Lynn Lewis: I am a life-long social justice worker who believes in the power of collective analysis and direct action to win justice. Having witnessed the strength and resourcefulness of folks who have chosen to join with others in social justice work I am committed to document those stories and to amplify those lessons. From housing struggles on the Lower East Side, to revolutionary Nicaragua and Venezuela, what has always inspired me is that each of us has the potential to make change. I met the co-founders of Picture the Homeless in 2000 just after its founding, and am honored to have worked with and learned from the incredible homeless leaders who together have built the only homeless led organization in NYC, and one of the few nationally for seventeen years. I wanted to learn the art and science of oral history to document the work of Picture the Homeless as well as other social movements, and to share those brilliant and nuanced organizing lessons.
The OHMA program expanded my understanding of how to do that in so many ways. It became an intellectual home and a place to initiate an oral history practice rooted in social justice. As I began interviewing for the Picture the Homeless Oral History Project I started out thinking like an organizer with a tape recorder but engaging with an initial cohort of long time homeless leaders while I was in the program informed my praxis. I’ve been calling this approach participatory oral history research (POHR). Since graduating, I continue to deepen my understanding of oral history with the Picture the Homeless Oral History project. My focus now is to continue interviewing but also to support the participation of the narrators who have committed to serve on the projects advisory board and to understand what that means, and what that will take. I’ve begun integrating lessons embedded in the interviews in my work as a trainer in community organizing and have created short audio pieces that illustrate themes contained within the narrators stories. Facilitating a weekend retreat with a homeless organizing group in Baltimore revealed how powerfully organizing lessons can be transmitted via audio.
I have also been working with oral history as a tool to write memoirs with two NYC social justice elders, and continue to consult as a community organizing trainer, a grant-writer and occasionally adjuncting. I also sit on the boards of two Community Land Trusts in NYC in my effort to help create alternative models to capitalist development.