys.” You could tell when he was looking at you that he’s not looking through you he’s taking you into account. And I remember walking out of there like I was 10 feet tall.
The next day he had his victory speech. So they came down the service elevator which is behind the kitchen. I remember extending my hand as far as I could and then I remember him shaking my hand and as he let go somebody shot him. I kneeled on to him and put my hand between the cold concrete and his head just to make him comfortable.
I could see his lips moving, so I put my ear next to his lips and I heard him say, “Is everybody OK.” I said, “yes, everybody is OK.” I could feel a steady stream of blood coming through my fingers. I had a rosary in my shirt pocket and I took it out thinking that he would need it a lot more than me. I wrapped around his right hand and then they wheeled him away.
The next day. I decided to go to school. I didn’t want to think about it but this woman was reading the newspaper and you can see my picture in there with the Senator on the floor. She turned around and showed me the picture, “This is you isn’t it?” And I remember looking at my hands and there were stray blood between my nails.
Then I received bags of letters addressed to a busboy. There was a couple angry letters. One of them even went as far as to say that, if he hadn’t stopped to shake your hand the Senator would have been alive. So I should be ashamed of myself for being so selfish.
It’s been a long 50 years and I still get emotional; tears come out. But I went to visit his grave in 2010. I feel like I need to ask Kennedy to forgive me for not being able to stop those bullets from harming him.
And I feel like you know it would be a sign of respect to buy a suit. I never owned a suit in my life. And so when I wore the suit and I stood in front of his grave. I felt a little bit like that first day that I that I met him. I felt important. I felt American and I felt good.”
JM: We’ll be right back with more from Audie Cornish and Dave Isay after this short break. Stay with us.
AC: This is Audie Cornish and I’m talking with Dave Isay for the Great Listen from NPR and StoryCorps.
Now Isay is quick to admit that the StoryCorps APP has given us many stories of what he calls “bottom-up history,”including accounts of what it’s like to come to America.
DI: Yeah, I mean I think that so often times there are folks when they hear about the APP who it’s very important for them to participate and to leave this record and to become part of this you know – American archive.
Kyle Ravelo: Grandpa, tell me about your parents.
Grandpa Ron: My parents were both from the Philippines. My dad was a young boy of 18. He immigrated to the United States, came over by ship in the steerage with many other hundreds of Filipinos.
Participant #8: Can you tell me the story of how and why you came to America?
Participant #9: When I was young, everybody used to tell me about America. America is like this. American is like that. So from my childhood, it was my dream to come to America. So from Bombay, India I came to Chicago. I had never seen snow in my life. Like, it was so amazing.
Tonny Palepale (TP): I just wanted to live, as they would say, the American dream. I wanted to have a house with the white picket fences.
Rachel Palepale: So how is your real life your reality different from this American dream that you had thought of?
TP: Well I am living the American dream.”
AC: In our next story, Blanca Alveraz is interviewed by her daughter Connie about how she made her way to the U.S. from Mexico.
Blanca Alvarez (BA): We were walking and walking through the mountains…
Connie Alvarez (CA): In the desert?
BA: Uh huh. And, um, the man he told us to take our shoes off because there was a lot of rocks. And he said, “I don’t want no noise because the dogs are very very good to detect every noise.”
BA: And he said, “I’m gonna whistle and you gonna duck.” And it was a point where he whistled, you know, we went out on our stomachs and we stay there. Oh my god, I can see ants, big ants crawling and I was so scared. And he said, “When the border patrol change shifts…”
BA: “…you know, you gotta run.” I remember it was torture in those rocks without shoes. So we ran as fast as we could and then he said, “You gonna walk through that bridge, I’m gonna walk behind you, and you gonna give me the money there and then from there you’re on your own.”
CA: What kinds of jobs did you have since first arriving in the country?
BA: We were gardeners and we were cleaning offices.
CA: I remember the offices.
BA: You remember that? We had the night shift cleaning; that’s why you know. We had to take you and your brother. I didn’t have a babysitter.
CA: I have memories of running into everyone’s office and eating candy from their candy dishes. I remember being with my brother in our pajamas with the little plastic feet. And I also remember you would always buy us a cup-of-noodle from the vending machine, like a snack, and then put us to bed on people’s office couches. And then you’d carry us to the car when you guys were done cleaning the offices. I remember that.
Did they ever know? Did your bosses ever know that you took your kids?
BA: No, I don’t think so.
CA: Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?
BA: When we first came here we went through a lot of things like not eating…
BA: I guess for 6 months… Your father lost his job but we never told you that.
CA: If you could do everything again, would you raise me differently?
BA: I would dedicate more time, I guess. You know, I was so busy going to school too that I guess I neglected you a little bit.
CA: No. For me watching you go to school with two kids and trying to make ends meet, that was the biggest inspiration for me to finish college. I thought there’s nothing that could stand in my way that didn’t stand in yours more. So, it’s the most important thing for me having gone to college and I feel like anything I do from here on out is ok because I’ve already achieved my dream. Everything else is icing on the cake.
AC: What’s the one thing you’d say you have learned since the beginning of the great listen?
DI: Well, one thing I’ve learned is that kids wait until Sunday night to do their homework. [Laughs]
AC: Universal. [Laughs]
DI: Yeah. All of our great listen stories come in on Sunday night of Thanksgiving. [Laughs] Not much happens before then.
AC: That’s great.
DI: But the stories that come in through the Great listen aren’t that different than the stories that come in through StoryCorps in general. And they make me hopeful and they make me, you know, really remember the, you know, the truth that, you know, all of our lives matter equally and infinitely and how much of all of our stories matter and how important it is to people to be listened to.
AC: Well I think the thing I’ve learned from your project that I’ve appreciated is that people are inclined to listen. All this time we thought maybe they’re just real sick of listening or maybe we don’t do it anymore. Maybe there’s something about the culture and the environment of blah blah blah. And then as soon as we said, “Hey why don’t you sit down and listen to each other.” People said, “Ok.”
DI: Yeah, and also, on the on the other side, that, you know, how important it is for people to feel heard, you know, just to be asked these questions. And it’s almost guaranteed that you that someone in your future that your kids kids kids kid is going to listen to that interview. And it’s an opportunity to pass on what you’ve known to someone who you’ll never know but who you, you know, obviously wish so much for.
Chloe Longfellow: It’s really surprising the amount of life lessons you can learn if you have the right teacher. My grandmother, she used to tell me that the sky was black velvet and the stars were holes that had been punched in the ceiling of heaven and that was how our loved ones looked down at us and saw if we were doing wrong, or if we were doing right, or just check in on us every so often. So every time I look up at the sky, she’s there.
Kara Masteller (KM): Grandpa, how would you like to be remembered?….
James Kennicott (JK): Remem—? Ha. [Laughs]
KM: Do you want to be remembered as like a real tough guy? Or…
JK: I was a pretty soft guy.
KM: You intimidated me when I was little.
JK: I did? [Laughs]
KM: Yeah. You did.
KM: Are you happy about the life you’ve lived?
JK: Oh yeah. It wasn’t the easiest life back in them days. Mother died when I was four. And it was a tough life.
KM: As people age, do you have any advice for them about older?
JK: It’s coming. Don’t fight it. Just roll with. I mean real life. Live it. It’s wonderful.
KM: [Laughs] Thank you grandpa.
Aiden Sykes (AS): Do you remember what was going through your head when you first saw me?
Albert Sykes (AbS): I remember when the doctor pulled you out, the first thing I thought was that he was being too rough with you. And he actually held you like a little Sprite bottle and he was like, “Here’s your baby.” That was the most proud moment of my life. Don’t tell your brothers, ’cause there’s three of y’all. But it was like looking at a blank canvas, and just imagining what you want that painting to look like at the end, but also knowing you can’t control the paint strokes.
You know, the fear was just, I gotta bring up a black boy in Mississippi, which is a tough place to bring up kids period, but there are statistics that say black boys born after the year 2002 have a one-in-three chance of going to prison and all three of my sons were born after the year 2002.
AS: So dad, why do you take me to protests so much?
AbS: [Laughs] I think I take you for a bunch of reasons. One is that I want you to see what it looks like when people come together, but also that you understand that it’s not just about people that are familiar to you but it’s about everybody. Did you know the work that Martin Luther King was doing was for everybody and it wasn’t just for black people?
AS: Yes I understand that.
AbS: Yeah, so that’s how you gotta think. If you decide that you wanna be a cabdriver, then you gotta be the most impactful cab driver that you can possibly be.
AS: Are you proud of me?
AbS: Of course. You my man! I—I just love everything about you. Period.
AS: The thing I love about you, you never give up on me. That’s one of the things I will always remember about my dad.
AbS: Wow, you said it like I’m on my way out of here …
AbS: …or like I’m already gone.
AS: So Dad, what are your dreams for me?
AbS: My dream is for you to live out your dreams. There’s an old proverb that talks about when children are born, children come out with their fists closed because that’s where they keep all their gifts. And as you grow, your hands learn to unfold, because you’re learning to release your gifts to the world. And so, for the rest of your life, I wanna see you live with your hands unfolded.
Karen V (KV): Is there anything you want to say to future generations? Any wisdom you’d want to share?
Doris Clixby (DC): Show your love to everyone you meet, even if it’s just an acquaintance, because the country and everyone needs it.
Dale Clixby (DaC): When you go to bed at night you always give your wife a kiss.
KV: That’s great.
DaC: And another one in the morning and about 12 during the day.
KV: Grandma just reached her hand over and said Dale that’s enough.
I love you.
DC: Love you
DaC: We love you too.”
I’m Audie Cornish. This has been the Great Listen from NPR and StoryCorps.
JM: You’ve been listening to an excerpt from our hour-long Great Listen special hosted by NPR’s Audie Cornish. To hear the full version, tune into your local NPR station.
It was produced by Kerry Thompson at NPR and Joanna DuFour at StoryCorps… edited by Cara Tallo. Special thanks to Steve Nelson at NPR… and Colleen Ross and Dave Isay at StoryCorps.
Ramani Wilson (RW): Well, thank you. That was our interview. Thank you for your time, Grandma.
Sarah Ann Hardy (SAH): You’re more than welcome, Miss Romani. I enjoyed the interview and I enjoyed the questions.
RW: Thank you. Yes!
Kenny (K): Alright, say… anything you want to say?
Nana (N): No, there’s nothing I want to say.
K: Alright, say bye.
N: No I’m gonna say…
K: Say hello.
N: Gey gezunterheyt… ‘travel in good health’..
K: …in yiddish.
N: Yah, that’s yiddish.
K: We’re signing off!
N: Ok, goodbye. Come back in 20 years…
JM: The StoryCorps podcast is produced by Jud Esty-Kendall and edited by me, Jasmyn Morris. Jarrett Floyd is our Technical Director…he also wrote and produced our theme song. Eleanor Vassili is our production assistant. Sylvie Lubow is our script writer. Our intern is Zahra Crim.
Head over to our website — StoryCorps-dot-ORG — to learn more about how to participate in the Great Thanksgiving Listen… There you can also see original artwork created for this season… by artist Lindsay Mound.
For the StoryCorps podcast, I’m Jasmyn Morris. Thanks for listening… and Happy Thanksgiving.