Stories can connect people in a way that many other things can’t. When you can relate to another person’s story on an individual and personal level, it can create a bond you may not have otherwise felt possible with someone who comes from a different background than yourself.
But one local duo is ready to change Cincinnati through the stories of its residents.
When Shawn Braley and Chris Ashwell launched their non-profit Cincy Stories in February 2015, they wanted to create an organization that was dedicated to building community through story.
“We use storytelling as a tool for community building because we believe that stories are the bridge to empathy and understanding,” explains Braley.
Braley says the two were inspired to launch Cincy Stories because of how segregated Cincinnati remains despite being a diverse city.
“Cincinnati is the 5th most segregated city in our country,” he says. “We have incredible diversity, but many of those folks live in different neighborhoods, attend different schools, visit different restaurants, and don’t often know one another, even if they are neighbors.”
Even with all the differences, Cincy Stories wants to use storytelling at events and through media projects to build a community of listeners in Cincinnati who choose to listen first and speak second. They also want to build a community of people who feel empowered to know that they’re story is important and that others care to hear it.
Using stories to bring people together isn’t uncommon, by Cincy Stories’ plan is unique. “While all of our organizations care deeply about storytelling as a craft, we use storytelling as a tool,” says Braley. “Our primary role is building community. We work hand-in-hand with community leaders, CDC’s, and other non-profits to build bridges and empower community members with the craft of storytelling as a tool.”
Community building through Cincy Stories is done in a number of ways including live events, which are held bi-monthly on the first Tuesday every other month as MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine.
These nights bring together a group of storytellers who live in Cincinnati to tell a story from their lives. However, these aren’t professional storytellers, but everyday people who call Cincinnati home.
“The Cincy in Cincy Stories represents the people of a place more than it does a place, because a place is ultimately the people who call is home,” adds Braley.
In addition to Cincy Stories, there’s also Street Stories, another project that builds community in all 52 Cincinnati neighborhoods with events, documentaries, and website promotion. “This project is used to actively build community in the neighborhood while we’re working there, but also to give the rest of the city a picture into what that neighborhood is like through the people who live there,” he says.
In its short lifetime, Cincy Stories has already won an Emmy Award for their work in Walnut Hills as well as Best Local Film at the Reel Abilities Film Festival.
Braley says Cincy Stories will continue its work to bridge together Cincinnati’s residents through stories. They’re currently working on finishing work in the three neighborhoods of Price Hill this fall and will be heading into more neighborhoods as the new year approaches.