There are two streams of collecting oral history: the private reflections of public figures (see The Clinton Tapes by Taylor Branch), and the memories and experiences of regular folks whose stories are passed on through family and friends but who often don’t see their lives reflected in history books.
Before anything was written, community history was passed down through the generations with stories, poems, and songs (see the griot tradition in West Africa). In our ever-globalizing world, we don’t always grow up in the same place as our parents, grandparents, and ancestors, and we don’t always have the opportunity to hear the stories of our elders. And that’s why community oral history projects like Listen to This: Crown Heights Oral History Project directed by Alex Kelly and sponsored by Crow Hill Community Association, NYC Grassroots Media Coalition, and Super Wings NY, are so vital.
Five students from Paul Robeson High School interviewed over 45 people who have lived in Crown Heights for over 15 years and the resulting collection of stories are available for listening in an exhibit at LaunchPad (721 Franklin Ave between Park and Sterling). Copies of the interviews are also available for listening in several archives in Brooklyn including Paul Robeson High School, Medgar Evers College, Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, Brooklyn Public Library – Eastern Parkway, Weeksville Heritage Center, and more (including BHS soon).
The community celebration and exhibition opening at LaunchPad yesterday was a wonderful event. The room was packed with longtime residents and people who are new to Crown Heights and want to get to know their neighbors; City Council Member Letitia James, Crow Hill Community Association founder Eve Porter, and people who are not yet old enough to vote but who are already actively engaged in community organizing; plus good food, good music, and many good stories: how amazing to meet the people responsible for planting gorgeous trees that look like they have been on the block forever!
The exhibit Listen to This is on view at LaunchPad until the end of June – don’ t miss it.