Dave Isay: What Happens When People Are Given A Voice? 25 years ago, Dave Isay's radio documentary Ghetto Life 101 was broadcast. Today, in our current political climate, Isay says we need to listen to each other more carefully than ever.
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What Happens When People Are Given A Voice?

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What Happens When People Are Given A Voice?

What Happens When People Are Given A Voice?

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So about 25 years ago, millions of people heard this voice for the very first time.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GHETTO LIFE 101")

LEALAN JONES: Good morning. Day one - walking to school, leaving out the door.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

LEALAN: This is my dog Ferocious. You know why he got that name if you hear him bark.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: The boy in this recording is LeAlan Jones. He was 13 at the time. It was 1993. And he lived in one of the most violent neighborhoods on Chicago's South Side. A local public radio station gave LeAlan and a friend tape recorders to make a documentary about their lives. The music you're hearing, by the way, is part of that documentary. And it was called "Ghetto Life 101."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GHETTO LIFE 101")

LEALAN: I see the ghetto every day walking to school.

RAZ: And it was basically half an hour of this kid LeAlan...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GHETTO LIFE 101")

LEALAN: My name is LeAlan Jones, and I'm 13 years old.

RAZ: ...And his friend Lloyd...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GHETTO LIFE 101")

LLOYD NEWMAN: This is Lloyd Newman, and I'm 14 years old.

RAZ: ...Just walking through a normal week in their lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GHETTO LIFE 101")

LEALAN: This is our story.

RAZ: It was such a simple idea. And yet in 1993, this was totally new - first-person storytelling from two African-American teenagers.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GHETTO LIFE 101")

LEALAN: We've been friends since first grade.

LLOYD: That's seven years.

LEALAN: Yeah, seven years of our life together.

DAVE ISAY: I was interested in the idea of people having the chance to be listened to and tell their stories.

RAZ: Dave Isay was the producer behind "Ghetto Life 101." But he actually doesn't appear in the documentary at all because Dave wanted LeAlan and Lloyd to tell their own stories.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GHETTO LIFE 101")

LEALAN: We're both in eighth grade. When I was 10, I seen my first automatic weapon - a Glock nine, two clips.

LLOYD: I've seen all kinds of guns.

ISAY: Part of what I was trying to do in these documentaries - that I always found that my voice - if I was there, it kind of pulled you out of this place. And what I was trying to do was have people go to a place where they felt like they were very connected to whoever was talking.

RAZ: And many years later, that led to a project dedicated to this idea - this idea of listening. You might have heard of it. It's called StoryCorps - two people just talking to one another in a recording studio. And it gives people everywhere a new way to listen to each other. Obviously, times have changed since that documentary first aired in 1993. But the importance of listening hasn't. And actually at this moment - the moment we're living in now, listening to each other feels more important than ever.

ISAY: We're at a point where there's like fear everywhere. And, you know, we're kind of our worst selves when we're in fear. And we don't trust one another. And trust is the glue of a free society. And we feel hopeless. And democracy can't breathe without hope. And I like to think that what StoryCorps gets at is, you know, hope and courage and trust.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "STORYCORPS")

JIM WHITE: Sometimes, I'll be known as someone that might have been a little bit of a pain to get along with. But I don't think there's anybody that can't say that I didn't show them love. How about you?

CHERATON LOVE: I want to show people that I care and treat everyone with kindness and respect because we all deserve that.

RAZ: This is Cheraton Love and her father-in-law Jim White. Jim is white and a Republican. Cheraton is African-American and a Democrat.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "STORYCORPS")

LOVE: What I'm most afraid of is that we'll keep getting divided.

RAZ: The two of them sat down together to record a conversation for StoryCorps. This was after the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "STORYCORPS")

LOVE: None of that has ever stopped us from being a family.

WHITE: If we still lived in the circumstances from years ago, we would probably never know each other. There were some things that I thought when I was a young man that would have never allowed us to even have a conversation. I thank God he gave me the knowledge to understand what love really means.

ISAY: You know, hearing a story from someone who you might have thought was very different than you...

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "STORYCORPS")

LOVE: How different we are but we've embraced it.

ISAY: ...And recognizing a little bit of yourself in that person.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "STORYCORPS")

LOVE: We make fun of you a lot for being...

WHITE: Deep-down Southern.

LOVE: (Laughter) No, I was going to say moody.

ISAY: ...Has tremendous potential to build bridges of understanding between people and hopefully someday to move the needle on helping us recognize the power and grace and beauty in the stories we'll find all around us when we take the time to listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "STORYCORPS")

LOVE: Does it bother you that we don't agree about politics?

WHITE: No, it doesn't bother me. Being different shows us the different sides of things. We may differ in a lot of things, but we agree in a lot of things. And I think we listen to each other in a lot of things. You're precious to me.

LOVE: (Laughter).

WHITE: You really are.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: Our show today is all about listening - ideas about what we can learn when we listen to people and to places that are almost never heard - listening as an act of generosity and also a path to discovery. Later in the show, we'll hear more from Dave Isay and his new mission for StoryCorps these days - but right now, a kind of listening that is a little less terrestrial.

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