|The Ethnic life Stories Project ("ELSP")
brought people together in the ancient tradition of oral storytelling,
of giving and receiving, a dance of intertwined hearts during which all participants are transformed.
The project grew from the experience of one man whose own life
story was heard. He had long sought a way to bring attention to
and to honor the rich cultural diversity of Springfield. Gathering
the life stories of community elders who were born in other countries
became that way.
Every project participant volunteered his/her time. Each storyteller
was paired with a story keeper, who listened, recorded, and transcribed
the story. Other volunteers took the rough transcripts and edited
them, inserting pictures and reviewing them with each storyteller.
Printed copies of each story were given to libraries throughout
the community. Each storyteller could also request and pay for
an unlimited number of copies for his/own personal use.
An elder himself now at 85, project leader Jim Mauldin spent 20
hours/week for over 3 years building community and accomplishment
among the 80 participants.
Storytellers ranged in age from 34 to 85. They came to the US from
30 different countries, represented 22 native languages, and
told of wide-ranging life experiences. For some, their coming
was escape from oppression. For others, education or economic
opportunity was their inspiration. They were educators, businessmen,
artists, physicians, workers and community volunteers.
Story keepers were as diverse as their tellers. Some were retired;
others worked full time in education, health care, social services
and ministry. In the third year of the project, some story keepers
had earlier been storytellers. Story keepers received training,
an interview guide/workbook created especially for the Project,
and all needed recording materials.
A third phalanx of volunteers handled story editing, insertion
of photographs, and preparation for printing, as well as the creation
of promotional materials for the Project.
Throughout the Project participants gathered to feast on ethnic
cuisine and to share each other's stories. Storytellers learned
that theirs was not an isolated journey and they grew to admire
the courage of their fellows. All made new friends and created,
with other project volunteers, a multi-cultural community.
community project happily coincided with the establishment of a
Diversity Center on the campus of Drury University. The Center
became a focal point for the Project. In 2001, we gathered to celebrate
the dedication of the Center and to present the first 11 stories.
Two-and-one-half years later we celebrated the dedication of a
brick walkway outside the Center in honor of all ELSP participants.
Here we witnessed Taj, displaced from Palestine in 1947, take the
hand of Malca, an Israeli born in 1951 just 10 miles from Taj's
former family home, saying, "This is the new friend I have
made." (Above: Participants in ELSP pose at the dedication
of the brick walkway outside The Diversity Center, Drury University,
on April 14, 2004.
As one story keeper wrote: "In the light of an evening campfire,
one begins to talk and one begins to listen. But it's only an illusion
that one is speaker and one is listener. As the teller speaks,
he finds he truly hears, for the first time, many things. As the
keeper listens, he finds that his heart truly speaks to him, for
the first time, of many things. In the oral tradition, giving and
receiving are inseparable...It isn't the tolerance of ethnic diversity
that is the goal...it is the dance of diversity that brings the
The Project had many community partners, all of whom now have copies
of the stories.
Our heartfelt thanks to:
- Older Adult Services, St. John's Regional Medical
Center for food and meeting space.
- Drury University for funds management and event hosting.
Meyer Library at Missouri State University for tailor-made maps
showing the birthplace of each teller, plus a sheet with "My
Life Story" in all native languages.
- The Springfield Public Schools
- The Southwest Missouri Office on Aging for the assistance in
finishing stories, organizing events, and in Project publicity.
- The Forest Institute of Professional Psychology for funds and
for hosting a series of dialogues in 2002 between storytellers
and Forest students.
- Ozarks Technical Community College
- Evangel university
- The Springfield-Greene County Library District
for making all stories available