Calvin Burns and Stepheni Bellamy

Calvin Burns has trouble getting his 15-year-old daughter, Stepheni Bellamy, to talk, which is something parents of teenagers everywhere can understand.

Calvin knew that Stepheni was having a hard time adjusting to being one of the only Black students in her school. Having grown up in a similar situation, Calvin could relate to that, but he had never taken the time to talk to his daughter about it.

He thought that bringing Stepheni to StoryCorps and sharing stories from his teenage years might help Stepheni open up.

Please note that this conversation contains a racial slur.

Originally aired April 21, 2017 on NPR’s Morning Edition

Photo courtesy of the Burns family

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. 

Toni Henson and Camaran Henson

As a kid, Camaran Henson would stay up late listening to his grandfather, Leonard Simmons, tell stories about his experiences as police officer in Newark, New Jersey. 

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Leonard worked undercover for “The Bandit Squad” — a group of detectives who investigated armed robberies in the 1970s — and Camaran was convinced that his grandfather was a real-life superhero. Camaran’s mom, Toni, knows the feeling because she grew up hearing these tales as well.

Leonard died in 2013, but Toni and Camaran came to StoryCorps to pass his stories on — since long conversations are something of a family tradition.

Originally aired March 10, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: Camaran Henson with his grandfather, Leonard Simmons, ca. 1994. Courtesy of Toni Henson.

Chris López and Gabe López

Chris López always knew there was something different about her youngest child, Gabe. Assigned female at birth, Gabe felt like he was a boy.

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Gabe was always more comfortable in clothing traditionally worn by little boys — cargo pants and superhero shirts — but switched back and forth between these outfits and those often worn by little girls. Just after his seventh birthday, he convinced his parents to let him cut off his long hair and get a mohawk — a haircut he had been wanting for years. Around this time period, Gabe started dressing only as a boy and answering exclusively to “he”.

At first, Chris was concerned that Gabe, being so young, might change his mind. She was scared of how people would treat him as he transitioned. But after seeing how Gabe responded to the changes in his hair and clothing, she felt confident that he had made the right decision.

Gabe, who’s nine years old now, has been attending the same school since kindergarten. In the fall of 2016, when he started third grade, he began having others refer to him by his preferred gender pronouns —”he” and “him” — for the first time.

In 2015, the López family attended a camp for transgender, gender creative, and gender non-conforming youth in Tucson, Arizona.

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Gabe and his mother came to the StoryCorps MobileBooth to talk about how that camp transformed his life.

A version of this broadcast aired May 1, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, and was rebroadcast on March 3, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Middle photo: Gabe López. Courtesy of Chris López.
Bottom photo: The López family.

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.

Francisco Ortega and Kaya Ortega

Growing up in rural Tijuana, Mexico, Francisco Ortega was among the youngest of his family’s 10 children. In 1975, his parents made the difficult decision to leave him and his siblings in the care of his beloved aunt, Trinidad, and move to Los Angeles to find work. Once there, his father worked as a busboy and his mother as a seamstress in a clothing factory; each month they sent back money for food and clothing.

francisco-1978-1Only about 6 years old when his parents left, Francisco was an intuitive, energetic, and excitable boy. He spent hours playing in the hills and fruit orchards of Tijuana, and chasing rattlesnakes with his dogs. He also acted up a lot and often gave his aunt a hard time.

He didn’t see his parents for nearly three and a half years, and couldn’t understand why they left. He missed his mother terribly but through hard work his parents became more financially stable, and in 1978, 9-year-old Francisco joined them in Los Angeles.

At StoryCorps, Francisco—who works to strengthen relationships between the Los Angeles Police Department and the community—shares memories of his childhood in Tijuana with his 16-year-old daughter, Kaya, and tells her about the day he left Mexico to reunite with his parents in Los Angeles.

Originally aired December 16, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above: Francisco and his younger sister Ana after arriving in Los Angeles in 1978. Photo courtesy of Francisco Ortega.

Saboor Sahely and Jessica Sahely

Saboor Sahely grew up in eastern Afghanistan’s Laghman province. He remembers the village in which he was raised as being like a big family, with neighbors coming and going freely from each other’s homes, sharing food, and attending one another’s celebrations. On hot summer nights they would sleep on their roofs entertaining each other with stories late into the night. That is also where he first heard about America, planting a desire to one day come to the United States.

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In 1978, a long Afghani civil war began, and Saboor’s family, fearing that he would be unable to soon leave the country, urged him to go to the United States. He had already been accepted to Utah State University, and when he arrived in New York City, he only had with him a suitcase, the phone number of a relative he had never met, and a few hundred dollars. He used the money to purchase a bus ticket to Logan, Utah.

In Logan, he got a job as at a restaurant as a dishwasher and quickly moved up to cook, eventually becoming a district manager. But the restaurant ran into financial problems and closed. Saboor used the money he had saved to purchase the building, and in 1983 he opened Angie’s Restaurant—named after his then 2-year-old daughter.

Starting 26 years ago, Angie’s Restaurant began offering free meals to the Logan community on Thanksgiving. Saboor came to StoryCorps with his younger daughter, Jessica, to talk about his life in Afghanistan, and how the lessons he learned continue to inspire him.

Originally aired November 25, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Jenn Stanley and Peter Stanley

During the 2016 presidential race, many families are finding their viewpoints incompatible with those of even their closest relatives. So rather than spend their time constantly arguing, they have agreed to just avoid discussing politics all together.

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Jenn Stanley, 29, and her father, Peter, have experienced a strain on their relationship for years. Political discussions regularly leave them angry and frustrated with each other. Jenn, a self-described liberal who turns to yoga to clear her head, writes about feminist issues for various publications and produces a podcast about women’s rights. Peter, who relaxes by shooting his guns, works in construction and began voting Republican in 1980 during the Reagan revolution.

Whenever they are together and the news comes on the television, they argue.

When Jenn was younger, she considered Peter to be her best friend. She played softball—which she hated—because Peter liked baseball; he coached her team because he thought she wanted to play. But as she got older and left for college, their views grew further apart, making it difficult for them to talk about many of the things that are most important to each of them.

They came to StoryCorps to try to put their differences aside, and listen to each other’s points of view.

Originally aired November 4, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photo: Peter and Jenn in 1994, courtesy of Peter Stanley.

Jasmine Pacheco and Carmen Pacheco-Jones

Carmen Pacheco-Jones grew up in an unstable home and had stopped attending school by the time she was 13 years old. She was abusing drugs and alcohol, and throughout her childhood, she spent time in and out of more than a dozen foster homes.

Her drug and alcohol dependence continued into adulthood—even as Carmen started her own family. Her five children remember being raised in a chaotic home; that changed nearly 20 years ago when police in Washington state raided the house where the family was living. Following her arrest, the children were separated and placed in different foster homes.

At StoryCorps, Carmen sat down with her 27-year-old daughter, Jasmine, who was 10 years old when the raid took place, to remember what it was like when their family reconnected after being torn apart.

Today Carmen has been alcohol and drug free for 17 years and is a part of all of her children and grandchildren’s lives. This winter Jasmine is on track to graduate from Eastern Washington University with a degree in psychology and a minor in art.

Originally aired October 28, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

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