Philadelphia organizations First Person Arts and WHYY radio have teamed up for a new radio show that explores the human element behind today’s news headlines.
Called Commonspace, the show invites people to share their personal stories on subjects that range from immigration to mental health. The show airs the last Sunday of each month along with two podcast episodes related to each topic. The next episode airs Sunday at 8 p.m.
Elisabeth Perez-Luna, Commonspace executive producer and WHYY’s executive producer of audio content, said she was interested in using the show to help fill in the blanks of larger news stories.
“It’s more than just the name of the topic,” she said. “We want our listeners to feel what it is we describe.”
First Person Arts Executive Director and Commonspace host Jamie J. Brunson said the idea for the radio show was conceived after the death of Trayvon Martin. As a Black woman, Brunson remembers feeling the devastation, helplessness and anguish within the community.
“I remember coming in and thinking wouldn’t it be great for people to share personal stories about what happened,” Brunson said.
In response, First Person Arts hosted an event called “Heart Beneath the Hood.” People shared their stories about Martin’s death at the event, including non-Black people sharing stories of personal misperceptions about someone they did not know.
The success of the event led Brunson to approach WHYY for a regular radio show. Together, both organizations approached The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage for support. Through a Pew Center grant, 48 Commonspace programs will air on WHYY through the next two years.
“What we’re trying to do is give people the opportunity to share compelling personal stories that have to be told now, around the pressing issues of our time,” Brunson said.
Some people struggle to connect to a story because it did not happen to them or someone they know, Brunson said. The name Commonspace comes from the idea of creating a space where everyone has equal access and equal authenticity in a story, she explained.
The first radio show, titled “Being a Black Man,” aired Jan. 29. Through the show a doctor, a professional athlete, an educator and a veteran explained what life is like for Black men in the United States today, according to a Commonspace press release.
“It’s not enough to give statistics and repeat the same issues,” Perez-Luna said. “Let’s find out how is it really to live every day with the assumptions, stereotypes, realities and good and bad of being an African-American male.”
During the show, City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services Commissioner Arthur C. Evans explained how he first became conscious of race in the first grade.
“I remember seeing a bright-skinned person get moved to the slower class, and it was jarring because at that age, I believed that if you had brighter skin that you were automatically a brighter person,” Evans said.
Sunday’s Commonspace episode explores immigration. During the episode people will describe their experience as first- and second-generation immigrants, and other will share their experience meeting someone from another country.
“We’ve learned that when you have the courage to share your personal experiences with other people, you connect on a cellular level,” Brunson said.
The Pew grant has also allowed Brunson and Perez-Luna to host events in between episodes. The next event on Tuesday invites people to pitch their stories for a chance to be featured on the next radio show. Brunson advocated for members of the Black community to especially share their personal experiences.
“If we’re accurately going to present what’s happening in the world, we need those voices,” she said.
People can also share their stories online at acommonspace.org. All of the radio shows are archived on the website and on iTunes. While the next Commonspace episode airs Sunday, additional podcasts related to the episode will be released the same day.