Work — the centerpiece of so many of our day-to-day conversations.
What do you do for a living? Do you feel fulfilled by the work that you do?
Now more than ever, Americans are searching for their life’s calling, contemplating their relationship to work, and striving to maintain a living in the face of uncertainty.
As early as 1974, oral historian Studs Terkel revolutionized the conversation around work in his book, “Working,” by asking ordinary people what they did all day. Terkel was dedicated to documenting the lives of everyday Americans, championing the disenfranchised and giving a voice to those who had been overlooked.
Inspired by Studs Terkel’s approach to archiving the American experience, former President Barack Obama produced a new Netflix documentary series, “Working: What We Do All Day.” The series from Higher Ground is directed by Caroline Suh and shares intimate portraits of people’s lives and work, giving viewers a new understanding of and appreciation for the jobs we do each day.
StoryCorps’ mission to preserve and share humanity’s stories was also inspired in part by Terkel’s oral history project. And surely, when folks come to StoryCorps, they don’t shy away from having real conversations about the meaning of work in their lives. Take some time to reflect on your connection to work, listen to the unheard experiences of everyday people, and celebrate the depth and diversity of their stories — by listening to the collection of StoryCorps conversations below and by watching the newly released “Working” series now streaming on Netflix.
A message from Barack Obama…
Sanitation workers Angelo Bruno and Eddie Nieves worked together for nearly ten years on the same garbage route in Manhattan’s West Village and became fixtures in the community. After 31 years on the job, Angelo retired in 2019. At StoryCorps, he talked with Eddie about the unexpected lessons he learned along the way and what he still misses about the job. Read the transcript.
Mohammad Ashraf Faridi immigrated from Pakistan to the United States in the 1980s. He settled in New York City, and his family joined him almost a decade later. By then, Mohammad was earning a living driving a cab. His oldest son, Muhammad, opens up to him about growing up as the son of a taxi driver. Though he was once embarrassed to talk about his family, Muhammad now takes pride in his father’s work. Read the transcript.
The View from Here
Barb Abelhauser worked in an office for 14 years until one day she quit and decided to become a bridgetender on the Ortega River Bridge in Jacksonville, Florida. She planned to work there for a year. Eight years later she came to StoryCorps to talk about why she stayed. Read the transcript.
A Family Man
In 1955, John L. Black, Sr. started his job as a janitor for the Cincinnati public school system. He regularly put in 16-hour days to provide for his wife and eleven children. At StoryCorps, his son Samuel talks with his wife, Edda Fields-Black, about his father’s lasting legacy and the power of a look. Read the transcript.
Labor of Love
Mary Stepp Burnette Hayden was born into enslavement in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She was 7 years old when she was freed. She stayed in Black Mountain and became a midwife, delivering several hundred babies including her own grandchildren. Her granddaughter, Mary Othella Burnette, came to StoryCorps with her daughter, Debora Hamilton Palmer, to honor the family matriarch. Read the transcript.
The Icing on the Cake
Blanca Alvarez immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1972. She crossed the border with her husband and son while she was pregnant with her daughter, Connie. When they arrived in the U.S., the couple worked hard to support their family. Blanca and her husband hoped to shelter their children from their struggles to make ends meet, but Blanca’s daughter, Connie, reveals how much children can really see their parents’ lives — and the inspiration they draw from their parents’ struggles. Read the transcript.
Man of Steel
To Ken Kobus, the steel mill was always a part of his life. His father, John Kobus, dedicated 40 years of his career as a steelmaker. Towards the end of John’s life, he spent it bedridden in hospice care, motioning and manipulating the air as if he was still making steel. At StoryCorps, Ken sits down with his friend Ron Barraf to honor John’s legacy. Read the transcript.
StoryCorps’ animations are supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.
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.