John Brown lives! launches the Freedom Story Project website –
LAKE PLACID, NY — On August 20, John Brown Lives! (JBL!) has launched its “Freedom Story Project” website – www.freedomstoryproject.org – at the first-ever Adirondacks Family Book Festival at John Brown Farm State Historic Site.
Martha Swan, Executive Director of John Brown Lives!, said: “This website includes the first of many three to five minute personal stories about the activism and commitment of ordinary people working for justice and human rights. and civilians, not only here. at home, but around the world.
Freedom Story Project uses the OurStoryBridge methodology, making stories easily accessible and shareable. One of its goals is to inspire younger generations to tell their stories and connect with their communities and these issues, including through powerful personal stories from Elders who share their experiences.
Jery Huntley, Founder of OurStoryBridge, said, “Using the OurStoryBridge model, we are able to collect these important stories for the Freedom Story Project, in the same way that we have inspired other communities across the United States. United in Collecting Their Own Oral Histories projects I look forward to seeing how the Freedom Story Project grows into a world-class virtual exhibit of sharing and learning.
The Freedom Story Project was made possible by a 2022 AARP Community Challenge grant. To ensure the success of this new initiative, JBL! has partnered with OurStoryBridge (www.ourstorybridge.org), a free toolkit for producing a crowdsourced story project that collects and shares a community’s unique story online. OurStoryBridge supports the creation of locally created three to five minute audio stories with related photography, as well as their online accessibility, by posting them on a website that appeals to young and old and can be produced at low cost.
The Freedom Story Project website includes stories such as “My Ancestor, Harriet Tubman”, “The Underground Railroad in the North Country”, “John Brown: Adirondacker”, and “The Memorial Field for Black Lives”. The first story of the Freedom Story project – “The fight for freedom is never over” – was collected on April 24 from Sasha Shekhter, originally from Kyiv, Ukraine.
“When I was born, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and my parents eventually became political refugees from that regime,” said Shekhter, who moved to Texas with his family. “When we got there, I was immediately blown away by so many things about this country that so many of us now take for granted. And one of them is the amount of personal freedom and responsibilities entrusted to citizens.
Another story is that of novelist Russell Banks, author of books such as ‘Affliction’, ‘Cloudsplitter’ and ‘The Sweet Hereafter’. His story – “Refugee Crisis in Keene” – is about Alexander Shoumatoff, a writer who urged Banks to move to the town of Keene, New York, in the 1980s.
“He married a Rwandan woman, Rosette, and had three sons with her,” Banks said.
Rosette’s extended Tutsi family was threatened with slaughter during the Rwandan Civil War in the early 1990s. Shoumatoff figured out how to bring many of Rosette’s family members to the United States. One day, Banks saw Shoumatoff at the post office in Keene with more than 20 members of Rosetta’s extended family.
“They were different ages,” Banks said. “Men and women, boys and girls, young and old, and Alex would take them all out for pizza and ask me where could he get pizza for 24 people.”
Banks also recounts how Shoumatoff got them into Canada, which was accepting Rwandan genocide refugees at a time when the United States was turning them back.
“We need stories of resistance to tyranny, cruelty and oppression at home and around the world, people who stand together with courage and compassion to strengthen us and inspire us to meet the extraordinary challenges we face. are facing today,” Swan said. “I hope people who want to tell their stories of freedom and justice will email us at Freedomstoryproject@gmail.com and help us share their examples with the world.”
John Brown lives! is a freedom and human rights education project that amplifies the lessons and legacies of the past to inform and inspire civic action and the creation of a just and livable community. As the Official New York State Friends Group of John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid, NY, JBL! works to promote, preserve, interpret and welcome all people to this sacred site and human rights destination. JBL! connects and enhances life in our community through far-reaching conversations, innovative programs, partnerships and collaborations, and joyful celebrations and moving commemorations that provide entry points to address the issues at the heart of JBL!’s mission, including racial justice, suffrage, mass incarceration, human trafficking, and climate justice.
OurStoryBridge Inc. is a national non-profit charitable organization whose mission is to serve as a resource and toolkit for OurStoryBridge projects that preserve and disseminate past and present local audio stories through accessible online media; promote, build and help deploy these resources in communities across geographic, cultural, socio-economic, racial and organizational strata; and to help strengthen these communities by sharing their stories, including preserving the stories of older generations before they are lost and encouraging younger generations to become engaged members of the community.
AARP is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to choose their lifestyle as they age. The AARP Community Challenge is a grantmaking program aimed at making tangible improvements in communities that trigger long-term change. It is part of AARP’s national livable communities initiative, which supports the efforts of cities, neighborhoods and rural areas to become livable places for people of all ages. To learn more, visit aarp.org/Livable.
Top photo courtesy of Martha Swan, Founder and Executive Director, John Brown Lives!