When I was 22 years old, I was lucky enough to find my calling when I fell into making radio stories. At almost the exact same time, I found out that my dad, who I was very, very close to, was gay. I was taken completely by surprise. We were a very tight-knit family, and I was crushed. At some point, in one of our strained conversations, my dad mentioned the Stonewall riots. He told me that one night in 1969, a group of young black and Latino drag queens fought back against the police at a gay bar in Manhattan called the Stonewall Inn, and how this sparked the modern gay rights movement.
It was an amazing story, and it piqued my interest. So I decided to pick up my tape recorder and find out more. With the help of a young archivist named Michael Shirker, we tracked down all of the people we could find who had been at the Stonewall Inn that night. Recording these interviews, I saw how the microphone gave me the license to go places I otherwise never would have gone and talk to people I might not otherwise ever have spoken to. I had the privilege of getting to know some of the most amazing, fierce and courageous human beings I had ever met. It was the first time the story of Stonewall had been told to a national audience. I dedicated the program to my dad, it changed my relationship with him, and it changed my life.
Over the next 15 years, I made many more radio documentaries, working to shine a light on people who are rarely heard from in the media. Over and over again, I’d see how this simple act of being interviewed could mean so much to people, particularly those who had been told that their stories didn’t matter. I could literally see people’s back straighten as they started to speak into the microphone.
In 1998, I made a documentary about the last flophouse hotels on the Bowery in Manhattan. Guys stayed up in these cheap hotels for decades. They lived in cubicles the size of prison cells covered with chicken wire so you couldn’t jump from one room into the next. Later, I wrote a book on the men with the photographer Harvey Wang. I remember walking into a flophouse with an early version of the book and showing one of the guys his page. He stood there staring at it in silence, then he grabbed the book out of my hand and started running down the long, narrow hallway holding it over his head shouting, “I exist! I exist.” (Applause)
In many ways, “I exist” became the clarion call for StoryCorps, this crazy idea that I had a dozen years ago. The thought was to take documentary work and turn it on its head. Traditionally, broadcast documentary has been about recording interviews to create a work of art or entertainment or education that is seen or heard by a whole lot of people, but I wanted to try something where the interview itself was the purpose of this work, and see if we could give many, many, many people the chance to be listened to in this way. So in Grand Central Terminal 11 years ago, we built a booth where anyone can come to honor someone else by interviewing them about their life. You come to this booth and you’re met by a facilitator who brings you inside. You sit across from, say, your grandfather for close to an hour and you listen and you talk. Many people think of it as, if this was to be our last conversation, what would I want to ask of and say to this person who means so much to me? At the end of the session, you walk away with a copy of the interview and another copy goes to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress so that your great-great-great-grandkids can someday get to know your grandfather through his voice and story.
So we open this booth in one of the busiest places in the world and invite people to have this incredibly intimate conversation with another human being. I had no idea if it would work, but from the very beginning, it did. People treated the experience with incredible respect, and amazing conversations happened inside.
I want to play just one animated excerpt from an interview recorded at that original Grand Central Booth. This is 12-year-old Joshua Littman interviewing his mother, Sarah. Josh has Asperger’s syndrome. As you may know, kids with Asperger’s are incredibly smart but have a tough time socially. They usually have obsessions. In Josh’s case, it’s with animals, so this is Josh talking with his mom Sarah at Grand Central nine years ago.
SL: You were the one who made me a parent. That’s a good point. (Laughter) But also because you think differently from what they tell you in the parenting books, I really had to learn to think outside of the box with you, and it’s made me much more creative as a parent and as a person, and I’ll always thank you for that.
David Isay: After this story ran on public radio, Josh received hundreds of letters telling him what an amazing kid he was. His mom, Sarah, bound them together in a book, and when Josh got picked on at school, they would read the letters together. I just want to acknowledge that two of my heroes are here with us tonight. Sarah Littman and her son Josh, who is now an honors student in college. (Applause)
You know, a lot of people talk about crying when they hear StoryCorps stories, and it’s not because they’re sad. Most of them aren’t. I think it’s because you’re hearing something authentic and pure at this moment, when sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s an advertisement. It’s kind of the anti-reality TV. Nobody comes to StoryCorps to get rich. Nobody comes to get famous. It’s simply an act of generosity and love. So many of these are just everyday people talking about lives lived with kindness, courage, decency and dignity, and when you hear that kind of story, it can sometimes feel like you’re walking on holy ground. So this experiment in Grand Central worked,
We’ve hired and trained hundreds of facilitators to help guide people through the experience. Most serve a year or two with StoryCorps traveling the country, gathering the wisdom of humanity. They call it bearing witness, and if you ask them, all of the facilitators will tell you that the most important thing they’ve learned from being present during these interviews is that people are basically good. And I think for the first years of StoryCorps, you could argue that there was some kind of a selection bias happening, but after tens of thousands of interviews with every kind of person in every part of the country — rich, poor, five years old to 105, 80 different languages, across the political spectrum — you have to think that maybe these guys are actually onto something.
I’ve also learned so much from these interviews. I’ve learned about the poetry and the wisdom and the grace that can be found in the words of people all around us when we simply take the time to listen, like this interview between a betting clerk in Brooklyn named Danny Perasa who brought his wife Annie to StoryCorps to talk about his love for her.
(Audio) Danny Perasa: You see, the thing of it is, I always feel guilty when I say “I love you” to you. And I say it so often. I say it to remind you that as dumpy as I am, it’s coming from me. It’s like hearing a beautiful song from a busted old radio, and it’s nice of you to keep the radio around the house.
DP: When a guy is happily married, no matter what happens at work, no matter what happens in the rest of the day, there’s a shelter when you get home, there’s a knowledge knowing that you can hug somebody without them throwing you downstairs and saying, “Get your hands off me.” Being married is like having a color television set. You never want to go back to black and white. (Laughter)
Like an interview with Oshea Israel and Mary Johnson. When Oshea was a teenager, he murdered Mary’s only son, Laramiun Byrd, in a gang fight. A dozen years later, Mary went to prison to meet Oshea and find out who this person was who had taken her son’s life. Slowly and remarkably, they became friends, and when he was finally released from the penitentiary, Oshea actually moved in next door to Mary. This is just a short excerpt of a conversation they had soon after Oshea was freed.
(Video) Mary Johnson: My natural son is no longer here. I didn’t see him graduate, and now you’re going to college. I’ll have the opportunity to see you graduate. I didn’t see him get married. Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to experience that with you. Oshea Israel: Just to hear you say those things and to be in my life in the manner in which you are is my motivation. It motivates me to make sure that I stay on the right path. You still believe in me, and the fact that you can do it despite how much pain I caused you, it’s amazing.
Like the story of Alexis Martinez, who was born Arthur Martinez in the Harold Ickes projects in Chicago. In the interview, she talks with her daughter Lesley about joining a gang as a young man, and later in life transitioning into the woman she was always meant to be. This is Alexis and her daughter Lesley.
(Audio) Alexis Martinez: One of the most difficult things for me was I was always afraid that I wouldn’t be allowed to be in my granddaughters’ lives, and you blew that completely out of the water, you and your husband. One of the fruits of that is, in my relationship with my granddaughters, they fight with each other sometimes over whether I’m he or she.
I’m going to tell you a secret about StoryCorps. It takes some courage to have these conversations. StoryCorps speaks to our mortality. Participants know this recording will be heard long after they’re gone. There’s a hospice doctor named Ira Byock who has worked closely with us on recording interviews with people who are dying. He wrote a book called “The Four Things That Matter Most” about the four things you want to say to the most important people in your life before they or you die: thank you, I love you, forgive me, I forgive you. They’re just about the most powerful words we can say to one another, and often that’s what happens in a StoryCorps booth. It’s a chance to have a sense of closure with someone you care about — no regrets, nothing left unsaid. And it’s hard and it takes courage, but that’s why we’re alive, right?
So, the TED Prize. When I first heard from TED and Chris a few months ago about the possibility of the Prize, I was completely floored. They asked me to come up with a very brief wish for humanity, no more than 50 words. So I thought about it, I wrote my 50 words, and a few weeks later, Chris called and said, “Go for it.”
How are we going to do that? With this. We’re fast moving into a future where everyone in the world will have access to one of these, and it has powers I never could have imagined 11 years ago when I started StoryCorps. It has a microphone, it can tell you how to do things, and it can send audio files. Those are the key ingredients.
So the first part of the wish is already underway. Over the past couple of months, the team at StoryCorps has been working furiously to create an app that will bring StoryCorps out of our booths so that it can be experienced by anyone, anywhere, anytime. Remember, StoryCorps has always been two people and a facilitator helping them record their conversation, which is preserved forever, but at this very moment, we’re releasing a public beta version of the StoryCorps app. The app is a digital facilitator that walks you through the StoryCorps interview process, helps you pick questions, and gives you all the tips you need to record a meaningful StoryCorps interview, and then with one tap upload it to our archive at the Library of Congress.
That’s the easy part, the technology. The real challenge is up to you: to take this tool and figure out how we can use it all across America and around the world, so that instead of recording thousands of StoryCorps interviews a year, we could potentially record tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or maybe even more.
Imagine, for example, a national homework assignment where every high school student studying U.S. history across the country records an interview with an elder over Thanksgiving, so that in one single weekend an entire generation of American lives and experiences are captured. (Applause) Or imagine mothers on opposite sides of a conflict somewhere in the world sitting down not to talk about that conflict but to find out who they are as people, and in doing so, begin to build bonds of trust; or that someday it becomes a tradition all over the world that people are honored with a StoryCorps interview on their 75th birthday; or that people in your community go into retirement homes or hospitals or homeless shelters or even prisons armed with this app to honor the people least heard in our society and ask them who they are, what they’ve learned in life, and how they want to be remembered. (Applause)
Ten years ago, I recorded a StoryCorps interview with my dad who was a psychiatrist, and became a well-known gay activist. This is the picture of us at that interview. I never thought about that recording until a couple of years ago, when my dad, who seemed to be in perfect health and was still seeing patients 40 hours a week, was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away very suddenly a few days later. It was June 28, 2012, the anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
I listened to that interview for the first time at three in the morning on the day that he died. I have a couple of young kids at home, and I knew that the only way they were going to get to know this person who was such a towering figure in my life would be through that session. I thought I couldn’t believe in StoryCorps any more deeply than I did, but it was at that moment that I fully and viscerally grasped the importance of making these recordings.
Every day, people come up to me and say, “I wish I had interviewed my father or my grandmother or my brother, but I waited too long.” Now, no one has to wait anymore. At this moment, when so much of how we communicate is fleeting and inconsequential, join us in creating this digital archive of conversations that are enduring and important. Help us create this gift to our children, this testament to who we are as human beings. I hope you’ll help us make this wish come true. Interview a family member, a friend or even a stranger. Together, we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity, and maybe in doing so, we’ll learn to listen a little more and shout a little less. Maybe these conversations will remind us what’s really important. And maybe, just maybe, it will help us recognize that simple truth that every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely. Thank you very much. (Applause) Thank you. Thank you. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause)
”我是存在的“通过很多途径 成为了StoryCorps的口号， StoryCorps是我十多年前 就想到的疯狂的主意。 我的想法是制作纪实作品， 并变革它，赋予它新的意义。 通常来讲，广播纪实来自于访谈， 进而以艺术、娱乐或教育的目的呈现出来， 以视听的方式传播给每个人。 但我要尝试， 让访谈本身成为这些作品的目的， 从而给越来越多的人机会， 通过这种方式被人知晓。 因此，11年前，在纽约中央车站， 我们建造了一个亭子， 每个人都可以走进来， 与另外一个人以访谈的方式 表达对彼此的尊敬。 你走到这个亭子旁边， 一个工作人员会领你进去， 你的对面坐着，比如你的祖父， 在将近一小时的时间里， 你们互相倾听与交流。 许多人是这么想的， 如果这是我们之间最后一次谈话， 我会问什么？ 我想对这位对我而言 意义非凡的人说些什么？ 访谈结束后， 你带着一份音像记录离开， 另有一份将存入美国国会图书馆的 Folklife中心， 这样未来的一天， 你的曾曾曾孙辈就能通过这段音频和故事 了解你的祖父。
我要告诉你们一个 关于StoryCorps的秘密。 为你们讲述这个秘密需要一些勇气。 StoryCorps也会对死亡进行访谈。 来StoryCorps访谈的人知道他们的声音 在百年之后依然会被别人听到。 临终救济院的一位名为Ira Byock的医生 跟我们有着紧密的合作， 来录制那些即将逝去的人的对话。 他出了一本书， 名为《最重要的四件事》， 书中描述了人们在面临死亡时， 有四件事情是最想跟最亲近的人说的： 谢谢你，我爱你， 原谅我，我原谅你。 这正是我们能对另外一个人 所说的最强大的几句话， 这些话经常出现在StoryCorps的小亭子里。 这是一个与你关心的人 近距离沟通的机会—— 不留遗憾，倾吐心扉。 这不容易，需要勇气， 但这不就是我们活着的意义所在吗？
想象一下， 比如有一个全国范围内的作业， 全国每一个学习美国历史的 高中生都在感恩节 跟一位老人进行一次访谈， 这样仅用一个周末的时间， 整一代美国人的生活 与经历都会被捕捉到； （掌声） 或者再设想，世界某个角落 中身处对立面的母亲们， 能够坐下来，不去谈论矛盾， 而是尝试去了解彼此， 进而建立信任的纽带； 或者设想某一天，全世界的人都 把75岁生日时进行一段StoryCorps访谈 当成一种习俗； 或者你的社区里的人 走进养老院，或医院， 或救济所，甚至是监狱， 用StoryCorps访谈的方式 表达对那里很少被社会倾听的人的尊敬， 问他们： 你们是谁，你们在生活中有什么收获， 你们希望如何被这个世界记住。 （掌声）
每天，都会有人跟我说， 我多么希望能跟我的父亲， 或祖母，或兄弟进行一次访谈， 但我等了太久。 如今，没人需要等了。 在这个 人与人之间的沟通交流 变得平淡无奇的年代， 与我们一起，录制一段 历久弥新且无比珍贵的访谈。 与我们一起， 为我们的孩子制作一份礼物， 一份展现人类本我的箴言。 希望你会帮助我们，让它变为现实。 与你的家人，朋友， 甚至是一个陌生人进行一段访谈。 我们一起努力，来收集人类智慧的结晶， 或许，在这个过程中， 我们会学着慎言，善听。 或许这些对话会提醒我们 什么才是真正重要的。 或许，仅仅是或许， 这将会帮助我们意识到 一个简单的真理， 众生平等， 生命的意义没有极限。 非常感谢。 （掌声） 谢谢。谢谢。 （掌声） 谢谢。 （掌声）