• First Person Arts
  • Email Sign up
  • Donate
  • About Us
  • Events
  • Social Impact
  • Storytelling
  • Festival
  • support_button
  • stories_button
  • Support
#12 The Heart Beneath the Hood
Sep 10, 2013

#12 The Heart Beneath the Hood

Hear a diverse mix of Philadelphians share their responses to the killing of Trayvon Martin at Philly reACTS: The Heart Beneath the Hood (produced by Nick Gilewicz), followed by the story of a mother trying to stay connected with her incarcerated son, from the First Person Museum (produced by Samara Freemark).


You can subscribe to our podcast and get new episodes every week on iTunes, Stitcher or by putting the podcast’s RSS feed into the podcast app of your choice.


Not Anthrax. Ashes.

While web-based technology has evolved considerably within the last twenty years, there are still certain things we just can’t send by e-mail: birthday presents, your latest ebay score, the last sappy romantic comedy you rented from net flicks, or your cats ashes. Tell the U.S. Postal Service it’s not anthrax, it’s ashes and ship this story first class. Check out Squeaky Clean: How My Cat Became Clutter in this week’s featured story from the First Person Museum online gallery submitted by Emily from Philadelphia. Learn how Squeaky lives forever as a decorative dorm room design element and keepsake.

Squeaky Clean: How My Cat Became Clutter
Emily, Philadelphia, PA
Theme: To Remember you By
Object Type: From Home

Sqeaky-cat lived at my parent’s house and died while I was away at college. They felt so guilty about the fact that I didn’t get to say goodbye that they cremated her and mailed her ashes in an engraved and locked cedar box to my dorm room. Now Squeaky’s remains live on my bookshelf because I don’t know what else to do with them.

Read more stories from other Museum contributors or upload your own at firstpersonmusuem.org. Categorize your story by object types such as From Home and themes such as To Remember you By. Upload media including images and video. Next week’s featured story could be yours!


Labors of Love

The heart has long been ascribed as the part of the body best suited for representing love. This week’s featured storytellers might suggest that love is better represented by the hands. Straight from the First Person Museum online gallery, featured storytellers Michael and Mary Kate are showcasing stories about labors of love that are made by hand.

Check out their stories, Quillow Love and Image of Home below and find answers to two very important questions: “What is the secret ingredient that makes our hand made treasures special?” and “What the heck is a quillow?”

Read through stories by other Museum contributors or upload your own at firstpersonmuseum.org! Choose from story themes like “To Remember You By” and “Good Times” and Object Types like “Hand Made.” Next week’s featured story could be yours!

Quillow Love
Michael, Philadelphia
Theme: To Remember You By
Object Type: Hand Made
My quillow was made with the loving, creative, talented hands of my mother. Since she passed away last year, my quillow is one of the last objects I have that her hands touched. She used a teddy bear, heart, and navy blue material, encompassing my favorite symbols and memories of childhood. My quillow is the one thing from childhood that I will cherish forever.

Image of Home
Mary Kate, Philadelphia
Theme: Good Times
Object Type: Hand Made
My Uncle Mark made me an absolutely beautiful dollhouse (which I still have) when I was about 5-years-old. Ever since I was little I couldn’t wait to buy my own house, decorate it and ask my Uncle for repairs. Twenty years later I bought my first house. My Uncle just finished helping me rebuild the stairs.


Memorial Mementos

A ratty old headband, a commemorative ring, military dog tags — these objects have more than just fashion sense — they also carry memories and stories for the people who wear them. Cherished objects can help us remember the loved ones we have lost. Get stylin’ with this week’s featured stories from the First Person Museum online gallery from our three storytellers Megan, Sarah and Mike whose stories all represent the reminders we wear. Check out their stories below!

Read stories by other Museum contributors or upload your own along with media including images and video at firstpersonmuseum.org. Choose from story themes like “To Remember You By” and object types including “Stuff I Wear.” Next week’s featured story could be yours!

Headband Love
Megan, Philadelphia
Theme: To Remember You By
Object Type: From Long Ago

i have a ratty old headband,
cut from an even older ratty shirt,
that my first boyfriend gave to me.
he used to wear it all the time
and i always commented on how much i liked it.
after all the hints, he finally gave it to me.
his signature look became my signature look.
sadly, a couple years later,
he was killed in a car accident.
ten years later i still have that headband
kicking around my sock drawer
and it still, faintly, smells like him.

Read Megan’s official entry.

E Familia Vires
Sarah, New York City
Theme: To Remember You By
Object Type: Stuff I wear

One day shy of All Saints Day, my uncle, my godfather passed away in 2005 to leukemia. My uncle was the core of our family, one of a kind and brought humor into every situation. He made family a priority, which in return we all did. To remember his love for family, my cousins and I had silver rings made in his memory. The inscription in the interior reads: ” E Familia Vires” translated to “in family we trust”. Our rings were fitted for our ring fingers to represent love.

I wish I could thank my uncle for all that he has done for us and for showing me what true love is.

Read Sarah’s official entry.

Untarnished Legacy
Mike, Philadelphia
Theme: To Remember You By
Object Type: Stuff I Wear

When my father passed I lost every item in his house and on his person. I was once going through some trash and noticed a dog tag (military identification tag) in a small box I was going to throw away. It was my father’s dog tag and the only item I have in his memory.

Read Mike’s official entry.


I don’t believe he’s lifeless.

From the traditional “Teddy” to the infamous “Winnie,” stuffed bears have long been great sources of comfort appreciated by young and old alike. Years of devoted service have transformed some of our best bear friends into dust bunnies — but they’ll never lose their charm. This week’s featured story from the First Person Museum Online Gallery is about a very special bear who is full of love and healing power. Check out “Cancer Bear” below submitted by Lizzy from Philadelphia and learn why she doesn’t believe he’s lifeless.

Cancer Bear
Theme: Empowered
Object Type: Always By My Side

When I was 17 I got skin cancer. I guess I was scared, but all I remember are the motions — Going to the hospital, my mom helping me decide what to wear to surgery, what books to bring. When I got back from surgery my uncle had given me a stuffed bear, waiting on the couch where I would lay for the next week. I attached myself to that object more than my stuffed animals when I was little. It scares me how much love I feel for him, how much comfort something so silent can give me. Honestly, I don’t believe he’s lifeless.

Read Lizzy’s official entry.

Feeling inspired? Upload your story about a meaningful object to firstpersonmuseum.org. Choose from story themes like “Empowered” and object types like “Always By My Side.” Upload media of your object including photos and video. Who knows? Next week’s featured story could be yours!


The Uniform

Sir, yes sir! Give a storytelling salute and put Denzel Washington to shame with this week’s featured story from the First Person Museum Online Gallery. This week we’re featuring a story about a photo of a man in uniform submitted by Margaret from Philadelphia.

Margaret is no stranger to First Person Arts. We first met Margaret this past spring at a storytelling event we presented in partnership with Art Sanctuary. It was there that Margaret first shared her story about her photo of her father in military uniform with us. This past fall, Margaret’s story was showcased in the pilot exhibition of the First Person Museum at the Painted Bride Art Center. Now her story continues to be on display in the First Person Museum through our Online Gallery.

Like Margaret, you can be featured in a Museum! Do you have a story about an object that you hold dear? Upload your story about an object today to firstpersonmuseum.org along with media including photos of yourself, your object and video. Choose from themes like “Generation to Generation” and object types like “Always By My Side.” Who knows? Next week’s story could be yours!

The Uniform
Margaret, Philadelphia, PA
Theme: Generation to Generation
Object Type: Always By My Side

He looked downright handsome. His skin dark chocolate, face clean shaven eyes that can see straight through you. He was not quite six feet tall, but he had a swagger that would put Denzel Washington to shame. That was my dad. He was stern, strong in character and could strike up a conversation with the Head of State if he wanted to. He was my hero. I never saw any man wear a uniform with such class and style. As I glance around his bedroom, I spot my favorite picture. It’s in a five by seven inch tarnish silver frame. It’s black and white. My dad is in his khaki army uniform with my mom. It was taken on my parent’s wedding day November 7, 1962 in Vernon Louisiana. A friend of my dad had taken the picture. This fact I had to rely on my mom’s memory of the date, place, month and year. I studied this particular picture a million times. Its significance would play a major part in my life many years later. He has an array of photographs of him in his army and policeman uniform. I’m compelled by this one. I concentrate on his demeanor. I search his eyes looking for apart of me. It’s not immediate why I’m intrigue by his gesture, pose or facial expression. I don’t see any part of me. It won’t become clear for many years later. He would past before this becomes apparent. I remember a conversation dad I had. We were talking about my future. We shared a powerful connection that evening. I wanted to move many miles away from my native home in Philadelphia. I saw a look on his face that did not resemble the uniform photograph. I was stunned, happy for a moment, followed by a deep sadness. I never shared our talk with anyone else. His feelings and raw emotion convinced me to stay. My mind wonders back and forth as I glance at the uniform. It’s color bland like my thoughts. I observe the picture with fresh eyes this day. My father looked content. His future fulfilled. I feel his energy. I touch the frame like so many times before. I’m intrigued by his creased trousers, shiny black shoes, and his sage army cap. I guess the color because the pictures are black and white. I think to myself how long had it took him to get ready for that photograph. Who did he talk to while he dressed, shaved and put on his uniform? His pose looked like a figure of authority. I pick up the photograph. I wipe the dust from the tarnish silver frame. I manage to see only little specks of silver. At one time it was a delicate weave pattern all around its frame. I run to find a rag to wipe down the frame to try to preserve it. When I’m done I notice how the dust had settled on the other frames. Carefully, I pick up each frame one by one. Gingerly, I clean them all. By the time I’m finished, I’m in the mist of tears from the photographs of my father in his uniforms. My mind wonders for a moment about the many pictures my father had taken over the years with his uniform and dress suits. He like being in charge and these suits gave him that edge. I know he feels amorous looking down on me from heaven as I cherish his photographs. I envision his smile his appreciation for honoring him in this way. I look at one of his later pictures he took wearing his policeman uniform. It’s the one I keep in my armoire. This particular one is in color. He’s older and more relaxed. His face isn’t clean shaven, his hair short and he has a sparkle in his eyes. I finally see me. We have the same smooth skin and wicked grin when we photograph. Most of his pictures, he’s taken over the years he grins with no open smile or teeth. I take a quick spin around his room. I see me in him. Tears roll down my face. I’m elated because I’ve found a precious piece of me. I sit on his bed savoring this revelation. I think back to my ex husbands both were in the military. Was this a consequence or fate? I fall back on the bed with my favorite picture. I whisper you’ll always be a gentleman before an officer to me.

Read Margaret’s official entry.


Wordly Possessions: One man’s journey from Venezuela to Philadelphia

Straight from the First Person Museum Online Gallery this week’s featured story comes to us from Abdel from Philly! I first met Abdel this fall at the First Person Museum table at Outfest organized by Philly Pride Presents, Inc. Abdel traded his story “Prayer Connection” about his medal of the Divino Nino (Divine Child Jesus) for one of our First Person Museum tote bags!

But Abdel’s isn’t just featured in the First Person Museum, he’s also been featured at the Philadelphia Museum of Art! This past Saturday, Abdel shared his story about his medal with us again. This time, he told his story at our Caribbean StoryCircle, Worldly Possessions as part of the First Person Museum and Michelangelo Pistoletto: Cittadellarte exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Twelve storytellers from countries across the Caribbean Ocean gathered around Pistoletto’s mirrored table formed in the shape of the Caribbean coastline to tell the stories behind objects that represent where they’ve come from and who they are today. For more information about the Michelangelo Pistoletto: Cittadellarte visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art official website.

Abdel also performed during the First Person Festival of Memoir and Documentary Art this year in the World Premiere Play, Prison 101, a monologue-driven theater piece created by the men of Graterford Prison. Through this work the playwrights reveal the stories of how they landed in prison and what they have done to reclaim their lives since becoming incarcerated. Read what the Montgomery News had to say about Prison 101.

Prayer Connection
Abdel, Philadelphia, PA

Theme: Empowered
Object Type: Stuff I Wear

The night before I moved in to the U.S. from Venezuela, my dear friend Maria came to my house to give me a medal of the Divino Nino (Divine Child Jesus) to protect me. After more than twelve years, I still have it. My medal reminds me of the value of my friend’s love and the power of prayer.

Read Abdel’s official entry.

Now you too can be featured in a Museum! Upload your story to our First Person Museum Online Gallery today. Select from Themes such as “Empowered” and choose from Object Types like “Stuff I Wear.” Read more stories at firstpersonmuseum.org.

Next week’s featured story could be yours!

-Becca Jennings



Hit the campaign trail with Curt from Minneapolis in this week’s featured story from the First Person Museum Online Gallery! Protest carpet square naps and fingerfuls of paste as you travel with Curt through this hilarious story about a political pin that points to Republican repentance. Learn more about the scarlet letter that adorns his lapel and reminds him of an election gone RED!

Sandbox Activist
Curt, Minneapolis, MN

Theme: Growing Up
Object Type: Stuff I Wear

My first taste of political activism was during the 1984 presidential election, and a taste was all I needed to become addicted. North Dakota’s mere three electoral votes never brought the state much political influence, but I determined not to let that stop me.

I was a staunch Reaganite, and probably broke all sorts of electioneering laws by campaigning on public school grounds. In polling my classmates on which candidate they supported, you may not be shocked to hear that none of them expressed much of an opinion. You should, however, be disappointed, as I was, that not one of them could name a single candidate. This, dear reader, is the future of America! Their undisguised apathy disgusted me.

Worse yet, none even knew that there was an election coming up.

Or… what a president was.

I was in kindergarten.

My parents, both generally progressive-leaning Democrats, swear they don’t know where I got it from. Everyone goes through a rebellious streak, mine apparently just came a decade early. I blame television. I watched a lot of TV as a kid. A LOT. I suspect I might have become enamored of Reagan because he was on TV quite a bit, and also because he somewhat resembled one of my other television heroes at the time, Orville Redenbacher.

In any case, while the other kids in my class were napping on carpet squares and sneaking an occasional fingerful of paste, ruining their appetites for snacktime, I was coloring Yeti-sized Reagan campaign buttons on the cardboard circles you used to get on the bottoms of frozen pizzas.

As I grew older, my interest in politics never ceased, but I did come to notice that as my own awareness of the world and my place in it continued to develop, I realized that the priorities and principles of the objects of my political devotion might not exactly match up with my own. Though not until after the following presidential election, where I turned an Earth Science assignment, a nature-themed shoebox diorama, into an electioneering stunt featuring a green construction paper BUSH and model decoy QUAIL. Insidious, I know.

Today, I’m a full-fledged Minnesotan, and celebrate the long heritage of progressive politics and politicians from my foster home state. I still feel terrible, in a very overblown, Catholic sort of way, that I encouraged — nay, ENDORSED — Reagan’s defeat of a man I now idolize, Mr. Walter Mondale. Truly a man of the people, I have friends who have run into Mr. Mondale on the street, or at the drugstore picking up a prescription. No Secret Service detail, no black stretch limousine, just out and about like anybody else. And now that I live in Minneapolis, Mondale’s home town, I live in constant, paralyzing fear that I will actually run into the man himself on some mundane errand, at the grocery store, or the library. And that our eyes meet across the produce bin, and he sees the guilt and shame floating just below the irises, and unconsciously understand the entire story of our shared past. And punch me out in disgust. Maybe even spit in my face while I’m down, for good measure. I hear he’s got a mean left.

Nevermind the 49 states that went red that election. Nevermind the fact that I was 12 years too young to vote. I practically single-handedly delivered North Dakota to the Reagan column, and thus guaranteed Mondale’s victory. Clearly, North Dakota was the key all along. If only I had known.

To assuage my guilt, and to fend off Mr. Mondale’s harsh, harsh spittle, I turned to a little knick-knack of my parents. An almost-Yeti-sized “I HEART MONDALE” button, which I wear to this day. The button, to the unsuspecting eye, is just another nostalgic political artifact, perhaps worn in wonky hipster irony. Look into MY eyes, however, and you’ll see its true significance: a giant scarlet ‘R’ on my lapel. Reagan. Republican. REPENT.

Check out Curt’s official entry.

Feeling inspired? Now YOU can be featured in the First Person Museum! Upload your story to our Online Gallery today to www.firstpersonmuseum.org along with an image of yourself, your object, and even video! Choose from story themes like “Growing Up” and object types like “Stuff I wear.” Next week’s featured story could be yours!

-Becca Jennings


Righteous Revival: A couple’s Philly “Phlashback”

Every week we’ve been featuring a story from the First Person Museum Online Gallery on the First Person Blog. This week we’re serving up a double feature – two stories submitted by husband and wife, Jim and Caroline from Bethesda, MD. Our Marketing Coordinator, Karina Kacala, met Jim at Pecha Kucha, when she presented about the First Person Museum this past August in West Philly at Studio 34: Yoga | Healing | Arts.

Read what these self-proclaimed “counterculturalists” have to say about their groovy days browsing hippie bazaars and protesting war in the 60’s. Jim has empirical evidence for reincarnation in his featured story about a righteous revival of a hippie shirt. You’ll never guess who else was inspired by this Indian cotton block-print paisley pattern! Caroline had a Philadelphia “Phlashback” that uncovered a new iconic cyber identity. Now she’s making a second online appearance in the First Person Museum Online Gallery. Can you dig it? Check out their stories below.

Reincarnation of a Sansom Street Hippy Shirt
Jim, Bethesda, MD
Theme: Generation to Generation
Object Type: From Long Ago
My wife Caroline and I married in June 1968 while students at Antioch College, a work-study school in Ohio. In the fall of that year she interned at the Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute in North Philadelphia, I at the Board of Education, at that time on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Our apartment was on Walnut Street near 20th Street, off Rittenhouse Square and across from the War Resisters’ League.

Proper counterculturalists, on weekends we would browse the hippie bazaar that was Sansom Street. I bought my favorite shirt there, made from Indian cotton in a block-print paisley bedspread pattern, dark red on a tea-stain tan. This soft, incense-redolent, sacred garment had long gone missing. That is, until some 40 years later when I bought it again—-new, two sizes bigger, and now made by Ralph Lauren.

Read Jim’s official entry.

Philadelphia Photo Phlashback
Caroline, Bethsda, MD
Theme: Generation to Generation
Object Type: From Long Ago
In 1967 I was an Antioch College cooperative education intern in Philadelphia, working as a pediatric “play lady” at Hahnemann Hospital and living on Spruce Street near 12th Street. It was the time of the Summer of Love and the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” a time of naiveté, dreams, and danger.

Earlier this year, while searching the Internet for images of the Sixties to show our two sons, my husband Jim found a picture of what he swore was my doppelganger. No, this (anonymous) photo was of me and my roommate at a 1967 antiwar protest (I’m holding the sign) in Philadelphia. For over 40 years, it seems, I—a mild-mannered book editor— have had a secret cyberlife as a peacenik hippie icon. On Google Images, search “hippies protesting,” and there I am.

Read Caroline’s original entry.

YOU can be part of the First Person Museum. Upload your story about an object you treasure today along with an image of you, the object, and even video to our Online Gallery.

Join us tonight, Friday, December 3rd from 5-7PM for the December First Friday Reception of the First Person Museum pilot exhibit at the Painted Bride Art Center (230 Vine St.). Come tour the exhibit, enjoy FREE beer and food, and meet other Museum Contributors. Click here for more information and to R.S.V.P for the event.

-Becca Jennings


Dianna Marder on Repositories of History

Dianna Marder, writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, shares with us her experience collaborating with First Person Arts and the First Person Museum. She is an award-winning investigative reporter, covering courts, crime and City Hall for 18 years, before turning her talents to writing features about food and romance (which are not mutually exclusive topics). Look for her stories in the Image, Food and Daily Magazine sections.

I interviewed Dianna because of the major role she is playing at the new museum. She has been recording the stories of the objects our contributors have donated, which will then be included in the show.

On your involvement with FPA…
I came to know about First Person seven or eight years ago when, as a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, I was assigned to write about the annual Festival of Memoir and Documentary Arts. And the next year I wrote about the Story Slams.

I admired First Person’s belief in the intrinsic value of the human story, presented by the individual in whatever form feels right.

On the value of memoir…
I love personal histories and I’m intrigued by the power of memory and the opportunity memoir gives us to own our past and reflect on the lessons of our experience.

The way I look at it, memoir in whatever form, allows us to have some say in how we are remembered. And that’s crucial historically as well as personally because what is recorded is what we remember and that then becomes our truth .

So, in thinking about the various genocides the world has seen, for example, first person accounts give us the other side of what might be an otherwise biased account presented by the government in power at the time.

That’s part of memoir’s big picture.

On the power of the flea market…
The other part that matters so much to me is how we store our memories in objects: photographs, recipes, wooden spoons, whatever. For me, that is the lure of the flea market – it’s
a repository of folk history, a place where I’m likely to see the objects I grew up with (matchbox cars, metal skate keys, mixing bowls).

I see these things and images rush to my mind. And I have a hunch the same thing is happening simultaneously for at least half the people there, making for a kind of collective experience. A flea market is a great place for memoirists or any writers who feels stuck. Go. Think of the flea market as a Julia Cameron style Artists’ Date.

I found my Pirate’s Treasure Chest Bank at a  flea market a few years ago. I had one just like it as a child.

On her role in the museum…

In 2008, I think it was, I got permission from the paper (where I still work, after 25 glorious years. Really.) to lead memoir writing workshops for older women as part of First Person’s Community Writing project. Next, I expanded the idea, leading memoir writing workshops for lifers at Graterford prison.

I’m really grateful to First Person and to the Inquirer for giving me those chances. And that’s how I came to know Vicki Solot and she came to understand how I think and work. I was delighted when she offered me the opportunity to work on the Museum of the People.

There are so many aspects of the project: still photography, audio, video, design. And of course, the whole wonderful concept came from Vicki, who is inherently brilliant. I love the way she draws people into her magnetic field.

I guess my role in the Museum is that of story gatherer. I led a series of about six workshops – one with each of the community organizations that signed on to partner with First Person, in part to expand our reach in the city’s minority communities.

I worked with Dee Johnson, Angel Hogan and Katonya Mosley, whose names might be familiar to First Person fans because each is a poet, storyteller and teacher in her own right.

On the creative process…

Ten or so individuals attended each of our six or seven workshops where we guided them in writing short pieces – right on the spot – about an object that mattered to them. And that’s how we gathered a pool of stories.

Dee Johnson inspired us to compile the stories in chapbook form and give them to our partner organizations. It was such a good idea; they look terrific.

The workshop participants came out by choice for the most part and so many of them came with a memory in mind. Some of the workshops drew laughs and some were cathartic sob fests. But all the people we met were honest and eager and had rich histories to draw on.

I think they all caught on right away to the concept. It’s as if the practice of investing our things with meaning – making them sacred objects – is subconsciously universal.

The reporter in me knew we had to “vet” the individuals and their stories – to make sure the people knew what they were getting into by having themselves and their stories on public display. But I also needed to “flesh out” some of the stories, adding context without disturbing the storyteller’s voice.

Often, when I’m writing newspaper stories, particularly profiles, I find myself mimicking the individual’s cadence in order to convey the truest image of the person. And I don’t mean this in a demeaning way at all – it’s not like writing in slang or anything – it’s just a matter of stepping back as the writer and letting the individual tell the story.

1 2 3 4
Upcoming Events
  • May StorySlam – Grand Slam
  • Date: May 22, 2018
  • Time: 8 PM
  • Venue: Fringe Arts Building
  • Location: 140 N Christopher Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19106