Building connections one story at a time

 Cara Solomon and George Powell think personal stories – gathering them and reading them – are the way to bridge differences and build a stronger sense of community in Boston.

Solomon is the founder and Powell is one of the most successful story ambassadors at Everyday Boston, a nonprofit organization that is attempting to knit together Boston one person’s story at a time.

Solomon and Powell are about as different as can be. Solomon is white and a former newspaper reporter for the Hartford Courant and Seattle Times who grew up in Wayland. Powell, who is black, grew up in Roxbury and spent eight years in prison. They would seem to have little in common, but listening to them on The Codcast they seem to have a powerful connection.

Everyday Boston grew out of Solomon’s frustration with reporting, parachuting into neighborhoods and trying to understand what makes them tick. As she did freelance articles in Boston, she said she kept hearing frustration from people about the way their neighborhoods were covered or not covered, and the way that that coverage (or the lack of it) influenced the way they were viewed and the way they viewed themselves.

“There was a sense of resignation that people had about the stereotypes that were really traveling like a virus through the city and the country,” she said. “There was a sense of powerlessness and I thought that perhaps it was more important to give people a tool that they could use – in other words, interviewing – to sort of capture the city that they see by interviewing neighbors that they know and neighbors that they wanted to know, building community in that way.”

Boston seemed like a good place to start, she said. “In this city we’ve got some historic divides. We’ve come a long way but we’ve got a long way to go – neighborhood by neighborhood, race by race, income by income,” she said.

Powell bought into the philosophy and became one of Everyday Boston’s first story ambassadors, people who interview others and then write up their story as a first-person account. The stories are not at all like the stories you find on news websites. They are typically not about what people do, but about how they feel.

“Something that’s compelling. Something that’s a true life experience. What makes you laugh? What makes you cry? What makes you smile? What makes you hurt? What makes you feel pain? What makes you successful? These are the things that make a story,” says Powell. “Stories are like the gateway drug to human connection.”

The story ambassadors started with people they knew and then branched out to people they didn’t know – people on the street, inmates coming out of prison. Solomon holds workshops on interviewing skills. The organization hosts gatherings where people can come together and interview each other.

Most of Everyday Boston’s stories so far have come from people in Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, and East Boston. Solomon says the organization needs to do a better of cultivating stories in the Back Bay, Brighton, and Allston.

Interviews are not just touchy-feely moments, either. Solomon says interviewing skills are useful tools in professional life – listening to people and communicating with them are valuable commodities in a workplace environment.

Both Solomon and Powell says people love to talk, particularly about themselves. Someone who will listen – really listen to them – is a powerful attraction.

“I don’t just interview people. I’m communicating with them,” says Powell. “Stories are so intimate that if we learn to share stories we realize we are not different at all.”

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

Former governor Michael Dukakis says Gov. Charlie Baker has not proposed a “serious plan for dealing with congestion yet.” (WGBH)

An outside review of the Registry of Motor Vehicles scandal indicates an employee did do a quick review of an alert from Connecticut about the drunken driving arrest of olodymyr Zhukosvskyy, who should have had his license suspended but instead continued driving and allegedly caused a crash in New Hampshire killing seven. (WCVB)

Nearly two dozen synagogues and Jewish day schools have applied for security grants from the state in the wake of an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts — and beyond. (Boston Globe)

Massachusetts state officials are hoping technology and an outreach effort can help the 2020 US Census achieve a more accurate count of Native Americans, a population that was more under-counted than any other ethnic group in 2010. (Salem News)

An alleged racist remark by a State Trooper is what spawned the investigation into overtime abuses on the police force. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A ban on “nips,” those tiny liquor bottles, is having a positive impact in Chelsea. (CommonWealth)

A day after Boston Mayor Marty Walsh defended the recent arrests of homeless people and drug users dubbed Operation Clean Sweep, presidential candidate Andrew Yang told WGBH that approach “seems to be wrong-headed.”

A Globe editorial applauds Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone for saying he’ll open a “safe injection” site in his city. A Herald editorial slams his announcement and says he should “stand down.” 

A Berkshire Eagle editorial examines Stockbridge, exploring how a town can boost the economy without destroying what is special about the community. 

After a confirmed great white shark sighting at the end of July off Scusset Beach in Sandwich,  Bourne natural resource director Christopher Southwood is taking action to set up shark protocols at a neighboring beach. (Cape Cod Times) 

Fall River welcomes its first female and first Asian firefighters among its crew of 14 new city firefighting graduates. (Herald News) 

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Amidst the growing talk of a possible recession, President Trump sees a conspiracy afoot. (New York Times

Protesters marching in Boston in solidarity with pro-democracy Hong Kong residents straining against Chinese rule were trailed by counter-protesters. (WBUR)

ELECTIONS

A group of Joseph Kennedy III supporters explain why they are launching a draft-Joe effort to have the Brookline congressman challenge Sen. Edward Markey. (CommonWealth) The New York Times reported on Saturday that Kennedy is considering it. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he’s with Markey. (Boston Herald

Ben Downing, the former Democratic state senator, says Gov. Charlie Baker needs to pursue a bolder plan for the state instead of just tinkering around the edges of problems. (CommonWealth)

Demographics shape a state’s voting patterns. Using this approach, Massachusetts is the fourth most likely state in the country to vote Democratic; by contrast, Maine is the third most likely to vote Republican — though it has “underperformed” that demographic predictor by being more purple than red. (Governing)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Trump tariffs are putting Thorndike Mills, a maker of braided wool rugs in Palmer, out of business. (MassLive)

Some Merrimack Valley technology entrepreneurs making a product for senior citizens have run into an expensive trademark battle with Amazon over the name of their company, Smart Alex. (Lowell Sun)

EDUCATION

Alma Del Mar, which was recently part of a failed attempt by state education officials to create a neighborhood-based charter school in New Bedford, opened its Frederick Douglass campus, named for the famous abolitionist who lived in the city after he escaped slavery. (Standard-Times) 

TRANSPORTATION 

A 21-year-old man was hit and killed in Belmont by an inbound train on the Fitchburg commuter rail line this morning. (MassLive)

What movie theaters can tell us about how to fix congestion on our highways. (CommonWealth)

Lynn Mayor Thomas McGee and Bedford Town Manager Sarah Stanton of the Commuter Rail Communities Coalition say enhanced commuter rail must be part of our transportation future. (CommonWealth)

The Worcester Regional Transit Authority is conducting a fare analysis that includes an option to do away with fares entirely. (Telegram & Gazette)

The operator of the MBTA ferry that ran aground Friday morning has been placed on leave pending the outcome of an investigation and drug tests. (Patriot Ledger) 

CASINOS

The Globe’s Josh Miller says the idea of a vast floral display at a casino making for a “transcendental garden experience,” as Encore Boston Harbor’s chief landscaper tells him, “sounds like a load of corporate hooey” — but not enough to keep a flowery feature about the casino gardens off the front-page this morning. 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Margaret Monsell explains why the state’s sentencing guidelines raise thorny legal issues for district attorneys and judges. (CommonWealth)

Northeastern University professor James Alan Fox says the media are conflating statistics on mass shootings and mass killings. (Boston Globe

The state Supreme Judicial Court vacated the murder conviction of George Rhodes in the beating death of Sabrina McLean after finding that Rhodes’s attorney failed to provide an adequate defense. (Brockton Enterprise) 

Two years after the death of a Weymouth mother, accused killer Cornel Bell remains at large. (Patriot Ledger)

MEDIA

John Temple of the University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism is very worried about the merger of GateHouse and Gannett. (The Atlantic)

Hinting at even more “leftist propaganda” from him in the future, WEEI personality Alex Reimer announces his departure from sports talk radio to handle communications for Sen. Eric Lesser.

The Beat The Press panel debates whether Boston media should continue to refer to a stretch of Massachusetts Avenue as “Methadone Mile.” (WGBH)