The Gift of Listening

I got hooked on listening to podcasts this year and one of my favorites is the NPR TED Radio Hour.  (As a reminder, there was a wonderful session at the ABA SDR conference about podcasts and Rishi Batra compiled a list of podcasts that you might be interested in.)

I recently listened to an extremely touching episode called “The Act of Listening.”  There were two segments featuring Dave Isay who is “the founder of StoryCorps, an audio project that has collected more than 50,000 personal interviews.  The archives of StoryCorps are kept at the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center, and constitute the largest single collection of recorded voices in history.  StoryCorps invites friends and loved ones to conduct 40-minute interviews at small recording booths across the country.  Offering moving and surprising glimpses into the lives of often marginalized and forgotten subjects, the interviews are a familiar feature of NPR’s Morning Edition and”

Mr. Isay’s goal is to record and share stories of people who often are overlooked in our society.  He notes that the act of listening in itself is a gift, demonstrating that the speaker is important and worth listening to.  The first segment in the podcast was from one of his early radio documentaries.  He gave a tape recorder to a black teenager living in a ghetto, who interviewed his mother and a friend and got his grandmother to sing a song.  Even this short excerpt provides a window into a world that many of us never see.

The second segment about Mr. Isay provides a more general description of the StoryCorps project and includes excerpts of several other moving interviews.  In a personal note, he described his own negative reaction when his father came out as being gay and how he did a radio documentary about the survivors of the Stonewall riots to come to terms with his father and issues of sexual identity.

The podcast also includes the remarkable story of Rev. Jeffrey Brown, who “is a Baptist minister and president of RECAP (Rebuilding Every Community Around Peace), a national organization that seeks to reduce gang violence by building partnerships among faith-based organizations, city governments and law enforcement agencies.  He is one of the co-founders of the Boston Ten Point Coalition, a faith-based group that was an integral part of the ‘Boston Miracle,’ a process by which the city experienced a significant decline in violent crime in the ’90s.  It inspired similar projects across the country. Rev. Brown consults nationwide on community mobilization and combating youth violence.”

In the podcast, Rev. Brown described how he and others reached out to drug dealers and gang members in his neighborhood by walking the streets late on Friday and Saturday nights.  At first, the youth were suspicious, but eventually they opened up to his efforts to listen to their stories and problems.  Over time, he came to really appreciate them and help get resources for them to move into more productive paths.

These descriptions don’t begin to reflect how moving these segments are.  I was in tears as I listened.

The hour-long podcast also features segments on listening to sounds from outer space and a story about a deaf percussionist.  These are less relevant to DR issues and you might or might want to listen to them.


2 thoughts on “The Gift of Listening”

  1. This reminds me a lot of a project I did in undergrad — a compilation of anecdotes from residents who had lived on the “west side” of Bloomington, IL. As the city grown, many residents do not know about the rich history of this neighborhood and how it has shaped what the community looks like today. West-side residents were thrilled to share the stories of themselves and their families, while other community members were fascinated by what they had to say. Very interesting how the simple act of story telling, and in turn listening to stories, can bring a community together

  2. Thanks for this post John. I have heard Story Board spots but hadn’t looked for a podcast and this makes me want to listen and to investigate using this in class sometime.

    Much appreciated!


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