Oral history project is underway for Noble Neighborhood
When residents of the northeastern quadrant of Cleveland Heights created the grassroots organization Noble Neighbors, in response to a random violent attack on one of their neighbors last year, their goal was to improve their area by attracting new residents, increasing safety, expanding beautification efforts and creating community-building events such as last month’s Noble Community-Wide Home and Yard Sale. Early on, participants recognized that a major part of revitalizing their neighborhood would be changing its narrative by telling a story of a beautiful, welcoming, inclusive community.
Among the neighbors involved in this effort is one for whom storytelling is an abiding passion and lifelong pursuit. Mary E. Weems, a member of Noble Neighbors, is a poet, playwright, imagination-intellect theorist and former CH poet laureates. Her many published poems, plays and other works, including her new book, Blackeyed: Plays and Monologues, draw upon storytelling as a powerful vehicle for conveying insights into culture and experience. She immediately recognized the importance of collecting the stories of Noble Neighbors members to advance their cause.
“The lives of people are shared through our stories,” Weems explained. “Telling our stories of how and why we came to live here and what our community means to us is vital to reclaiming the narrative of Cleveland Heights as a place for people to live in a welcoming, culturally diverse community.”
At one of the monthly meetings of Noble Neighbors, Weems discussed her idea for inviting residents to share their stories. Out of that discussion came the oral history project, titled “Telling Our Stories: Noble Neighbors Remember,” that is now underway.
The project is designed to collect stories in a convenient way and then synthesize them into a collection that can be archived online and serve as a basis for future artistic projects, such as an exhibition or performance piece. “We are encouraging any of my neighbors who live in the Noble community to take the time to share their story before July 1,” said Weems. “Participants should orient their stories to three questions: why they or their families live in Cleveland Heights, when they moved here and what they think are the best features of Cleveland Heights.” Weems will edit and arrange submitted material to create an oral history collection.
Stories should be submitted as a Word document of 500–1,000 words, or a two- to three-minute video clip of one or more people telling a story. Video submissions should be uploaded to YouTube or a similar online video service. Submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to written stories, participants may also submit a photograph of themselves or an object that is important to their story. Residents who submit a video may include objects or photographs pertinent to their story within the video clip. Although all submissions must include the full name, address, phone number and e-mail address of the contact person for the story, stories selected for inclusion on the Noble Neighbors website will include only the first name and last initial of the author. In videos, submitters should either not state their names or state only their first names and last initials. Stories will be used only for non-commercial purposes, such as informing people about the neighborhood or attracting new residents and businesses to the area. A release will be required for participation.
Although this oral history project is focused on the Noble neighborhood—the portion of Cleveland Heights north of Mayfield Road and east of Taylor Road—and will include only stories from its residents, the project's design could be applied to other neighborhoods in the future. “There is great value in collecting the stories of our fellow residents,” said Weems. “It is how we understand each other and our history, reach across our cultural boundaries and work together to achieve our common goals.”
Jeff Coryell is a Cleveland Heights City Council Member and former board member of FutureHeights and Reaching Heights. The idea for the Noble Neighbors oral history project emerged from a conversation between Mary Weems and him.