Six Years of Storytelling Places Humans of St. Louis at the Intersection of Art, Activism, and Entrepreneurship

Storytelling has opened new doors and created new community connections for these creative entrepreneurs.

Estimated reading time: 2 minute(s)

On this episode of Entrepreneurially Thinking, we had the opportunity to talk with storytellers Lindy Drew and Elaine Cha of Humans of St. Louis.

Humans of St. Louis (HOSTL) is a community art project that shares the faces and stories of the people of St. Louis through photography and storytelling. Now in its 6th year, the project is now expanding into the printed form with a book that will put local stories directly into readers’ hands.

Listen to “ETHINKSTL–Episode 9.3-Humans of St Louis” on Spreaker.

Co-founder and lead storyteller Lindy Drew and contributor Elaine Cha see the project as a platform to promote civic engagement and promote productive conversations that have the potential to transform our communities. Each brings their respective storytelling strengths to the project to bring these engaging and important stories to life.

With a background in social work, public health, and photography, Lindy has always been passionate about finding and sharing people’s stories – and unearthing underlying issues through storytelling. After her photography teacher in New York advised her to create the portfolio of her dreams, she spent time in Chile working with children who had been abandoned by their parents. She then backpacked through South America, selling powerfully evocative portrait-style photographs to editors in the US.

“I knew I loved taking portraiture and I knew that I loved interacting with others and sharing their deeper stories in this documentary fashion,” she says. This is how she wound up working with Humans of St Louis.

There is a skill to getting people to open up and share their stories. The stories Lindy sources are not about her – she seeks to connect with a stranger and then dives right in with deep, probing, open-ended questions. The goal is to surface a story about a community member to share with an audience who will connect with and reflect on it.

“I’m trying to get people to jog a real-life experience about something that only happened to them,” says Lindy.

Some of the most popular questions have been:

  • what’s your greatest fear?
  • what are you most proud of?
  • what is your greatest struggle?

Lindy is also increasingly interested in questions about where we come from, what we look like and what our skin color means to our lives in this region.

Lindy has been working on a HOSTL book with the help of Elaine Cha, a storyteller, and journalist who has worked with the Ferguson Commission’s storytelling team and is on staff with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri.

“I’m providing space and ways for people to tell the stories that matter to them – not trying to extract a narrative – and as a journalist, putting them into context,” says Elaine.

Elaine says that storytelling is about talking with people, trying to figure out where they come from, and determining the context of their story. The goal is to frame, not shape, a story in order to break down narratives and stereotypes and illuminate lives. The HOSTL book combines photographic interviews with qualitative research grounded in research, with Elaine acting as a “dot connector”.

Lindy and Elaine have found a way to connect people, enrich the community and make a living from their art. As professional storytellers, they live at the intersection of art, social activism, and entrepreneurship – making a living a meaningful life full of purpose. One photo and story at a time.

Visit https://www.humansofstl.org/ to pre order the #hostlbook.

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As Innovation Advisor with Atomic Revenue, Christy serves as a fractional executive to help clients improve their sales and profitability. Christy has taught entrepreneurship at UMSL and Washington University in St. Louis and co-hosts the Entrepreneurially Thinking podcast where listeners are invited to meet amazing individuals and be inspired to be entrepreneurial wherever they are. She is Treasurer of the Forward Through Ferguson Board of Directors and an advisor to MEDLaunch and We Stories.Christy is particularly focused on helping women and entrepreneurs of color – those visionaries who are typically underrepresented and under estimated – build wildly successful businesses. Her portfolio with Purpose First Advisors, where she is President and CEO, includes privately held companies, startups, entrepreneur support organizations and regional initiatives. She specializes in business model validation, financial operations modeling, strategic growth plan development and core messaging.