In the summer of 2005, Dr. Teresa Holden was driving 45 minutes every day to take her two daughters to track practice in East St. Louis under the coaching of Nino Fennoy. Fennoy is renowned in the state of Illinois as a stellar high school track coach, and he accepted Dr. Holden’s daughters as his own. Over the summer, Dr. Holden and Coach Fennoy developed a friendship that continues to this day. At one point, grateful for the community’s investment in her daughters, Dr. Holden asked, “What can my family do to give back?” It was this open-handed mutual servitude that began a long, deep relationship between Greenville College and East St. Louis. When Coach Fennoy directed Dr. Holden to the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center, Dr. Holden was connected with Reginald Petty, a local East St. Louis historian, and an oral history project that was just in the idea stage. Familiar with oral histories, Dr. Holden jumped at the opportunity, and the Jackie Joyner Kersee Foundation-Greenville College Collaborative Oral History Project began the fall of 2005.
For the project, Dr. Holden divides her students from African American History into groups of three or four and assigns each group a community member from East St. Louis. Students then go to the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center to video
and audio record an interview, which is eventually transcribed for an archive. “I have had the massive honor and privilege of being a part of recording this history. I’ve met the most remarkable, wonderful people through this project,” says Holden. “It really is a transformative experience for students.” Students are asked to develop initial and follow up questions that really make space for the interviewee to share their story.
The second year of the project, Dr. Holden obtained a grant through the Associated Colleges of Illinois that funded video cameras, transportation, and other necessities and got the project off the ground. Eleven years later, Dr. Holden now has over 100 interviews in archives that communicate a very different story of East St. Louis than is told by the media. “You see this massive resiliency. When you are around the people of the community, you just see this vibrance.” At this point in the project, some of the people previously interviewed have since passed, so it is a true gift that their stories live on through their Oral Histories. For the future, Dr. Holden and Coach Fennoy would like to make the archives more accessible by making them available them online. Students are already working to make this happen in order to further share the beauty and strength of East St. Louis through the stories of its people.
by Kirsten Freeze