StoryCorps

Fridays during Morning Edition

StoryCorps provides Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.

Since Dave Isay founded StoryCorps in 2003, the organization has provided more than 100,000 Americans with access to a quiet booth and platform to record and share interviews about their lives. These Conversations are archived at the U.S. Library of Congress.

At the heart of StoryCorps is a simple, timeless idea: provide two friends or loved ones with a quiet space and 40 minutes of uninterrupted time for a meaningful face-to-face conversation that will be preserved for generations to come. StoryCorps seeks out the stories of people most often excluded from the historical record and preserves them so that the experience and wisdom contained within them may be passed from one generation to the next.

Fifty years ago Friday, Mexico City kicked off the opening ceremonies of the 1968 Summer Olympics. World records were shattered in those Games, but it was Tommie Smith's and John Carlos' medal podium protest that captured the headlines.

Melvin Pender, a 31-year-old runner, was Carlos' roommate at the games. During a visit to StoryCorps last month, Pender reflected on the historic event with his friend, Keith Sims, whom he coached in track at West Point.

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military and their families.

With tattooed arms and a well-worn leather jacket, Duane Topping looks like the kind of guy you'd meet at your neighborhood dive bar. In fact, after serving three tours as an Army specialist in Iraq, that's where he spent many nights to try to ease his anxiety.

But while he was deployed, Duane found comfort in a more unlikely place.

John Torres Jr. grew up watching his father, John Torres Sr. moonlight as a lucha libre wrestler.

Lucha libre is a style of professional wrestling that originated in Mexico. And love for the sport strengthened the bond between father and son.

Torres Sr. died in 2011 from complications with sarcoidosis — an inflammatory disease that usually affects the lungs, skin, or lymph nodes — at the age of 43. Torres, now 30, recently visited StoryCorps with his dad's best friend and fellow wrestler, Abraham Guzman, 49, to remember him.

This story is part of a new StoryCorps project called One Small Step, an effort to bring Americans with differing political views together — not to argue politics, but to get to know one another as human beings.

In 2016, following the polarizing election of President Trump, two people attended an anti-Trump rally in Austin, Texas — for two very different reasons.

Earlier this week, firefighters finally contained the Mendocino Complex Fire. It burned more than 400,000 acres and has been called the largest wildfire in California history.

On Sept. 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was outside of the Chevron gas station he owned in Mesa, Ariz., when he was shot and killed.

Balbir was Sikh and wore a turban. In one of the first hate crime murders following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a man, assuming Balbir was Muslim, shot and killed him as retaliation.

Balbir and his brothers, Harjit Sodhi, who is 57, and Rana Sodhi, who is 51, emigrated from India in the 1980s, and they owned the Chevron together. At a StoryCorps interview, Harjit and Rana remember their brother as friendly and loving.

On Sept. 11th, 2001, Joe Dittmar was on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower for a business meeting when the terrorist attacks started.

Dittmar, then 44, had been visiting New York City from Aurora, Ill., a Chicago suburb, where he worked in the insurance industry.

Before the meeting began, the first plane hit the North Tower, and Dittmar saw the hellish aftermath from a South Tower window.

In a 2010 StoryCorps conversation, Angelo Bruno and Eddie Nieves talk about the bond they forged working together to clear garbage in New York City. Both have since retired from sanitation work, but their friendship hasn't gone to waste.

In the spring of 2012, Emily Kwong was a college senior studying in New York. Just before finals, Emily, then 21, received a disturbing phone call from her father. Her mother, Linda, who had been suffering from depression, had attempted suicide.

Their relationship suffered as a result, and it wasn't until November 2013 that Linda and Emily began to process it together in an interview with StoryCorps.

That spring morning started like any other. Linda, then 51, got up, started taking her medication and just didn't stop.

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It's been nearly one year since Susan Bro lost her daughter to the violence that erupted at last summer's white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Born the son of sharecroppers in rural Virginia, Percy White III grew up in poverty.

During the early 1960s, White lived on a tobacco farm in Dinwiddie County with his grandparents, parents and his two sisters, in a house without electricity and running water.

There, White's family experienced the impacts of sharecropping, a system that was stacked against black people like them. Robert Marek, who people called Mr. Marks, owned the farm, and White's family worked the fields.

Percy White III, as he's formally known, was named after his father, Percy White Junior.

Every summer since 1977, the town of Peabody, Mass., has heard "Yankee Doodle" coming from Allan Ganz' ice cream truck.

Over that time, Allan has watched his customers grow up — and become parents and even grandparents. The town loves him so much it has a street sign designating him "The King of Cool."

In the summer of 1994, in Tulsa, Okla., Brandy Carpenter, then 14, had just started dating her crush, 17-year-old De'Marchoe Carpenter.

But before they even had their first kiss, De'Marchoe was arrested for a murder he didn't commit.

At StoryCorps in May, De'Marchoe, 41, and Brandy, 38, remember what first drew them to each other, and the toll that prison took on their relationship.

"You always made me laugh and you always made me smile," Brandy says. "I always wanted you to be around."

Ed Cage and his daughter, Nicole Paris, share a love of beatboxing. The duo's YouTube beatbox battle went viral in 2015, and since, they've traveled the world performing together.

It has been two years since the death of Philando Castile, the Minnesota man misidentified as a robbery suspect and then shot and killed by a police officer after a traffic stop.

To the world, he was a name in a major news story, but to more than 400 kids at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, he was their "lunch man."

He was the school's cafeteria supervisor. Students there called him Mr. Phil.

Leila Ramgren, 10, a student at the school, remembers that he loved kids.

In 1993, Greg Yance was serving a sentence at a prison boot camp program in Greene County, Ill., for a drug conviction. Yance says his life was changed that year — thanks to an experience he had outside of Greene County lines.

Yance, then 23, had been sent with a group of inmates about 130 miles away, to Niota, Ill., in the middle of what would become the Great Flood of 1993. The inmates were dispatched to shore up the levee in Niota, which is along the banks of the Mississippi River, with sandbags.

Growing up, half sisters Glennette Rozelle and Jennifer Mack were used to hearing their parents fight.

At StoryCorps, the women remember the night that changed everything for their family.

It was Valentine's Day, 1977. Minnie Wallace and Virgil "Glenn" Wallace were raising four children outside Oklahoma City. Glennette, then 7, and 10-year-old Jennifer, who was Glenn's stepdaughter, were home on a night that took them decades to process.

Courtney McKinney remembers what her single mother had told her about her father: "That his name was Charles and he was white, and [her parents] had a brief relationship and it didn't work out."

But she also remembers not believing that story.

As it turned out, McKinney was right to have doubts. When she was 16, she learned that her mom had actually conceived through anonymous sperm donation. Her mom had always planned to tell her, and McKinney says when she began expressing more longing to know about her father, her mom decided it was time.

He pronounces his last name "fyooks." Still, Allan Fuks grew up with a last name that, on paper, looks like the mother of all curse words — and, naturally, offered endless material for bullies.

Fuks, the son of Russian immigrants, grew up all over the U.S. — New York City, Northern California — before finally landing in suburban New Jersey in middle school. But no matter where he went, the taunting followed.

In a recent StoryCorps interview, he tells his former classmate, Spencer Katzman, that, growing up in the 1980s, he was seldom called by his first name.

Infamous photographs, taken seconds after Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was shot on June 5, 1968, show him lying on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel's kitchen. A teenage busboy kneels beside him, cradling the senator's head.

That busboy was Juan Romero.

Kennedy was running for president and had just won the California Democratic primary when he was assassinated at the Los Angeles hotel.

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military and their families.

In 2012, Army Spc. Robert Joseph Allen took his own life while serving in the U.S. military. At the time, the suicide rate for active-duty troops was at its highest ever, with more soldiers dying from suicide than in combat.

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 1,600 men and women lost limbs in battle.

For nearly a decade, civilian physical therapists Adele Levine and Etaine Raphael worked side by side helping soldiers navigate life after their injuries.

In a StoryCorps conversation, Levine and Raphael talk about their work at the Walter Reed military hospitals in the Washington, D.C., area.

Levine, 48, vividly recalls the day she saw her first patient who'd been injured in war.

Matt Peters farmed corn and soybeans in Iowa for more than 35 years. The farm had been in his family for generations, and though he had gone to college to study law enforcement, Matt decided to make a life as a farmer.

"Matt just felt that that was where he needed to be," his wife, Ginnie, says in a StoryCorps conversation recorded in April. "Maybe not where he wanted to be, but it was where he needed to be."

Kittie Weston-Knauer, on the cusp of 70 years old, is the oldest female BMX bicycle racer in the U.S.

When she started competing in the late 1980s, she was often the only woman on the track. It was her son, Max Knauer, a champion BMX rider, who introduced her to the sport when he was 10.

Max, now 40, explains that he planted the racing seed after a frustrating day of his mom playing coach.

Ten years ago, Tracia Kraemer wanted to celebrate her 40th birthday by trying something new.

So she mustered her courage and visited Indian Hills, a nudist park in Louisiana.

At the very least, she figured she'd return home with a good story. "I thought I'd go to Indian Hills, get naked, get dressed and drive off," she says.

But the people she met were so nice and welcoming, she says, that she decided to stay longer that day. "Soon after, I got a membership."

Two years after that first visit, she met her husband-to-be, Patrick Kraemer, at the park.

Charisse Spencer, 64, grew up in southeast Virginia during the 1960s civil rights movement.

Back then, the area of Portsmouth, Va., where her family lived — Cavalier Manor — was one of the largest black suburbs in the country.

"I could stand in my backyard and listen to Ku Klux Klan meetings," Charisse tells her son, Myles Spencer-Watson, in a StoryCorps conversation recorded in 2009. "And in my young mind, I'd imagine these ghostly demons in white sheets with their eyes being black holes and —"

For much of Abby Gagliardo's childhood, her dad had been in and out of jail and prison. "People would ask me, they'd be like, 'Oh, where's your dad?' " Abby recalls in a StoryCorps conversation recorded last year, when she was 16.

She knew he was incarcerated, but she was never given a clear picture why. "I didn't understand any of it," she says.

Roxanne and Dennis Simmonds knew their son as fearless and strong from the day he was born.

"D.J. came out with shoulders of a linebacker," Roxanne says. "He was the first baby I saw that had muscles."

"He wasn't really afraid of anything," Dennis says.

At night, young D.J. would take the dog with him and circle the entire house, to "make sure there's nobody on the grounds," Dennis says, laughing. "I used to say, 'D.J. where you going? It's late.' He would say 'I'm doing a perimeter search, Dad.' "

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military and their families.

Good things come in small packages — it's a proverbial truth that, for one veteran, holds up even in the middle of war.

At 20 years old, Pfc. Roman Coley Davis found himself 7,000 miles from home. Born in Douglas, Ga., he'd joined the military after high school, and was now living in one of the most remote U.S. outposts in Afghanistan.

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