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.

For nearly a century, the Quander family has come together every year to honor and preserve their history — one that traces its roots back to the story of Nancy Carter Quander, the family matriarch, who was formerly enslaved by George and Martha Washington.

The 95th Quander family reunion was scheduled to take place just outside of Washington, D.C., this weekend. But because of COVID-19, the family decided to not gather this year.

Tomás Ybarra-Frausto grew up in the 1940s, just outside of San Antonio, on a ranch that belonged to his grandfather.

"The one thing that was instilled was traditions that were related to the land," Ybarra-Frausto, 83, told his friend Antonia Casteñeda, 78, in a StoryCorps interview from 2012.

An early memory tied to those traditions, he said, was an umbilical cord ceremony. "The umbilical cord they had taken away when you were born, it was in a little box," he said. "You got to pick where you wanted that to be buried."

Nia Cosby was just 4 years old when her mother was sent to prison.

In 2005, her mom, Chalana McFarland, was sentenced to 30 years for multiple counts of mortgage fraud. The judge in her case went on record to say he was giving her a harsh sentence as a deterrent for those wishing to commit similar crimes.

But last month — in an effort to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in Florida prisons — Cosby got to welcome her mother back from the Federal Correctional Institution, Coleman facility in central Florida.

In the late 1950s, Kenneth Felts met a young man who became the love of his life.

Felts, now 90 years old, had not revealed that relationship to his family until a few months ago, when he finally told his daughter, Rebecca Mayes, that he is gay — a secret he'd been keeping for more than 60 years. It happened in mid-March, when Felts was quarantining because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The two spoke about Felts' first love, Phillip, during a remote StoryCorps conversation from Arvada, Colo., this month.

By the age of 4, Hadiyah-Nicole Green had lost both her mother and her grandparents.

She was sent to live with her Aunt Ora Lee Smith and Uncle General Lee Smith in St Louis, Mo. But in her early 20s, both her aunt and uncle were diagnosed with cancer.

Green, who now works as an assistant professor in the surgery department at Morehouse College's medical school, started the Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation in honor of her late aunt.

Vivian Garcia Leonard studied to become a pharmacist in Cuba before coming to the U.S. in 1961.

Her daughter, also named Vivian, eventually followed in her mother's footsteps. So, too, did her daughter, Marissa Sofia Ochs. Today, the three generations of pharmacists live near each other and work in New York City.

But recently, the elder Vivian, who's 82, stopped working to limit her exposure to the virus.

In a remote StoryCorps conversation recorded last month, the women talked about living through the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced Dr. Joseph Kras, an anesthesiologist training in hospice and palliative care, to face some tough choices.

His 18-year-old daughter, Sophie, has lupus, which makes her high-risk should she contract COVID-19. Kras has to be very careful when he goes home, and he makes sure to keep his distance from his daughter and disinfects common surfaces to keep her safe.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Sophie was upset her dad kept working.

Just months before starting his freshman year of high school, Cole Phillips lost his vision to glaucoma.

When he entered Bentonville West High School in Arkansas in the fall of 2016, he met Rugenia Keefe — or, as Phillips calls her, "Miss Ru" — a paraprofessional who attended classes with Phillips for the next four years.

Aidan Sykes was just 6 years old when he joined his dad, Albert, to protest the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. They've been attending protests against racial injustice ever since.

This episode of StoryCorps originally aired in 2015.

At StoryCorps, Aiden Sykes, then 9, asked his father, Albert, some of the heavy questions on his mind, including why they attend civil rights demonstrations together. Albert said he worries about bringing up his black son in a society where the odds are stacked against him simply because of his race.

"My dream is for you to live out your dreams," Albert said.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit New York, Dr. Roberto Vargas has been working long hours, running labs that do COVID-19 testing in Rochester.

To minimize his family's risk of exposure, Roberto has been isolating himself from his wife, Susan, and their four kids since March.

For two weeks, Roberto stayed at a hotel near Rochester Regional Hospital, where he works as the director of microbiology. Then, he moved to the basement of his home.

Around Memorial Day of 2000, Emily Aho took her then 75-year-old father, Emilio "Leo" DiPalma, on a trip back to Germany, where the World War II veteran served as a guard at the Nuremberg Trials.

Coming up on Memorial Day two decades later, Aho holds those memories with him especially close. Last month, DiPalma died of complications from COVID-19 at 93 years old in Holyoke, Mass.

"He had all these things he wanted to talk to me about. I'll never forget it. I may not have had a lot of time with my dad before, but I had that week," Aho, 62, said.

When Evette Jourdain was struggling to get back on her feet, landing a job as a postal worker gave her security. Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, the job carries new risks she and her colleagues never imagined.

Jourdain, 32, and her friend and fellow mail carrier Craig Boddie, 48, spoke for a remote StoryCorps conversation last month from Palm Beach, Fla., about how their work has changed since the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

Alice Stockton-Rossini and her 90-year-old mother, Jackie Stockton, survived COVID-19.

But the virus took the lives of some of their friends and a relative.

The outbreak in their community in Ship Bottom, N.J., can be traced back to Stockton's 90th birthday party, held at her church on March 8 before much of the U.S. began practicing social distancing.

In a recent remote StoryCorps conversation, Stockton told her 62-year-old daughter that she didn't realize she had contracted the virus until she landed in the hospital.

As the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., Dan Flynn made his way from Santa Barbara, Calif., to New York City, joining 58 others as part of a national mortuary response team.

Flynn, a funeral director, has been with the team since 2008. The group helps identify victims and assist with mortuary services to help loved ones find closure. While in New York last month, Flynn assisted with autopsies and photographed, fingerprinted and catalogued bodies.

New York City bus operators Tyrone Hampton and Frank de Jesus have witnessed a crushing loss in their field of work. As of Wednesday, 83 Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers have died from COVID-19, 30 of them also bus operators.

Hampton, 50, and de Jesus, 30, spoke for a remote StoryCorps conversation about how the outbreak is putting their love for the job to the test.

Friends Josh Belser and Sam Dow are more than 400 miles apart from each other, but, as health care workers, they're united in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Belser, a nurse in Syracuse, N.Y., and Dow, a health care technician in Ann Arbor, Mich., grew up together in Florida.

Both are self-isolating from loved ones and regularly speak with each other, but the childhood friends connected remotely this week for a special StoryCorps conversation.

This episode of StoryCorps originally aired in 2018.

At 20 years old, Pfc. Roman Coley Davis was stationed in Afghanistan when the loneliness of war began to seep in. At StoryCorps 12 years later, Davis tells a friend how a surprise package from his Georgia hometown brought him immense comfort.

Audio produced for Weekend Edition Saturday by Aisha Turner.

This episode of StoryCorps originally aired in 2015.

Chloe Longfellow, 32, remembers her close relationship with her grandmother, Doris Louise Rolison, who taught her to cook in a kitchen that also served as a classroom for Rolison's life lessons.

"It's really surprising the amount of life lessons you can learn in a kitchen if you have the right teacher," Longfellow said.

Lillian Bloodworth lives up to her name, so to speak.

Over the course of nearly five decades, the 92-year-old has donated 23 gallons of blood, starting in the 1960s. (The average person's body contains about 1.5 gallons.)

"When I first started, I would have donors read my name tag and ask if that was really my name or was that a gimmick for the blood bank," she said.

During a StoryCorps conversation recorded in January 2010 in Gulf Breeze, Fla., Lillian told her late husband, John, about why it was important for her to give blood as often as she can.

Ruth Owens, 93, has lived in the same small town in the mountains of Tennessee her whole life. It's her compassion for others that led her to want to take care of her community.

Before she retired at age 85, Owens inspired several of her children and grandchildren to follow in her footsteps into nursing, including her grandson, James Taylor.

"It takes a special person to be a nurse," she told Taylor, 41, during a StoryCorps interview in April. "That was the most rewarding profession that you could have. So I'm real thankful for that."

Fifty years ago, federal postal workers walked out in a strike that lasted eight days, spanned more than 30 cities and prompted President Richard Nixon to declare a national emergency. The effort won postal workers living wages.

Tom Germano was one of them, picketing in the middle of New York City alongside fellow letter carriers and clerks. As a strike leader of Branch 36 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Germano helped rally support.

When Rep. James Clyburn — the highest-ranking African American in Congress — endorsed Joe Biden's 2020 bid for president, it helped propel the candidate to crucial victories in the South Carolina primary last month and on Super Tuesday.

Clyburn, elected to Congress in 1992, has served two stints as House Majority Whip, a post he currently holds. At StoryCorps in 2007, Clyburn talked to his granddaughter about success and failure.

Click the play button to hear their conversation.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Anita Rao.

Olivia Hooker was a 6-year-old in Tulsa, Okla., when a race riot destroyed her community as well as her own home.

In less than 24 hours, mobs of white men destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses in the Greenwood District, an affluent African American neighborhood of Tulsa. It's estimated as many as 300 people were killed.

As they wrecked her own home, she and her three siblings quietly hid under a dining room table, careful not to make a sound.

Shig Yabu was 10 years old when he and his family were forced from their home in San Francisco and relocated to an internment camp in Wyoming.

In 1942, two months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing the detention of anyone deemed a potential threat to the country. Roughly 120,000 people of Japanese descent were forcibly relocated to internment camps as a result — the Yabu family included.

Eddie Chang and his three daughters lost a wife and mother when E.F. Wen died of colon cancer 10 years ago.

They're still grieving but are comforted when they read her old journals and share stories.

Eddie Chang visited StoryCorps in 2017 with his youngest daughter, Tria, now 36, to tell her the story of how he first met her mother.

Kevin Craw always encouraged his children to embrace the unexpected.

His daughter, Kate Quarfordt, the eldest of his three children, was in high school the first time she truly understood the spirit of her father's philosophy.

In a conversation at StoryCorps last month, Quarfordt told her dad how he inspired her to take more risks in life.

It all started with her vocal talent.

Quarfordt grew up in Connecticut with a passion for singing. In high school, she starred in several musicals, but was also interested in performing other kinds of music.

Derrick Storms and his little brother Raymond grew up in southern Florida in a troubled, at times unstable, home.

When they were in high school, their mother died of cancer.

The brothers didn't really have each other, either. Derrick held a lot of anger and tormented Raymond.

"I just remember you being so cruel," Raymond told Derrick.

In a conversation at StoryCorps this month, the two sat down to talk about how they reclaimed their relationship.

Derrick would play malicious tricks on him, Raymond said.

At six years old, Jerry Morrison is already shooting for the stars.

"I want to live on another planet," Jerry told his uncle, Joey Jefferson, at StoryCorps in November. "There's so much sights to see: nebulas, hot Jupiters and supernova remnants. They look so beautiful."

Jefferson, 29, also fell in love with space at an early age. It started with a wind-up space shuttle toy his mother gave him when he was a kid. Today he's a mission operations engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, where he commanded the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Cassini spacecraft to Saturn.

Rep. John Lewis is the last living speaker from the March on Washington, the 1963 landmark civil rights protest that culminated with Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

But before Lewis dedicated his life to fighting for racial equality, he grew up in Troy, Ala., with dreams of becoming a different kind of orator.

"When I was very young, I wanted to preach the gospel," Lewis said on a visit to StoryCorps in February 2018.

He wanted to be a minister. His nearest congregation was the family livestock.

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