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StoryCorps mobile listening tour comes to Pittsburgh

An Airstream trailer with StoryCorps written on it.
The StoryCorps Mobile Listening Unit.

Every Friday, WESA listeners get a chance to hear personal stories from StoryCorps on Morning Edition. Since 2003, StoryCorps has been recording conversations between people from across the country and preserves those recordings in the Library of Congress.

StoryCorps also partners with local NPR member stations for their mobile tours — and this month, in collaboration with WESA, StoryCorps will be in Pittsburgh.

WESA Morning Edition Host Priyanka Tewari spoke to Sandra Clark, the CEO of StoryCorps, about the organization's mission and impact.

Priyanka Tewari: I got to know Sandra Clark when she was vice president of News and civic Dialog at WHYY in Philadelphia. She's probably the reason why I got my break in public radio. It is such a pleasure for me to introduce her to the WESA audience. Sandra, good morning and thank you for speaking to me.

Sandra Clark: Oh my gosh. Good morning Priyanka, and so wonderful to be reunited.

What was it that attracted you to the role of CEO at StoryCorps?

You know, StoryCorps, I have to say, is just a wonderful place to be, in the sense that when we think about an organization that over the last 20 years has crossed the country, going into communities and cities, rural and urban, where most people never go, most of us will never see. And StoryCorps, just this collection of stories from everyday people, our premise is, every story. Everyone has a story and every story matters. And so be able to be associated with an organization like that, that really is collecting the the beautiful stories and the wisdom of everyday people. It was an easy yes.

Since you joined StoryCorps, is there anything or any kind of changes that you have brought to the organization, its mission? Or you just think that it's fine and, you're just doing the good work?

Well, I love the beautiful work of StoryCorps, and that will always be foundational, right? Amplifying the stories of everyday people that are about hope and humanity, things that seem like they're in short supply sometimes. But one of the things that I have really felt strongly about since coming to StoryCorps, a little over two years ago, is also listening to what people have been telling us through these many years of StoryCorps going to various communities. And this has now become our North Star, so foundational to StoryCorps is understanding something about each other that we didn't understand before. It's about hope and empathy.

StoryCorps helps us believe in each other by illuminating the humanity and possibility, one story at a time. To lean in, and believe in each other, I think it's profound. It's what you feel when you pull over by the side of the road, because a story has impacted you in some kind of a way. So let's hold on to that, because I don't think we hear that message very much at all these days; this idea of 'How do we believe in each other?' And so, we're we're doubling down on that.

Are there any stories that have influenced communities or individuals that you've heard of, or any stories that influenced you personally?

One of the stories that really, I think, just always leaves this really deeply rooted hope in humanity is from Mary Johnson, who did a StoryCorps interview some years ago with Oshea Israel. Oshea, when he was 16 years old, killed Mary's only son. Ten years after that event, Mary met Israel in person, and they sat down and had a conversation. And then after he was released, they got together again and talked, and that story of redemption, that story of hope out of our worst moments in life, that's the story that really resonates with me because it shows us, really, the possibilities of humanity out of our worst moments. And by the way, Mary is very close to our hearts these days because she died about a month ago. And so, she has left such an incredible legacy.

StoryCorps actually has a special connection to Pittsburgh. Its chief development officer, Stacy Wilson Margolis is actually originally from Pittsburgh.

Stacy is a person of incredible talent. And at the same time, Pittsburgh resonated with me, too. And so, she's really wonderful to have here. Huge Steelers fan, in the middle of Brooklyn. Pittsburgh has definitely delivered for us.

Did that have any role to play when it came to StoryCorps mobile listening unit coming to our city?

It really didn't. It just goes to show Pittsburgh stood on its own. And of course, the opportunity to partner with you all again. It's been 6 years since we've been in Pittsburgh. Every year, StoryCorps chooses ten cities and ten NPR partner stations to work together with, and Pittsburgh, it had been a minute. So we're really glad to be back and partnering with you all.

Talking about a diverse range of voices and stories that are included in the archives of StoryCorps, how do you, as the leader of StoryCorps, ensure that the diversity of these voices is the primary mission of StoryCorps?

It's really built into the DNA of StoryCorps. At a time when people really want to be seen and heard and, frankly, rarely asked, StoryCorps has been doing this for 20 years. And I do think it's really that focus on everyday people. Obviously, geographically, we have been in every single state in the United States, which creates its own diversity. But within each community, there's just such a richness of voices whenever we go into, a city or a community, we make sure that we are partnering with not only the public media station, but their community partners as well.

Sandra Clark
Amir Hamja
StoryCorps C.E.O. Sandra M. Clark

You are a woman of color. You're half Asian, half black. You are also a contributing trainer and mentor for the Maynard Institute, whose mission is pushing for diversity, equity and belonging for journalists of color in the news industry. Why do you believe diversity is so important in the newsroom?

Well, if we are in the business of truth, it means that we see everyone, right? And that we don't make decisions just based on somebody's race, ethnicity, education. And if we don't understand the diversity of our communities, and we often talk about diversity as differences that keep us apart. I think the first thing we really realize in diversity is, how much we have in common. And that is what I've seen, certainly in my life, is that there's some basic things about all of us that are really common wherever you are. And then we get to celebrate our differences, too. And there's just so much of just understanding the world, and understanding our communities, that we get to experience if we really have a wide lens on those in our communities.

And this is also what I love about public media, because in public media, with our conversations with our communities, and NPR, and being able to hear stories from around the world, we already are celebrating that. And it's the support of the public media audience that allows us to do that.

That's my life. Long before anybody was talking about diversity and all these other kinds of things. I was a military kid, too. And so that brings its own other kind of appreciation of how the world works. And also of those who are fighting to make sure that we have this potpourri of riches that we are able to continue to celebrate and honor.

Sandra, thank you so much. For the wonderful work, and I must say that I will always be grateful to you for giving me my break in public radio. Thank you so much for that.

Priyanka, you were just waiting to be discovered, and WESA and Pittsburgh is so thrilled to have you there. So just continue lighting the path as you've always done.

More information on the StoryCorps Mobile tour in Pittsburgh is available here.

Priyanka Tewari is a native of New Delhi, India. She moved to the United States with her family in the late 1990s, after living in Russia and the United Kingdom. She is a graduate of Cornell University with a master’s from Hunter College, CUNY.