Fall Fashion: The latest in sounds and stories

WOC Stories producers Geraldine Ah-Sue (l) and Cristina Kim (r)

WOC Stories producers Geraldine Ah-Sue (L) and Cristina Kim (R)

Late summer must have been a busy time for audio producers because there is an amazing fall harvest of sounds and stories, so many that we wanted to spotlight a few this week.

First up is WOC (Women of Color) Stories. Geraldine Ah-Sue and Cristina Kim started a podcast celebrating women of color as makers and storytellers of their own lives. In the first episode, Kim explores fashion as a front line for self-love and activism with Tania and Tara. They talk about the Big Fat Flea NYC, an all genders fashion rummage that sells sizes Large and up!  Ah-Sue introduces listeners to Lesley, a former Aviation Mechanic who talks about coming out in high school, and her experiences in the military under the recently repealed DADT policy.


tumblr_static_18gmiq233ae8cck4kgg44ck0gRecollective producer, Carl Scott  (AKA 3hreePeaceWing) has been working with designer, deejay Niki Nel on a series of “digital mixtapes” as part of his Sonic Drifter project label.  While working on a top-secret, and oft-delayed, audio performance piece, the two producers have been whetting our appetites with some wonderful summer soundtracks.  Now they are taking us into autumn with the double release of “Gotta Find a Way” and “Shabba.”  Listen up!


Rookies_MarqueeImage_SH_long_imageFinally, we have three stories from our friends at Radio Rookies. Teenaged producers Jairo Gomez, Cece Rodriguez and Eddie Munoz shared their stories on WNYC in September.  Check out Gomez’s 10-minute documentary about living below the federal poverty line.







Free at last

Picture 1Sounds & Echoes storyteller (and renaissance woman) Jillian Mertz is working on the latest film from Director Yony Leyser (William S. Burroughs: A Man Within) called Desire Will Set You Free.  Set in Berlin’s vibrant queer and underground scenes, Desire follows the relationship of Ezra, an American writer of Israeli/Palestinian descent (played by Leyser), and Sasha, a Russian aspiring artist working as a hustler (played by Tim Fabian-Hoffman).


Director Yony Leyser (center, seated) with members of the cast of Desire Will Set You Free

The cast and crew are seeking additional funding to cover post-production costs. This includes editing, color correction, sound design, rights clearances, formatting, soundtrack production, and festival submissions.

You can learn more and check out the trailer for the film on the Desire Kickstarter page. Give what you can to ensure this project makes it into festivals and theaters!





Summer school

School is definitely not out for summer!  This June, Oral History Summer School returns to Hudson, New York (June 13 – July 1).  This program, which is now in its third year, brings together an international group of writers, social workers, radio producers, artists, teachers, and human rights workers with the purpose of helping them employ Oral History in their work.

Picture 1Oral History Summer School 2014 kicks off with an eight-day intensive introduction to Oral History that covers interview techniques, ethics, archives, project design and advocacy.   The week-long intensive will be followed by two production-focused workshops: Oral History and Radio and Oral History Experiments: Project Lab.  This year’s visiting instructors include Eugenie Mukeshimana (Genocide Survivors Support Network), Michael Garofalo (StoryCorps), Sarah Kramer (New York Times, NPR, HBO, PBS) and Jen Karady (Soldiers’ Stories From Iraq and Afghanistan).

To learn more about the program and apply go to www.oralhistorysummerschool.com.

You are unlimited

Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.) provides an array of academic, social and emotional development services that respond to the unmet needs of the young people they serve in the Evanston, Illinois area.  Those services include academic assistance, life skills education, social skill development, recreational and athletic activities, cultural and artistic activities, parental support, crisis intervention, mentoring, case management, and individual, group, and family counseling.

Our good buddy Philipp Batta joined producer Yong Shuling, cinematographer Burt Bilharz, and Y.O.U. Communications Manager Meital Caplan to produce this lovely short video that spotlights students and teachers involved in the program.  Check it out.

You can learn more about Y.O.U and find out how you can support their work at www.youevanston.org.


2007 METRO Project | ImageDigitizationSpecifications v1.0 | Epson Perfection V750 Pro

2007 METRO Project | ImageDigitizationSpecifications v1.0 | Epson Perfection V750 Pro

I cannot seem to stay away from the American Museum of Natural History!  And why should I stay away when there are great new shows and exhibits like Dark Universe, Mysteries of the Unseen World and The Power of Poison. Another great reason to return to the AMNH is the upcoming museum lecture; Slide Slam!

On April 28 the Library Special Collections at the American Museum of Natural History is proud to launch its wide-ranging new online database of digital images from the Library’s collections, featuring many images never before seen outside the Library.  Jennifer Cwiok, Digital Projects Manager at AMNH posted a sneak preview of the database in the January edition of The Recollective Blog.

Come celebrate this milestone as Library Director Tom Baione moderates a lively discussion with renowned New York-based artists Alexis Rockman and Mark Dion about how these images have been influential to their careers. The discussion will be illustrated with slides of the artists’ popular work, juxtaposed with the Museum images that inspired their creativity and artistic experience.
art_003_b1_27As a memento, each guest will receive a packet of historic 35mm lecture slides from the Library’s collection. In the pre-Internet era, these slides were provided to educators and researchers presentations and reference.

Tickets for the event are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and $10 for students.  Learn more about the lecture and purchase your tickets go to http://www.amnh.org/learn-teach/adults/museum-lectures/slide-slam.


All about us

When writer and oral historian Nicki Pombier Berger learned that her son Jonah was born with Down syndrome it opened up a whole new world for her.  She soon realized that before Jonah she had never met anyone with Down syndrome or even had a meaningful encounter with anyone with an intellectual disability.

At the time, she was in graduate school at Columbia, and decided to use her education to navigate this new world.  In September 2012 Nicki began interviewing adults with Down syndrome who had successfully advocated for themselves and on behalf of others.  As the number of interviews grew she named the project Nothing About Us Without Us and  began sharing the interviews on Cowbird, an online storytelling platform that allows people to post stories using text, photos, and sound.

Screen shot from Cowbird.com

Screen shot from Cowbird.com

The Recollective:  What inspired you to document these stories?

Nicki:  My decision to focus on the stories of self-advocates reflected both my own driving curiosity about what it means to live with Down syndrome, and my sense from a few pivotal conversations that voices of people with Down syndrome weren’t necessarily being heard, even at times by those who are advocating for them. While I began with a set of research questions related more specifically to how self-advocates viewed their own roles in the advocacy landscape, my project evolved as I developed relationships with my interviewees and better understood some of their desires to speak and be heard for who they are: in the words of interviewee David Egan, to be seen as “one of us, not one among us.”

In creating an editorial product as the centerpiece of my thesis, I wanted to connect the self-advocates with an audience who might not encounter anyone with Down syndrome otherwise. In my interview and editorial process, I worked to leverage the tools and ethics of oral history in the service of self-representation for my interviewees, working to show their agency in their own lives and the lives of others. I confronted, challenged and expanded my own limited views, and in making my thesis public, I hoped to help others do the same.

The Recollective:  What inspired the name of this project?

Nicki:  I first heard the phrase “Nothing About Us Without Us” from one of my interviewees, John Anton, a self-advocate from Massachusetts. In our interview, John told me about his efforts over the years to ensure that he has a say in decisions about his own life – where he lives, what kinds of work he does, what goals he wants to pursue, and so on. “Nothing About Us Without Us,” a slogan of the disability rights movement, means that no such decisions – at the policy or individual level – should be made without the full participation of the people they impact. I adopted this slogan as the title for my thesis in consultation with another interviewee, David Egan, whose perspectives on media representation of people with intellectual disabilities were influential in my decision to take an editorial approach with my thesis, rather than simply writing an academic paper.

The Recollective:  How did you find your interview subjects?

Nicki:  Once I had a focus – self-advocates with Down syndrome – my outreach process
pretty much followed my relationships and my geography. When I first decided to do my oral history thesis on Down syndrome, I met with Jon Colman, President of the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), who helped orient me to the landscape of advocacy and offered his support as my ideas for using oral history to explore Down syndrome evolved. When I decided to focus on self-advocates,

Jon and his colleagues, Sara Hart Weir and Vanessa Quick, connected me with self-advocates in their network who lived in driving range for me: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York. I interviewed Claire Bible in Madison, Wisconsin, my hometown, whom I met through another NDSS contact, Sterling Lynk, Executive Director of the Madison Area Down Syndrome Society (MADSS).

There is no question that a focus on self-advocates – individuals who speak up and speak out for themselves and others – leaves out many individuals with Down syndrome.  A question I continue to explore is how to support autobiographical storytelling with individuals for whom an oral narration may not be the best way to “tell” their story.  Noelle McCormack, an oral historian in the UK, is doing work I admire on that front, and the anthology edited by Dorothy Atkinson and Fiona Williams, Know Me As I Am, is so rich, thorough, and thoughtfully compiled, it’s a real standard-bearer.

Nicki Pombier-Berger with her son Jonah and advocate David Egan

Nicki Pombier Berger with her son Jonah and advocate David Egan

The Recollective:  The stories really vary in medium, style and subject matter.  What informed those choices and what is the common thread you hope emerges from all the stories now that they are collected?

Nicki:  I’m glad you’re asking this question – it means I succeeded! As I moved from interview collection into the editorial process, I knew I wanted to create a final product that would present stories reflective of the diversity and individuality of the self-advocates I interviewed. I also wanted to reach an audience who might not otherwise encounter individuals with Down syndrome.

Since I wanted to reach a general public, Cowbird was a fantastic platform, with its built-in broad ranging audience, its culture of curiosity and empathy, and its tools for connecting stories to one another on themes. But rather than starting with a sense of particular themes or topics I wanted to illustrate and looking for excerpts to do so, I went back to my interviews and listened for what I thought came through as most important to the interviewee, editing excerpts accordingly. I tried to edit in such a way that showed the interviewee as expert authors of their own experiences, endeavoring to communicate a concept or perspective or memory to me. Leaving myself as an interviewer in some of these excerpts is one way I did so.

But I wanted to make sure that Nothing About Us Without Us was more than just a nod to the disability rights movement – I wanted it to infuse the project. While I began editing by interpreting what I thought was important to each interviewee, I built in a review process that gave them a say in what I shared, and how. At the time of my interviews, I wasn’t yet sure what that final product would be, and while interviewees signed release forms giving me permission to use their interviews in my thesis, once I decided that the centerpiece would be online, I wanted interviewees to decide whether or not they wanted their stories “out there” in this way. I went through a second and more specific review and release
process, which informed my editorial options and choices. For instance, Sara Wolff restricted my use of her interview audio, but gave me permission to use transcripts, which is why her stories appear as text. She and other interviewees provided editorial input before I posted their stories to the collection, adding, deleting, combining or suggesting stories, and the resulting collection does, I believe, reflect a collaborative effort between myself and my interviewees.

The Recollective:  Will the project continue?

Nicki:  Yes.  David Egan, took a particular interest in the project, reaching out to me after our initial interview to ask if he could get more involved. Another great thing about Cowbird as a platform is that others can add their own stories to shared projects. David and I have conducted two workshops to introduce the project to others, and encourage them to add their own stories. We are also hoping to interview other individuals with Down syndrome together.

The Recollective:  What will become of the stories now that they have been collected?

Nicki:  I am currently processing the full interview materials for submission to the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) at the University of California, Berkeley, for inclusion in the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement collection. There the interviews will be preserved and available in full – audio and transcripts – to scholars, advocates, and, who knows, maybe another new parent looking to broaden their own view or understanding of what’s possible for (and from) people with Down syndrome.

To learn more about this project and find out how you or someone you know can participate go to http://cowbird.com/project/nothing-about-us-without-us/introduction/

Legacy of listening

Trey Rivera interviewing Khiari Benson in 2013

Trey Rivera interviewing Khiari Benson in 2013

Devote part of the curriculum to listening.

The concept was a radical one for 4th and 1 Football Camp—a free, weeklong camp that provides football, college prep, and life skills training to at-risk teens.  After all, there was just too much to teach and never quite enough time.

When The Recollective came to 4th and 1 in 2012 to record audio interviews of our student-athletes and volunteers, they turned our fast-paced camp on its head.

Our student-athletes were solving math and verbal questions, taking diagnostic exams, honing their handshakes and interview skills, practicing yoga, and running football drills 16 hours each day. There was barely enough time for three square meals.  Would devoting some of that precious time to listening exercises be worth it? Frankly, I wasn’t sure.

Student-athlete, Heath Holt

Student-athlete, Heath Holt

The Recollective scheduled me for an audio interview with student-athlete Heath Holt, a linebacker who had been coming to camp every summer since 2010.  The Holts were a cheerful family, always among the first to show up, en masse, to drop off Heath at camp.

“Why is your family so tight-knit?” I asked during the interview. A simple question but, it occurred to me, one I had never asked in all the years I’d known the Holts.

“Well, actually, it’s because of my little brother, who was born with Spina bifida,” Heath said.  “When my younger brother passed away, our family became even closer, because we found out what we had, and we realized we should enjoy what we have when we have it.”

How was it that I didn’t know this about Heath?

Over the course of the week, The Recollective collected stories from our student-athletes about topics as wide-ranging as being raised by a single mother, surviving Hurricane Katrina, loved ones who had passed away, gun violence, and race relations.

Overcome adversity.  It was a mantra we repeated at 4th and 1, but until The Recollective began listening, we didn’t know, concretely, what “adversity” actually meant to our student-athletes.

“I play football in memory of my father,” a reserved fifteen-year-old Ralph Trey Rivera, III explained in his Recollective interview.  Trey was so quiet that he’d allowed me to call him Ralph for three days until he corrected me.  “Actually, Ralph is my dad, so everyone calls me Trey, or Big Trey,” he said.

Trey, who had watched his father collapse from a heart-attack in their kitchen when he was just nine, couldn’t think of just one favorite memory of his dad.  “Every memory is a favorite memory.”

The Recollective’s audio interview became, for Trey, a distillation of his motivations and dreams, and Trey fell in love with radio as a medium.

In 2013, Trey picked up where The Recollective left off by collecting audio interviews of his fellow student-athletes during his second year attending 4th and 1.

Trey had also spent the year thinking about how he’d struggled after his father passed away, he told me, and here’s what he was going to do about it—start his own camp, one similar to 4th and 1, but for 8-12 year-old kids.

Ralph Trey Rivera III with student athletes at Camp Strive

Ralph Trey Rivera III with student athletes at Camp Strive

“When I lost my father it was the hardest time for me,” Trey said during an audio interview we recorded in 2013.  “I didn’t care about school, I wasn’t the nicest kid, and I was always bullied. It was the hardest time in my life, because I didn’t know who I was anymore.”

As a legacy of The Recollective’s work at 4th and 1, student-athletes now sit in small groups with mentors and talk at the end of each day.  Just listen to them, I instruct our mentors.  That’s the most important thing you can do.

Or, as Trey put it:  “It’s very hard to talk about sometimes, because, you know, just as these student-athletes that I want to serve through my camp feel like there’s nobody there to listen to them and be there for them, I also feel like that sometimes.

But then, I look at my supportive family, and I look at my mentors and these people around me who are opening doors that I would not have known about if I had not gone to 4th and 1 Football Camp. It’s really an opportunity when you’ve gone through such hard things, and you go to one camp and you regain your self-confidence. You regain everything.”

HeadshotGuest blogger, Vivian Chum is Executive Director of 4th and 1 Football Camp and an attorney in Washington, DC.