Article, Social Justice, Urban Issues, Community

Megaphone storytellers bring Voices of the Street to life on the Below the Radar podcast

April 06, 2022

SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement (SFU VOCE) and Megaphone are delighted to present the completed Voices of the Street podcast — a Below the Radar original series created by Megaphone storytellers.

Inspired by writings and themes from the 2021 Voices of the Street literary anthology, this series was thoughtfully curated and hosted by Megaphone Speakers Bureau participants: Jules Chapman, Angel Gates, Nicolas Leech-Crier and Yvonne Mark.

The inspiration for this series: ‘prejudice or stigma really can’t withstand experience’

This series continues SFU VOCE’s support of Megaphone’s mission to promote social equity, amplify marginalized voices, and create meaningful work. Through their monthly magazine and annual Voices of the Street anthology, Megaphone changes the story on poverty by publishing poems, stories, essays and more by writers marginalized by poverty and homelessness. These high-quality publications are then sold by low-income vendors on the streets of Vancouver and Victoria to earn income and build community.

Wanting to broaden the audiences for these stories, Megaphone prepared to expand into the world of podcasting. Megaphone’s Executive Director, Julia Aoki, was focused on continuing to break down the stigma surrounding folks who may use substances or who experience poverty.

“We’ve found that prejudice or stigma really can’t withstand experience. So if people get to know stories of individuals, it really starts to break down that stigma.”

— Julia Aoki

Inspired by her firsthand experience hearing the Megaphone storytellers read their own writings in-person, Aoki wanted to give storytellers the space to share their own experiences and the inspiration that spurred their writing, with a wider audience. Audio storytelling through podcasting allowed for those emotions to carry through the voice of the reader and with support from creative sound designs.

Knowledge mobilization and self-determined storytelling

Staying true to Megaphone’s ethos of empowering marginalized voices through journalism and creative self-expression, the Voices of the Street podcast series enabled storytellers to create their own episodes. Each episode was produced and directed by a Megaphone storyteller with lived experience of substance use, poverty and various other barriers to traditional employment. 

Over the Summer of 2021, the group came together to envision, script and produce their original podcasts. These workshops were supported by SFU VOCE and led by sound artist, podcaster and workshop facilitator Helena Krobath, inviting guest mentors from the industry to come share lessons learned as well. The workshops were focused on learning how to interview subjects, episode structuring, vocal and recording techniques, and incorporating music and sound effects to enhance their stories.

Each storyteller was then able to choose writing from Megaphone’s Voice of the Street anthology, and create their own podcast episodes. Common themes emerged, such as poverty, incarceration, Indigeneity and connections to home, land and relations. Each storyteller was able to imbue their own creative vision into each episode, making choices ranging from interviewee selection to audio design decisions.

Krobath emphasized the power of self-determined storytelling, especially for marginalized folks:

“To actually hear somebody tell their own story is quite different than hearing a group of people’s concerns characterized from the outside.”

— Helena Krobath, as quoted by CBC News

Self-determined storytelling was key to this project, to share stories of lived experience in a way that reduces stigma and breaks down stereotypes. Storyteller and podcast producer Yvonne Mark focused her episode, “Without Prejudice,” around addressing anti-Indigenous racism. She interviewed Megaphone author Dennis Gates, shining a light on the ongoing discrimation Indigenous people face in Canada.

“The biggest take away was to have Dennis’ story told and [for] society at large to see how we are treated in comparison to everyday settlers' lives.” 

— Yvonne Mark

Nicolas Leech-Crier, another Megaphone storyteller and podcaster, created two podcast episodes for the series, “My Mother’s Comfort,” and “Why I Choose to Stay.” In both of his episodes, Leech-Crier questioned why the Downtown Eastside continues to be so misunderstood when it is one of the most heavily researched communities in the world.

“Despite the drugs, despite the abuse, the exploitation, and the never ending stigma, [people in the ​​Downtown Eastside] are just really kind and polite people.”

— Nicolas Leech-Crier, as quoted on CBC’s On The Coast with Gloria Macarenko

In the former episode, he interviews Eva Takakanew, a local writer and recent graduate of Native Education College’s Family & Community Counselling Diploma program. Takakanew discusses her titular poem about drug use and intergenerational mother-child relationships as an adoptee from the Sixties Scoop. 

Hearing Takakanew read her poem and discuss her own reflections on that piece is very powerful and moving for listeners. She was interviewed by another Megaphone storyteller and podcast producer, Angel Gates, for her episode “Honouring Indigenous Children & Motherhood,” where they both call for truth and accountability from colonial institutions. 

Not limiting themselves to traditional interviews, some of the storytellers created more experimental podcast episodes. Storyteller and podcast producer Jules Chapman created the episode “The Din from Within,” featuring poetry from herself and fellow writer Elaine Schell about the transformative power of writing and sharing creative works with the world. Together, Chapman’s reading and creative sound designing transport the listener into the worlds of each poem.

Reflecting on the podcast episodes, Leech-Crier noted how important that creative directorial and producer control was for the storytellers.

“I’m used to a bit of publicity. I’ve been doing theatre and writing all my life. But to actually have directorial say in how it was produced and how the effects were designed and everything was really special, I think, for all the podcasters.”

— Nicolas Leech-Crier

Long term community partnerships and learning by everyone involved

The Voices of the Street podcast series was an ambitious project involving many people and moving parts. A lot of planning and fundraising was involved to ensure equitable pay and safe working space for the storytellers and everyone else involved. Our team here at SFU VOCE joined as a community partner early in the project, providing support with grant applications, workshop assistance, and audio editing. 

SFU VOCE’s Kathy Feng provided support with recording and editing the episodes, in addition to creating each episode’s original artwork. She was able to share podcasting knowledge with the storytellers and, in turn, learn from their creativity and lived experiences.

“I think it was a really valuable site of learning for all of us, and I feel so grateful to be a part of the process of sharing all the hard work the storytellers have put in over the course of the various workshops and sessions. To see it finally be released after so much work and collaboration between our team and Megaphone — and to hear the amazing responses from listeners — is just so exciting.”

— Kathy Feng

Since 2011, our Office’s Director, Am Johal, has helped foster the long-standing community partnership between SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement and Megaphone Magazine. 

Am shared, “It’s these types of long term relationships that can grow and evolve and produce really impactful work: from Community Journalism 101 to Voices of the Street [anthology] to the recent podcast series. 

“We are really grateful to support that leadership from the community and do our part to amplify important voices from the neighbourhood — there is great learning in what is produced in the podcasts, but also by everyone involved in the very process itself. These interactions and stories are incredibly impactful.”

At the heart of this whole project was community-led storytelling — and as Yvonne Mark so eloquently expresses — the change that sharing stories can create:

“Courage is the key word, the courage to change, to believe in ourselves and say, "Yes, here's my story." And if one person can learn from this story, I'll tell it a million times.”

— Yvonne Mark 

Listen to the Voices of the Street podcast here or on the Below the Radar feed, wherever you find your podcasts!

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