Fatuma Abdullahi, Annie Johnson, and Maryan Osman

Even though they’re only teenagers, Fatuma Abdullahi and her sister, Maryan Osman, have undertaken a long, complicated journey to get to where they are today.

When they were very young, the girls lost their parents during the civil war in Somalia, the country in which they were born. They were taken in by their grandmother until she was resettled in Australia. Fatuma and Maryan were to follow her there, but in the interim, Australia closed its borders to Somali refugees. The were shuffled between family members in Kenya until they were eventually left on their own. 

Then, in 2014, Fatuma and Maryan were resettled in the United States through Catholic Community Services of Utah. There they found a stable, loving home with a young couple, Annie and Randall Johnson, near Salt Lake City. They also live with their little brother, Roscoe, and their dog, Maddox.

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Fatuma and Maryan recently sat down with Annie to talk about what it’s been like — for all of them — to become a family.

Originally aired April 7, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Bottom photo: Randall Johnson, Maryan Osman, Fatuma Abdullahi, Roscoe Johnson, and Annie Johnson at their home in Murray, UT. 

Michael Benjamin Ryan and Michael John Ryan

As a juvenile court judge in Cleveland, Ohio, Judge Michael Ryan encounters many children who have had a tough start in life. At StoryCorps, Ryan explains to his 19-year-old son — also named Michael — that he knows where these kids are coming from.

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During his own childhood in Cleveland during the 1970’s, Ryan lived in a violent household where he often witnessed his heroin-addicted mother endure beatings from his stepfather.

He sought refuge in books, went on to study law, and eventually gained a seat on the bench at Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court. But Ryan’s difficult childhood didn’t just motivate him to better his own life — it shaped who he is as a dad and what he wants for his own children.

Originally aired February 24, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Bottom photo: Judge Ryan and his son, Michael, at Michael’s graduation on May 31, 2015. Courtesy of the Ryan family.

Ellie Dahmer and Bettie Dahmer

During the mid-1960s, Vernon Dahmer was a successful black farmer and businessman in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He was also a civil rights leader and had served as the head of his local NAACP chapter. This work often made his family a target of threats by the Ku Klux Klan. Despite the danger, Vernon worked to help register black voters in the community.

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Although the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act gave racial minorities equal access to the right to vote, the state of Mississippi still required residents to pay a poll tax when registering, impeding many potential black voters. And so on January 9, 1966, Vernon publicly offered to pay the poll tax for blacks who wanted to register but could not afford it.

That night, the KKK firebombed his home while he was inside with his wife, Ellie Dahmer, and three of their children—Bettie, Dennis, and Harold. Vernon exchanged gunfire with the attackers and held them off so he and his family could escape. He later died from injuries he sustained in the fire.

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Ellie went on to serve as an election commissioner in Hattiesburg for more than a decade, continuing the work that she and her husband had started. It took more than 30 years for Samuel Bowers, the Klan leader who ordered the attack, to be convicted of Vernon’s murder.

At StoryCorps, Ellie and Bettie, who was 10 years old at the time, remembered the night Vernon was killed.

Originally aired January 13, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: The charred remains of the Dahmer home and car. Courtesy of Moncrief Photograph Collection, ID #513, Mississippi Department of Archives & History.
Middle Photo: Ellie Dahmer (L) and Bettie Dahmer outside Ellie’s home, which was built in the same location as the house that was destroyed. Credit: Roselyn Almonte, StoryCorps.
Bottom Photo: Ellie Dahmer holds a photo of her late husband. Credit: Roselyn Almonte, StoryCorps.

Leslye Huff and Mary Ostendorf

Leslye Huff (left) and her partner, Mary Ostendorf (right), met in 1983. Leslye was open about her feelings for Mary and wasn’t shy about publicly showing her affection—even on their first date. Mary felt less comfortable with public displays of affection and had not told many people in her life about her sexuality, including her family.

When Mary introduced Leslye to her mother, Agnes, they did not immediately reveal to her the nature of their relationship, but during that meeting Leslye felt a connection with Agnes. “I liked her. She was short like me, and pretty vivacious. She and I sat and talked and I thought the makings of a pretty good friendship was beginning.”

Later that year, days before they gathered for Thanksgiving, Leslye picked up the phone and told Agnes the truth about her relationship with Mary.

At StoryCorps, Mary and Leslye discuss what happened after the phone call and how their relationship with Agnes changed in the years that followed.

Originally aired November 27, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Melva Washington Toomer and John Washington

John Washington was born blind and with a severe loss of hearing that has become more extreme over time. Just before he turned 30, he met his future wife, Fannie Ruth, who was also blind and deaf. In 1950 they got married, and remained together for 55 years having three children together—Melva, Warren, and Canady—before Fannie Ruth passed away in 2005.

John & Ruth WashingtonJohn, who did not finish high school, began reading books in braille “to learn the ways of life,” and went on to teach others to read braille as well. He spent years working as a massage therapist, and in 1952, in what he considers one of his proudest achievements, he helped found the first braille magazine in the United States focused solely on issues important to the African American community—The Negro Braille Magazine.

Now 95 years old, John recently recorded a StoryCorps interview with his eldest child, Melva Washington Toomer (pictured in the player above), using a TeleBraille machine, a device that requires Melva to type her questions on a keyboard which are then translated to a braille touchpad for her father to read.

At StoryCorps, he shared some of his favorite stories about raising his children, and asked his daughter an important question about what she plans to do with him as he continues to move closer to being 100 years old.

Besides using a TeleBraille machine, John also speaks with others through fingerspelling–a method of communication where words are spelled out directly into his hand by another person using the American Sign Language alphabet. (Watch the above video to see John and Melva fingerspell.)

Originally aired August 19, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above: John and Fannie Ruth Washington at the Durham, North Carolina, YMCA in the mid-1970s where were he worked as a massage therapist. Photo courtesy of Melva Washington Toomer.

Alice Mitchell and Ibukun Owolabi

Growing up, Alice Mitchell was always very close with her mother Rosemary Owolabi. A Nigerian immigrant as proud of her heritage as she was of her children, Rosemary would pick Alice up from school dressed in vibrantly colored garments and head-wraps.

IMG_8794When Alice was 14, her mother died unexpectedly from cardiac arrest just two weeks after giving birth to her youngest child, a boy she named Ibukunoluwa, which translates to “Blessing from God.”

Alice was immediately forced to become both sister and mother to her new brother, who they call Ibukun, and took the lead in raising him the way she believed her mother would have wanted him brought up.

Now 10 years old, Ibukun lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his father and stepmother. Over the years he has seen pictures and heard stories about his mother, but came to StoryCorps with Alice (pictured together in the player above) to talk for the first time about losing their mother.

Originally aired July 1, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above: Rosemary Owolabi holding Ibukun soon after he was born in September of 2005. Photo courtesy of the Owolabi family.

Clarence “Clancy” Haskett and Jerry Collier

This past weekend marked the official opening of the 2016 Major League Baseball season. And while the games now count in the standings, it won’t be until the weather warms up that the competition on the field will really heat up. But in the stands, there is a battle taking place that won’t wait until summer: the fight to be top vendor.

Clancy2As anyone who has ever been to a baseball game knows, vendors roam the stands offering anything from hot dogs and peanuts, to scorecards and foam fingers. They are in a head-to-head competition with each other to sell the most of whatever product they are assigned, and one of the all-time greats is a man known as “Fancy Clancy.”

As a teenager, Clarence Haskett (pictured at left) began selling soda at Baltimore Orioles games back when they played their home games at Memorial Stadium (the team moved to their current home, Camden Yards, in 1992). Over the years, he worked his way up to the vendor’s most prized offering—beer.

haskett3During his 43-year long career, Clancy has used his quickness and his gift of gab to sell more than a million beers to baseball fans—a number we believe makes him Hall of Fame worthy.

Clancy came to StoryCorps with his friend and former coworker, Jerry Collier (pictured together at left), to talk about their work and how he got started.

Clancy’s story is one of 53 work stories featured in our new book, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work.

Click here to pre-order Callings before April 19, 2016, and get great gifts from StoryCorps.

Originally aired April 8, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photo of Clancy pouring beer courtesy of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Sports Legends Museums.

Gwen Moten

Gwen_Moten_21Fifty-one years before nine people were killed during the mass shooting in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, there was another infamous attack on a Southern black church.

On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four young girls were murdered—Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Denise McNair.

Gwen Moten was best friends with Denise (pictured left), and she recently sat down to remember her for StoryCorps.

Originally aired June 26, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photo courtesy of the 4 Little Girls Memorial Fund. 

Willie Watson and PJ Allen

On the morning of April 19, 1995, a truck bomb exploded at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.

The blast was equal to nearly 4000 pounds of TNT. It killed 168 people. Hundreds more were injured.

The federal office building also housed a day care center. The explosives-laden truck was parked directly beneath it.

Of the 21 children there that morning, only 6 survived.

PJ Allen was one of the survivors. He suffered broken bones, severe burns, and damage to his lungs from inhaling debris.

At StoryCorps in Oklahoma City, he spoke with his father, Willie Watson.

Listen to another survivor story here.

Originally aired April 17, 2015 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Deidra Robinson and William Watford III

Many families with LGBTQ members across generations are personally familiar with the “coming out” conversation.

Deidra Robinson and her father, William Watford III, were extremely close—until he found out she was gay.

They came to StoryCorps in Homewood, Alabama, to talk about that moment.

Originally aired March 29, 2015, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday.

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Each week, the StoryCorps podcast shares these unscripted conversations, revealing the wisdom, courage, and poetry in the words of people you might not notice walking down the street.