The Boise Voices Oral History Project is a creative collaboration between youth and elders in Northeast Portland to record the stories of how the Boise neighborhood has changed over time.
How we got started
In the spring of 2009, thanks to a grant from the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods and Portland’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement, fifteen youth from the Boise-Eliot Elementary School and the Albina Youth Opportunity School teamed up with writer and independent radio producer Apricot Irving and Erin Yanke, of the KBOO Youth Collective, to interview elders from our community. We were inspired by the Elder Storytelling events organized by Our United Villages, as well as organizations like Storycorps and This American Life.
We knew that there were stories worth hearing in our neighborhood, and everyone we talked to was excited about the project. Kay Newell, of Sunlan Lighting, kept a running list for us in her store. Every time someone walked through her door and said, "I remember when this neighborhood was..." she had them write down their names and contact information. From there, we were off and running.
Because the quality with which you listen directly influences the kind of stories that people are willing to share, we spent several weeks developing interviewing skills and preparing questions. Working in teams of two, each youth sat down with an elder for a 45-minute interview. Most interviews were conducted in a quiet classroom or the school library, but we also conducted interviews at Our United Villages and the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center. Following the interview, each elder received an audio CD with their complete interview. We also donated copies to the Oregon Historical Society. Excerpts from selected interviews were then uploaded to our website as well as compiled on our audio CD.
The website is designed as a teaching tool. By enabling students to hear stories about WWII, Vanport, redlining and dance halls—as described by those who experienced them—we hope to connect young people with their history in a way that is both vivid and memorable.
We also hope that this project will inspire you to connect with your own community. Now it’s your turn: what questions will you ask your neighbors?