All conversations, especially in person, became even more special and sacred after what we all endured in 2020.
My Grandfather’s Story
Ten years ago, I went with my grandfather to record his life story which is now housed in the Library of Congress through a nonprofit organization called StoryCorps. For more than 17 years, StoryCorps has connected loved ones for meaningful conversations that document the personal and community histories of our country.
During our recorded conversation that lasted over an hour, he opened up to me about his upbringing. He was an only child disowned by his father’s extended family who were devout Jews. His mother was an orphan, not of the Jewish faith. When his parents married, all communication between the families ceased.
As a result, he grew up very lonely only seeing his grandfather, a Jewish rabbi, from a distance on the streets of Birmingham. He never formally met his father’s relatives and never knew any of his mother’s kin.
One Small Step
If there is anything that 2020 has taught us, it is lean into the conversations of others who are both like us and different.
Now as residents of Birmingham, we have a very special opportunity through a StoryCorps initiative called One Small Step.
One Small Step has chosen four of our country’s most politically diverse cities. These are communities that are culturally, historically, and demographically distinct. Cities that can lead the way in showing us all what is possible when we take time to listen to the opinions of people with whom we disagree.
Birmingham is one of the selected towns.
The Process for Birmingham Residents
The process of One Small Step is very simple.
The organization matches Birmingham residents to record with a StoryCorps facilitator. Each person shares a short autobiography (no last name attached) with one another prior to the interview.
When coming together for a conversation, the two interview partners agree on the questions. The recording lasts about 40 minutes, and the whole process takes about 90 minutes.
Conversations are facilitated over a virtual interview recording platform that allows for participants to engage in this effort in a manner that adheres to COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Each participant will receive a digital copy of the recording, with each participant’s consent to share. With permission, the recording can also be preserved for future generations in the StoryCorps Archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
These conversations are not about politics. They are about who we are as people and what we share as Americans. It’s an opportunity to talk about the life experiences that formed our values, and to listen with respect while learning about one another.
The Purpose of One Small Step
StoryCorps created One Small Step to bring together two strangers who may believe they have nothing in common to get to know one another as people and create meaningful connections. Through hundreds of pilot interviews conducted across America, One Small Step is a seamless and powerful experience for anyone who is tired of division. It is for those who want to take one small step to do something about the current culture in the U.S.
If you are interested in participating or want to learn more about this amazing initiative, you can sign up here: Take One Small Step, Birmingham – StoryCorps.
We Will Be Better for It
My kids ask lots of thoughtful questions about family, upbringing, and living in the South. Sometimes I don’t want to get into deep conversations because I am driving, preoccupied with other thoughts, or it is just an inconvenient time for me. But learning to lean into the importance of these discussions is imperative.
We will all be better parents, wives, friends, and co-workers if we talk about the important life experiences that formed our values and listen with respect to another whose life has been different from ours. That is something well worth the time to teach our children whose main communication techniques may include hurried text messages and typing a few words through a social media post.
It’s an honor that Birmingham has been chosen to engage in positive one-on-one conversations concerning what has shaped us as individuals. As Americans, at this intersection of our country’s future, we should see this as both an opportunity and an obligation to have more meaningful exchanges.
As moms, we can explain to our children why we are devoting our time to be involved in this valuable undertaking. It will take honesty, candor, and perhaps stepping out of our comfort zone.
From my experience with my grandfather, I know that the benefits gained by participating in meaningful conversations will far outweigh the time invested.