TAMPA — Over the last few months, Summer Cody has traveled the South to help others tell and record their stories.
She’s been to cities in North Carolina and Georgia.
She’s heard serious stories about Native American heritage and silly ones about two women sharing an elephant ride.
“I learn about people’s lives and what they find important,” she said.
It’s all part of her job as a story facilitator with StoryCorps, the nonprofit that travels the country in an Airstream “to record, preserve, and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs,” according to its website.
Now, Cody and the Airstream are in Tampa through Feb. 12. Those interested in telling their stories can sign up at storycorps.org.
All recordings will be archived and publicly available on the StoryCorps website and with the Library of Congress.
Some could be edited down and broadcast on StoryCorps’ NPR show, available as a podcast or locally via WUSF 89.7.
Beginning Feb. 14, WUSF will also host their own show featuring only local stories.
WUSF brought StoryCorps to Tampa.
“When we had the opportunity to bring people together in our communities for meaningful conversations, we jumped at the chance,” said JoAnn Urofsky, general manager of WUSF.
A duo must sign up. They can be friends, family, colleagues, even enemies. They have a recorded conversation that can last up to 40 minutes.
Topics can be whatever they prefer, from local history to private matters they are willing to make public.
“Talk about what is important to you,” Cody said. “Maybe that is a loved one or a something unique you’ve done or a crazy story.”
Cody helps facilitate the conversation if it stalls.
Due to the pandemic, recordings will not occur in the Airstream. Instead, they will take place at the Center for Advanced Medical Learning & Simulation at 124 S Franklin St. Or participants can record conversations remotely.
There is no charge, but participants can donate to the nonprofit.
“They should not prepare or rehearse,” StoryCorps site manager Natasha Herring said. “I think the most beautiful stories are the ones that are unexpected. It’s wonderful to see people become vulnerable and relaxed in a very organic way.”
StoryCorps was launched in 2003 in New York and inspired by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, which, in seeking unique ways to put Americans back to work, funded an effort to collect oral histories throughout the nation.
The nonprofit purchased Airstreams two years later and began their national tour.
Their website says that more than half a million people have shared stories for the world to hear.
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“There is a human connection,” Herring said. “We can learn from listening to these stories.”
She recalled a conversation she heard recorded between a California father and his son’s murderer.
“He forgave the killer,” Herring said. “I couldn’t do that. It’s so compelling and inspiring that it allows you to see within yourself how you can be better.”
Urofsky said it is also important to document an area’s history in this unique way, “especially in Tampa in a time of incredible growth.”
“People have so many stories of places they’ve had special dinners, playgrounds where they played, schools they attended,” Urofsky said. “Things are changing and it’s good to remember how things were and to relive those times.”
Cody, who has been with StoryCorps for one year, said the experience has taught her that people in different regions have more in common than they might think.
“We all share a feeling of love,” she said. “We all have stories about our grandmothers, children, best friends, that start with love.”