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.
“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.
“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.”
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