The Stoop Storytelling Series and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health collaborated to bring the “Hidden in Plain Sight” event to the Enoch Pratt Central Library on Sept. 22. The event featured a live recording of an episode of the Stoop Storytelling Series podcast, published on Oct. 3, where a panel of speakers told their stories about the impact of public health on their lives.
The Stoop was founded in 2006 and has featured the stories of more than 2,500 people, ranging from notable Baltimoreans to everyday people.
Co-Founder and Co-Producer of The Stoop Storytelling Series Laura Wexler conceived the idea of storytelling as a show from her experiences working as a writer in San Francisco.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Wexler discussed the show’s origins.
“In 2005, I went to visit a friend in San Francisco, and she took me to a storytelling show which was the first time I knew about storytelling as something you went to see,“ she said. “I never considered it orally, only ever as a writer, but it was terrific and I loved being there.”
Wexler decided to start The Stoop Storytelling Series to showcase stories in Baltimore. It runs its own shows as well as collaborates with other organizations to touch on certain issues. The Stoop’s members also hold workshops and trainings, where they teach people how to effectively use storytelling to reach their goals.
After holding many workshops in the public health field, Wexler connected with the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and they developed the idea of doing a show focused on public health.
“A couple of times a year, we will partner with an organization to use our model to explore whatever issue they focus on, and that’s what happened with the public health show,” Wexler said. “[Public health] really lends itself, as a field, to storytelling,”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, public health has gained more prominence, and Wexler aimed to spread awareness about the relevance of public health in day-to-day life.
“We wanted to use storytelling to make public health issues more accessible and memorable to the average person and let them know there is public health all around you,” she said.
At the event, seven different speakers told stories about aspects of public health that they were passionate about.
Carolyn Sufrin, an OB-GYN at the School of Medicine, was one of the speakers who discussed her experience of delivering a baby for an incarcerated woman who was shackled to her bed. This event made her more cognizant of the neglect felt by pregnant incarcerated women and led her to work in jail as an OB-GYN. Now, her research focuses on reproductive healthcare for incarcerated women.
Cleo Hirsch, the director of COVID-19 response for Baltimore Public Schools, was another speaker who told her story of working on large policy changes in a short amount of time while ensuring that vulnerable students were receiving a good education. This involved fighting food insecurity, ensuring a safe transition to in-person teaching and managing testing and contact tracing.
According to Wexler, an important focus of the podcast was to choose a diverse array of stories and storytellers.
“We want to give people space to tell their stories, equalize all the stories around a theme and let people represent stories we don’t always hear. It’s also a much more interesting event when there are a variety of interpretations of the theme,” she said.
The Stoop Storytelling Series has many future events planned, including a collaboration with the Baltimore Museum of Art revolving around migration on Nov. 3.