(AP) – High school students across the country are making oral history this week by recording interviews with their elders in an unprecedented effort to stockpile wisdom for the ages.
The Great Thanksgiving Listen was conceived by leaders of the nonprofit oral history project StoryCorps. They’re encouraging kids to send their audio recordings to a Library of Congress archive, using a free smartphone app available online at StoryCorps.me.
StoryCorps president and found Dave Isay hoped to double, in one weekend, the 65,000 audio recordings StoryCorps has collected since 2003.
Students and their interview subjects talked with The Associated Press before and after Thanksgiving about their StoryCorps interviews. Here are their stories:
MY RELIGION IS NONVIOLENCE
Sal Monteiro, an ex-con who was part of a deadly carjacking in 1992, made a big impression on Karl Lauture three years ago when he visited Karl’s class at Moses Brown, a Quaker school in Providence, Rhode Island.
When Karl’s eighth-grade teacher assigned a StoryCorps interview this fall, Karl decided to talk to Monteiro, now a training coordinator at the Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence.
In their interview, Monteiro expressed regret about dropping out of high school and being with a friend who fatally shot a man during the carjacking. Both men went to prison.
“I regret not having enough courage to tell my friend to stop what he was doing,” Monteiro said during the 30-minute interview.
Karl said their conversation gave him new perspectives on family and religion. Monteiro talked about the preciousness of family reunions, something Karl hadn’t considered.
“I get to see some family members about, like, every other year, and I don’t really take in those moments,” Karl said. “I think next time I get to see them, I’ll really value it.”
Monteiro, 43, also told Karl he doesn’t believe he needs God or organized religion.
“If anything, my religion would be nonviolence,” he said.
CHOPPING COTTON, BUSING TABLES PART OF PAST STRUGGLES
Long before Bennie Stuart led a small church in Chicago, he chopped cotton for $3 a day, cleared restaurant tables for $45 a week and did social work. But his most interesting job may have been his work as a boy in Arkansas. Stuart was paid in eggs.
He cleaned up yards for the elderly and would be allowed to take eggs from the coop. But that was no easy task either, since snakes and the occasional fox were his competition. He later sold the eggs at a local store.
“I needed the money,” the 78-year-old minister said with a laugh during an interview in suburban Bolingbrook, roughly 30 miles from Chicago.
Stuart told his granddaughter Vanyce Grant about his struggles in hopes of further convincing her to get a good education.
“She has been blessed with great opportunities that I didn’t hardly even dream of having,” he said.
Grant, who aspires to be an architect, said she chose to interview her grandfather for the StoryCorps project because he always has something interesting to say.
“It was just surprising all the things I didn’t know,” said Grant, 15.
LET’S CHAT BEFORE YOU LEAVE FOR THE MARINES
Seventeen-year-old Yuliza Ruiz has an older brother who recently signed up for the Marines and will leave their neighborhood in Chicago, where both have been frustrated by crime. Ruiz also wants to go into the military someday, so sitting down to talk with her brother, Emilio, over the Thanksgiving holiday is critical.
“I want to ask him his goals. I want to hear his perspective,” she said.
Both siblings say they want to eventually work in law enforcement, in part because the children of immigrants want to curb the gang and violence problems in their Little Village neighborhood, one of the largest Mexican-American enclaves nationwide.
Emilio Ruiz, 19, said his friends of his have been shooting victims, and he wants to be an example of how to grow up in the neighborhood and succeed.
“I think I can make a change where I live,” he said.
A DEEPER RELATIONSHIP WITH GRANDDAUGHTER
Lauren Bonner’s StoryCorps conversation with her grandparents deepened their understanding of each other. She learned about the last time her grandfather Claude Gange saw his mother alive in Brooklyn, New York, two days before she was struck and killed by a car.
Lauren, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at the Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island, also listened to her grandmother Camille Gange’s fond memories of growing up surrounded by her extended family in an eight-unit tenement in 1940s Brooklyn. They had no car or air conditioning but lots of love, Camille Gange said.
“I had all these aunts, uncles, grandparents doting over me constantly and I felt like I was the queen of the May,” she told her granddaughter.
Claude Gange, a 78-year-old retired school administrator, said the interview with Lauren was a delightful highlight of his year.
“I think that interview really helped in opening up her to us. I think we may be more likely now to have conversations. We benefited from it tremendously,” he said.
HOW IN TOUCH WITH GOD ARE YOU?
Rhiannon Leonard was curious about her boss Gary Himes’ religious beliefs. She knew that he was active in the civic service club Ruritan, and that his chapter held an annual pancake breakfast at her church, the Brownsville Church of the Brethren in rural Maryland.
“I always knew that he believed in God but I wasn’t sure how in touch with God he is,” Rhiannon, 17, said. “I’ve never really figured out his denomination.”
Himes, 69, paused before answering the question Friday in his kitchen. The kitchen is attached to the general store his family has run for more than a century. He said he was raised in the same church as Rhiannon but now follows his personal, nondenominational convictions.
“I believe in God,” Himes said. “I think he’s got a hand on this Earth. I don’t think he controls the Earth. If you follow Christian teachings, you’ll be a good person.”
Himes said he enjoyed the fellowship of the church as boy, even though his parents didn’t attend.
“Of course, everything wasn’t right in the church but you had to be smart enough to pick out the good from the bad,” he said.
LONGING TO SEE A DISTANT SON
Victor Garcia asked his grandfather about the meaning of Thanksgiving and learned that his favorite turkey day memory was from 2004, when all his children, including distant son Benny, were home for the holiday.
When he mentioned Benny, “it made me realize how much this son of his means to him,” Victor said. “We hardly ever see him.”
Garcia, 18, of San Marcos, Texas, was raised by his grandfather Armando Longoria from an early age. Benny lived with them for a couple years when Victor was young.
After the interview, Victor proposed that he and Longoria, 63, plan a trip to see Benny in Denton, about a five-hour drive away. Victor said he, too, misses Benny. He introduced him to music he still enjoys.
“After he left, I kept all the CDs and would constantly listen to it on my CD player,” Victor said. “The interview, if anything, made me more aware of how much Thanksgiving can actually mean to you.”