By Emily Montgomery, SOAC Multimedia Media Content Producer
Like most things, it started as an idea.
Dr. Christina Morus, Professor Toby Rosenthal, and Stories of Atlantic City part-time project manager Christina Noble had thought about the potential of a project that involved both Stockton students and elders from the Atlantic City community. Little did they know that it would become an intergenerational storytelling project that allowed students to recognize the power of community storytelling.
The fall 2020 semester was the kickstart to the Intergenerational Storytelling Project. Students in Dr. Morus’ Media, Civil Rights, and Social Change class were put into groups and paired with elders in the AC community, where they heard about the elders’ experiences during the Civil Rights Movement and their opinions on the current Black Lives Matter Movement.
“Last semester was ‘proof of concept’ in a sense,” said Dr. Morus. “The fall semester was like the pilot and the class was very involved with the creation and development of the project.”
The students took all the information that they gathered during the interviews with the elders and created presentations that profiled the elders and highlighted their accomplishments. However, the work did not stop there. The Stories of Atlantic City team created interactive Microsoft Sways for each of the elders that participated in the project so that anyone in the community could access these stories and learn about the deep historical roots that lie in Atlantic City.
Christina Noble, Project Manager for SOAC, said that this project is meant to present a more positive view of Atlantic City.
“We hope to foster more meaningful relationships between Stockton students and the AC community, thus shifting the narrative of what’s often portrayed of the city,” she said.
In February 2021, the Stories of AC team, along with Stockton student contributors and faculty, gathered via ZOOM to present the sways to the entire community. Over 100 people joined the call to see the outcome of such an inspirational project. On top of showcasing presentations, the elders and a few students participated in a panel discussion in which they highlighted the most impactful moments that they had throughout the storytelling process. Many students even expressed that their opinions and ideas of AC had evolved, as the project allowed them to see the city in a different light while also allowing them to grasp the importance of grassroots community storytelling. Having just one hour to present the sways and chat about the project was not enough for the students, elders, or the audience; due to high demand, part two of the Sway Launch had to take place. The second part of the project’s presentation attracted more than 60 participants and was set up similarly to the first, except with different senior and student panelists.
The project ended up being so successful that the Stories of AC team and Dr. Morus decided to continue it this semester, except with a few minor changes. Last semester, the students were mostly upperclassmen, but this semester there are several first-year students in the course. With that in mind, Dr. Morus decided that it was important to adapt her expectations in order to meet the needs of the students and the elders. Instead of each student group interviewing 2 or 3 elders, each group will only be interviewing 1, which Dr. Morus says will help the students focus on developing their interviewing and storytelling skills in a more concentrated way.
“I think this was impactful for everyone involved,” said Dr. Morus, “and this connection is continuing to evolve and grow.”
Now, the team has a new set of students and elders and, of course, a new set of ideas and goals for this semester’s project. Both the students and the Stories of AC team are motivated and excited for another round of this memorable intergenerational storytelling project.
Maggie Gibbons, a junior at Stockton University who is working on the project this semester, is bringing ambitious energy to her interviews with the seniors that her group will be interviewing. Gibbons grew up near Atlantic City, so she is eager to shine some light onto the beautiful parts of a city that she calls home.
“Growing up just a few towns away from Atlantic City, I never heard stories that highlighted creators, educators, and positive people in the community. Now, with Stories of AC, there is a channel for the community to show how strong and positive AC is and all the amazing changes that are happening that you might not hear on the everyday news,” Gibbons reflected.
While some students participating in the project are familiar with Atlantic City, some students are not from the area. The intergenerational project gives students the opportunity to dive into the city and its history and to chat with people in the community who they otherwise may have never met. The project can best be summarized as a bridge between communities, as Noble explained.
“This project bridges a generational divide, a color divide, and a geographical divide,” Noble said. “Many of the student participants are not AC residents and do not identify as the same race as our senior participants. This project allows them the opportunity to peer into the life experiences of someone they may not have typically had a relationship with.”