Before there was Humans of New York, there was Radio Diaries. For 25 years, Radio Diaries was the go to space for extraordinary stories of life, one person at a time, one history at a time. It’s a rare kind of journalism, Ira Glass, a famous NPR host proclaimed, one that makes us see what it would be like to live someone else’s life. From their website ‘if Radio Diaries has a mission, it’s to break down stereotypes and stigma, to understand issues in the news differently by telling the complicated, complex stories of everyday people going about their lives.’ One diary entry that best exemplifies this is the story of Thembi here (https://www.radiodiaries.org/thembis-aids-diary/).
“Thembi was a teenager living in one of the largest townships in South Africa. She was HIV positive. For two years, Thembi carried a tape recorder to document her struggle with AIDS. She collected about 50 hours of tape: interviews with her family and friends; late-night dancing with her boyfriend, Melikhaya; the sounds of her baby, Onwabo; and the moment when she told her father she had AIDS. One of the first things Thembi recorded for her radio diary was something she called her “HIV Prayer.”
“Hello, HIV, you trespasser. You are in my body,” she said. “You have to obey the rules. You have to respect me. And if you don’t hurt me, I won’t hurt you. You mind your business. I’ll mind mine. And I will give you a ticket when the time comes.”
Thembi spoke of her concerns with living with AIDS at that time, her love for her boyfriend, and her aspirations with life. She also told her story eloquently at a time when stigma for people living with HIV was rife throughout the country. Radio Diaries gave us all an insight into her world, an insight into her journey to tell other to accept living with HIV. We also saw a glimpse of her journey into becoming a mother with the birth of her daughter Onwabo, borns AIDS-free. Although Thembie died in 2009, her boyfriend and her teenage daughter live on. Radio Diaries was there once more to meet her daughter, so she too can tell her story. This is what Ira Glass meant about the enduring power of Radio Diaries. It’s ability to see, even feel, what it means to live in some else’s life, is like no other. Storytelling at it’s fine, one person at a time, one history at a time, is what I ask that you keep today. Keep Radio Diaries for the extraordinary work they do to help people document their lives. Also keep the for these reasons below:
“ I think Radio Diaries live in a unique space between biography and autobiography. When we tell our own stories, we often go for the big moments, our conclusions and realizations. We might not see our blind spots or our blemishes. Most of us can’t fathom that the detritus of our lives — the everyday sounds of hanging out with friends, a conversation at the kitchen table — is the raw material of our story. It requires a witness, a curator, an editor — someone to see the bigger picture and put a frame around it.’ This is truly Radio Diaries at its finest.