Sunday, August 28, 2022

John Brown Lives! launches Freedom Story Project website

LAKE PLACID, NY  — On August 20, John Brown Lives! (JBL!) launched its “Freedom Story Project” website — — during the first-ever Adirondack Family Book Festival at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site.


Martha Swan, Executive Director of John Brown Lives!, said, “This website includes the first of many three- to five-minute personal accounts of the activism and engagement of ordinary people working for justice and for human and civil rights, not only here at home, but around the world.”


Freedom Story Project uses the OurStoryBridge methodology, making stories easily accessible and shareable. One of its goals is to inspire younger generations to tell their stories and connect to their communities and these issues, including through powerful personal narratives by elders who share their experiences.


Jery Huntley, OurStoryBridge founder, said, “Using the OurStoryBridge model, we’re able to collect these important narratives for the Freedom Story Project, much the way we’ve inspired other communities from around the United States to collect oral histories for their own projects. I look forward to seeing how the Freedom Story Project grows into a world-class virtual exhibit of sharing and learning.”


Freedom Story Project was made possible by a 2022 AARP Community Challenge grant. To ensure the success of this new initiative, JBL! has partnered with OurStoryBridge (, a free tool kit for producing a crowdsourced story project collecting and sharing a community’s unique history online. OurStoryBridge supports the creation of three-to five-minute, locally created audio stories with related photographs, as well as their online accessibility, by posting them on a website that appeals to both young and old, and can be produced at low cost.


The Freedom Story Project website includes stories such as “My Ancestor, Harriet Tubman,” “The Underground Railroad in the North Country,” “John Brown: Adirondacker” and “The Memorial Field for Black Lives.” The first story for the Freedom Story Project — “The Fight for Freedom Is Never Over” — was collected on April 24 from Sasha Shekhter, a native of Kyiv, Ukraine.

Photo provided by Martha Swan, Founder and Executive Director, John Brown Lives!

“When I was born, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and my parents eventually became political refugees from that regime,” said Shekhter, who moved to Texas with his family. “When we got there, I was immediately blown away by so many things about this country that so many of us today take for granted. And one of them is the sheer amount of personal liberty and responsibilities that citizens are entrusted.”


Another story is by novelist Russell Banks, author of books such as “Affliction,” “Cloudsplitter” and “The Sweet Hereafter.” His story — “Refugee Crisis in Keene” — is about Alexander Shoumatoff, a writer who urged Banks to move to the town of Keene, New York, in the 1980s.


“He married a Rwandan woman, Rosette, and had three sons with her,” Banks said.


Rosette’s extended Tutsi family was under threat of being butchered during the Rwandan civil war in the early 1990s. Shoumatoff figured out how to get many of Rosette’s family members to the United States. One day, Banks saw Shoumatoff at the Keene post office with more than 20 members of Rosette’s extended family.


“They were of all different ages,” Banks said. “Men and women, boys and girls, young and old, and Alex was taking them all out for pizza and asked me where can he get pizza for 24 people.”


Banks also tells how Shoumatoff got them into Canada, which was accepting refugees of the Rwandan genocide at a time when the United States was turning them away.


“We need stories of resistance to tyranny, cruelty and oppression at home and around the world, of people standing together in solidarity and with courage and compassion, to fortify and inspire us to meet the extraordinary challenges we face today,” Swan said. “I hope that people willing to tell their stories of freedom and justice will email us at and help us share their examples with the world.”

Photo provided by Martha Swan, Founder and Executive Director, John Brown Lives!

John Brown Lives! is a freedom education and human rights project that amplifies the lessons and legacies of the past to inform and inspire civic action and the creation of a just and livable community. As the official New York State Friends Group of the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid, NY, JBL! works to promote, preserve, interpret and welcome all peoples to this sacred site and human rights destination. JBL! connects and enhances life in our community through wide-ranging conversations, innovative programs, partnerships and collaborations, as well as through joyous celebrations and moving commemorations that provide ports of entry to address issues at the core of JBL!’s mission, including racial justice, voting rights, mass incarceration, human trafficking, and climate justice.



OurStoryBridge Inc. is a national charitable nonprofit organization whose mission is to serve as a resource and tool kit for OurStoryBridge projects that preserve and circulate local audio stories past and present through accessible online media; to promote, build and assist with the deployment of these resources in communities across geographic, cultural, socioeconomic, racial and organizational strata; and to help strengthen these communities through sharing of their stories, including preserving the stories of older generations before they are lost and encouraging younger generations to become engaged community members.



AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that empowers people to choose how they live as they age. The AARP Community Challenge is a grant program to make tangible improvements in communities that jump-start long-term change. It is part of AARP’s nationwide Livable Communities initiative, which supports the efforts of cities, towns, neighborhoods, and rural areas to become great places to live for people of all ages. To learn more, visit


Photo at top provided by Martha Swan, Founder and Executive Director, John Brown Lives!

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Community news stories come from press releases and other notices from organizations, businesses, state agencies and other groups. Submit your contributions to Almanack Editor Melissa Hart at

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