The project began three years ago in four pilot cities – Richmond; Wichita, Kansas; Birmingham, Alabama; and Shreveport, Louisiana – as a way to foster meaningful conversations across political divides. The project caught the attention of Barnes and Laurent Dubois, Bicentennial Professor and the Democracy Initiative’s director of academic affairs, as well as the UVA students who encouraged them to pursue a partnership with StoryCorps.
At a time when the political and social environments appear so deeply polarized, One Small Step offers an opportunity to find areas of common ground both on Grounds and with the surrounding community, Barnes said.
“We know that even within the bounds of basic norms, there’s frustration and anger and disappointment. Some wonder how to engage, or even whether to engage,” she said. “But we’ve also heard a strong desire to have these tough conversations, and we believe that they’re necessary alongside all the other work that we do in the Democracy Initiative.”
‘Little Rips in the Fabric’ of Misunderstanding
The Democracy Initiative and One Small Step hope to conduct more than 250 conversations with a wide range of participants at the University and from the Charlottesville community. As with StoryCorps’ original project, these conversations are scheduled to be archived in the U.S. Library of Congress. The Democracy Initiative also intends to feature “One Small Step” conversations in an upcoming podcast.
The political, racial and social tumult of recent years, which has been accompanied by violence in well-documented events both in Charlottesville and elsewhere nationally, has led to what StoryCorps founder Dave Isay called this ambitious “moon shot.”