The 11th grade, in coordination with their History of St. Louis course, recently hosted their first virtual speakers: Lindy Drew, co-founder and lead storyteller of Humans of St. Louis (HOSTL); Chloe Owens, storyteller at HOSTL; and Ava Mandoli ’21, intern at HOSTL and current MICDS senior. HOSTL is a nonprofit organization that shares first-person stories and photographic portraits of people and places all across St. Louis. The project started out as a creative outlet for the co-founders and grew organically, building a large following on social media, second only to the original Humans of New York page.
Head of Upper School Scott Small kicked things off by welcoming the upperclassmen to their 11th grade year and stressing the importance of their leadership during distance learning. He also connected the speaker to the overarching theme for the 11th grade. Small said, “How can you recognize and weigh the ethical consequences of your decisions and actions, not just for yourself, but for those around you? We know how inextricably connected we are, how valuable we are to one another, and that begins and ends with your commitment to each other. So what better way to start that promise to each other, but to understand the place that we live—our community. And over the next few months, in this series, you’re going to get an opportunity to hear from local experts who make it their life’s work to both promote community and understand community.”
The 11th grade History of St. Louis course explores both the past and present of the St. Louis area and examines St. Louis’s relationship to the country as a whole, including how the city is similar and different to other cities. The speaker series provides first-hand perspectives on these topics and more to help students understand St. Louis’s place in history.
The speakers from HOSTL shared that they focus on storytelling to connect people across St. Louis and from multiple perspectives. They stressed the importance of understanding St. Louis, all of St. Louis, including people who are from different areas and who live different lives. Drew said, “When we drive by people on the street, we might judge them or have a preconceived notion out of the safety of our car…but when you do say hi and you get to know someone, you really get to hear their story.”
This message hit home with students, judging from their reflections below.
Annabelle Abramov ’22 said, “I honestly never really looked beyond where I live, but this presentation gave me a greater perspective about the whole city and the issues we need to address.”
“I think that the HOSTL presentation gave me a bit more hope for St. Louis in multiple ways,” shared Josh Grossman ’22. “The most interesting part to me was hearing about different people who are benefiting their community. I also appreciate that HOSTL puts an emphasis on being an unbiased source of information, having told stories from the perspectives of both sides of many issues.”
Xavier Asher ’22 reflected, “When I think of St. Louis, I have the same thoughts that I think most people who aren’t from here think; that it’s a dangerous place. This presentation changed my perception of the city to a more positive one. It made me realize that there are still plenty of people in these communities who are trying to inflict positive change. Whether it’s the bicycle repairman helping kids get their grades up while simultaneously giving them a mode of free transportation or Lindy Drew herself, St. Louis is a place with plenty of good people, but that doesn’t seem to make headlines.”
Drew also shared their creative process for both the interviews and photos, giving students tips on how to conduct oral interviews and histories, which students will be doing later on in the course. Typically, the HOSTL storytellers ask a few questions of the subject first such as, “What’s been your highest high and lowest low?” and “Who has been your biggest cheerleader?” The real key is asking open-ended follow-up questions to get to the heart of the matter. For the photo, they seek to create an interesting portrait by placing an interesting person in front of an interesting backdrop, with attention to symmetry, color, design, and repetition in the photo.
Owens told her story as well, and she posed this question, “Who are the people on the ground who have things to say, who have stories of how they’ve been impacted? And how do you use storytelling to amplify their voices?”
Mandoli shared that after participating as an 11th grade audience member during the speaker series last year, she became interested in working for HOSTL. She pursued her passion, and she has been interning with HOSTL since January. Be on the lookout for a blog post with her full story next week!