StoryCorps is Coming to Town: Seeks to Amplify Marginalized Voices; Owámni Falling Water Festival This Saturday

As part of MPR’s 50th anniversary, the national StoryCorps program will be coming to the Twin Cities area from September 7 to October 6 to record our stories — the humerus, the tragic, and the inspiring. StoryCorps mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”

StoryCorps is committed to reach out and involve people from diverse backgrounds in the project. (See 2016 MPR story: For StoryCorps, seeking more diverse participation laid foundation for growth.) To that end, StoryCorps sent an advance team to St. Paul earlier this month to ask for help from local organization that work with marginalized communities. It is giving them an opportunity to sign up for slots before opening registration to the general public. If your organization is interested, contact Felix Lopez at flopez@storycorps.org.

What is StoryCorps?

StoryCorps records an extended conversation between two people who know each other well. It is not supposed to be scripted, just a dinner table conversation. It could be about family history and relationships; it could be about a shared passion for canoeing; it could be about what you are most proud of.

Here are two local examples of local stories from the StoryCorps website.

Dawn Sahr and Asma Jama This one is unusual in that the two people in the interview had never met before. As StoryCorps summarizes it:

One night, in October 2015, Asma Jama went out for dinner with her family at an Applebee’s restaurant in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Asma, who is Somali American and Muslim, was wearing a hijab, as she always does.

While Asma was talking with her cousin in Swahili, a woman named Jodie Bruchard-Risch, who was seated nearby, told her to speak English or go back to her country. When Asma responded to say that she was a U.S. citizen, the woman smashed a beer mug across Asma’s face. She was rushed to the hospital and required 17 stitches in her face, hands and chest.

Bruchard-Risch pleaded guilty to felony assault charges and served time in jail for the crime. After the trial, her sister, Dawn Sahr, contacted Asma online and they struck up a correspondence.

At StoryCorps, Dawn and Asma met in person for the first time.

Ed Roy and Mary Johnson-Roy: Here is the summary:

When Mary Johnson’s teenage son was killed, she never thought she’d end up living next door to his murderer. We heard about that journey in an interview from 2011 between Mary and Oshea Israel, the man who murdered her son.

Mary went on to found From Death To Life, a support group for mothers who have lost their children to violence, and to speak publicly about her loss in local churches. That’s where she met another man with whom she would develop a deep bond: her husband, Ed Roy.

When they met, Ed was still suffering from the loss of his only son, Mandel Roy, who had also been murdered. At StoryCorps, Mary and Ed talked about sharing in each other’s pain and going on with life after a tragedy.

Mary and Ed were married on January 3, 2015, with Oshea Israel serving as one of their groomsmen.

John Marboe and Charlie Marboe: Here is the summary:

John Marboe is known to many as Reverend Doctor Garbage Man. He’s a Lutheran pastor, a professor, and a garbage hauler.

Growing up in Alexandria, Minnesota, he admired his local garbage man. In fact, he was friends with that man’s son and regularly played on the edge of the city landfill, marveling at the treasures people would discard.

After finishing his graduate degree in 2011, times were lean for John’s family. So he took a job hauling trash and before long, he discovered some surprising connections between his work on his garbage route and his work as a pastor.

At StoryCorps, John spoke with his 13-year-old daughter, Charlie.

How Does it Work?

People sign up for a time slot in advance. They come in as pairs. Both participants can tell a story, or one could interview the other. People are recorded in a mobile Airstream recording booth. It is a one-hour process, with about 40 minutes dedicated to recording the story (the rest of the time is introductions, prep and photos). A very small number of these stories (less than one percent) end up getting edited down to a three- to four-minute segment for broadcast (like the ones in the links above.) Approximately 14 million people listen weekly.

Participants leave with a CD of their interview as a memory they can share with family and friends. Another copy is preserved at the Library of Congress (participants can opt out if they choose.) People do not have to speak in English. (In most cases StoryCorps does not have the capacity to translate the stories, but MPR will cover translating if a story from a non-English speaking person is chosen for broadcast.) Participants do not have to use their real names if there is fear of some repercussion from the story (such as deportation or domestic abuse). They just need to tell the recorders about their preference.

If people get stuck during the conversation and feel like they have run out of things to talk about, StoryCorps has a list of conversational prompts to keep things going.

For more information, contact Lopez at the email above.

Owámni Falling Water Festival This Saturday

Remember that the Owámni Falling Water Festival is this Saturday, 1-5 p.m. at Father Hennepin Bluffs, 420 Main St. SE. According to publicity:

Owámni means “falling water” in the Dakota language, making it an apt name for a festival beside the only waterfall on the Mississippi River. This free and family-friendly event celebrates indigenous Minnesota culture with music, art, food, and more.

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