Birmingham is 1 of 4 cities in the US where you can participate in StoryCorps’ One Small Step—sign up today

two women participating in a One Small Step interview
Two participants in a StoryCorps One Small Step interview (in pre-COVID times). Photo via StoryCorps

Tired of hating people because of politics? Starting today, October 21 through 2021, we have a really unique opportunity to build bridges across our divides. StoryCorps has chosen Birmingham as one of four cities across the US for their One Small Step initiative, and they need our help. Their goal: to reconnect a divided America. Interested? Hop over here to sign up today.

Why One Small Step + why now?

“Every day brings new evidence of how frustrated, angry and disconnected from each other Americans feel. One Small Step aims to remind people of the
humanity in all of us, and that it’s hard to hate up close. We believe Birmingham can model this change.

Dave Isay, StoryCorps’ Founder + President

Birmingham and StoryCorps: a match made in heaven

StoryCorps is no stranger to Birmingham. In February 2019, they brought their mobile storytelling booth to Railroad Park and so many came to record their stories, they had to turn people away.

A year later, in February 2020, founder David Isay came for a “One Small Step” evening at Alys Stephens Center.

In between, StoryCorps was busy testing their new initiative here in Birmingham. Why? In the past, StoryCorps had done over half a million interviews between people who love and care for each other. With One Small Step, though, they were venturing into unknown territory.

The big question was this: if you bring people together across political divides for interviews that help them see each other as fellow humans, will they come out with some kind of bond with each other in the end?

Turns out, the answer has been a resounding yes. Listen here for a great piece NPR did on One Small Step, with many stories from their early experiences here in Birmingham.

Why StoryCorps chose Birmingham

Birmingham, Alabama, Kiwanis Vulcan Trail, August 2018
View of downtown from Kiwanis Vulcan Trail. Photo via Terri Robertson for Bham Now

According to Isay, StoryCorps had no intention of choosing any of the test spots for the initiative. But they had such an amazing experience in Birmingham—with our friends over at WBHM, who did a great job of bringing people out across political divides, and with the participants—they decided to break their own rules.

Another factor was the online polling they did here of 507 adults between August 25-September 30, 2020 (with the Benenson Strategy Group). Here are some of the highlights from their report:

  • Most residents have felt “under attack” multiple times in the past year and about a third have felt that people in the community with different views not only disagree with them, but dislike them personally.
  • More than 1 in 3 say their personal relationships have been harmed by political disagreements in the past year and 2 in 5 Democrats and over half of Republicans say “it’s hard for me to think of [the other party] as mostly good people.”
  • Nearly 2 in 3 say the city is more divided now than at any other point in their lifetime.
  • But there is also hope: nearly all agree we can learn to be better people by listening to others and 72% are eager to learn how people who aren’t like them think and feel.

Bottom line: the Magic City has lots of divides and lots of willingness to come together across those divides.

“StoryCorps believes [Birmingham, Wichita + the other two cities that will be named soon as launch cities] can demonstrate how to take a step away from toxic polarization, and can serve as a model of courageous listening for the rest of the country.”

How you can get involved

Do you consider yourself a Republican? A Democrat? A conservative? A liberal? Great—StoryCorps wants you!

In the midst of this very polarizing time we’re living in, One Small Step is designed to bring people together across our differences. Not to discuss politics, but to discuss life, hopes, dreams and the things that really matter to us in order to “begin to mend the fabric of a country at the breaking point.”

What you do:

  1. Sign up here. It’s completely free. They’ll send you tips on how to find someone you’d like to do the interview with, or give you the option to be matched with a stranger.
  2. Take the matching survey.
  3. StoryCorps will share a one-paragraph bio (no last name included) with you and the person you’re matched with, and you both agree on questions ahead of time. Examples include “Who has been the most influential person in your life?” or “How would you like to be remembered?”
  4. Plan for a 90-minute, COVID-safe virtual interview (this allows ample time for setup—the actual interview is 40 minutes).
  5. Participate in a 40-minute, one-on-one conversation with a stranger about your life (and theirs)—the conversation will be structured in a way that it helps you both get past the labels that usually divide us. You can do the interview from the comfort of your own home.
  6. Help show the rest of the country how, in Dave Isay’s words, “we can once again be neighbors and communities if we have the courage to listen to one another.”

With participant permission, each interview becomes part of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress’s record of American history.

Ready to sign up? Yeah, me too! Hop over here now to sign up + learn more or follow StoryCorps on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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