January 30, 2015

A City Full of Stories

by Sophie Duncan '16

Sophie Duncan '16 was the Project Assistant and Interviewer for Imagine Providence, an audio storytelling project on Swearer Sparks that features local organizations of all shapes, sizes, and missions. Imagine Providence is a resource to inform students and residents about the inspiring, amazing, and innovative efforts of local groups, and catalyze each listener to explore and learn more from leading organizations in Providence. Here, Sophie reflects on her role.

During my time at Brown, I have learned that Providence is a city of stories. These stories range from historical accounts hidden in the archives to the regular, every-day moments shared with family and friends.

All of these stories, young and old, combine together to form Providence’s narrative, which is a tale of resilience. At the heart of this resilience are residents all over the city working everyday to bring the Providence community closer together.

Imagine Providence highlights the voices of representatives from over 20 organizations who believe in and cultivate this resilience.

Given the theme of Brown’s 250+ Anniversary celebrations on campus - “Imagine Brown” - it is important to also honor and imagine the city where Brown has resided for 250 years. The Swearer Center for Public Service and the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities joined forces to develop a project that would recognize the transformative work of local organizations, while also looking to the future.  

As the interviewer for the project, I had the opportunity to conduct over 30 in-depth conversations with passionate individuals whose work is driven by a love of the Providence community. Through laughter and tears, these storytellers provide glimpses into their Providence. Some organizations, like the Steel Yard and Down City Design, physically reshape the structure of the city, while others, like D.A.R.E. and Youth in Action, move the spirit of the city to contribute to a climate of social change. At the end of each interview I asked interviewees to “imagine their Providence.” These responses gave me the opportunity to: “Imagine a Providence where everyone is free from abuse… Imagine a Providence where every kid has access to the arts… Imagine Providence where children hear lemonade trucks instead of police sirens... No us and them - just us, that’s the city I imagine.”

These encounters and interviews changed my relationship to the City of Providence. When I ride on RIPTA, I now hear the echoes of the everyday heroes I had the privilege to hear share their stories. Each organization highlighted represents a place in the city where change is happening. When I walked into New Urban Arts, I instantly felt that the innovative solution that everyone seeks for is happening, right now, on Westminster Street. While waiting to conduct an interview at Clinica Esperanza, I saw patients walk in with the confidence of knowing that they were in a place tailored to their needs. Following my Save the Bay interview, I beginning seeing Providence as a port city, looking towards the Bay rather than just living next to it.

Each individual conversation represents the willingness of passionate individuals to share their time and stories. As a whole, the Imagine Providence project speaks to the community of people who work together to make Providence, Providence.

Listen now!