Alive in Truth Home Page

Record. Respond. Reflect.

Alive in Truth recorded life histories of people from New Orleans, Louisiana and nearby areas who were affected by Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods created by levee failure. Our mission is to document individual lives, restore community bonds, and to uphold the voices, culture, rights, and history of New Orleanians.

Abe Louise Young, Director

Photo of Abe Louise Young

Abe Louise Young is a writer, social justice activist and educator. A native of New Orleans', she graduated from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, as well as Smith College, Northwestern University, and the University of Texas at Austin. Abe Louise founded and facilitated Alive in Truth from her home in Austin, TX with the help of many friends and neighbors.

Tips for Taking Care of Yourself When Talking With Trauma Survivors

KNOW that the person you're talking to is telling their story in exactly the way they need to.

KNOW that the person you're talking to is going to be okay. If you don't believe it, pay attention to this and seek support for your own grief. Create and hold in your mind a vision of this person back in a home, with their loved ones. It is not your job to problem-solve, mirror or help them into their new future. Hold out the possiblity for for them to lean into by recognizing them as creative, resourceful and whole. Make an attentive, respectful space in which they might express exactly where they are right now.

KNOW that this person is expressing themselves perfectly—for them. Expressing rage, shock, grief, helplessness, numbness, and other emotions is helpful--if there is a competent witness, that is, someone who will listen to the story and simply be present and accept it. We honor the story and the truth by recording it, but listening is more important than recording. If at any point a person does not wish to be recorded, stop immediately and continue listening with full attention. We receive the story as a gift, person-to-person. The more deeply we listen, the more opportunity there is for the potentially healing possibilities created by expression and being heard.

KNOW that listening to survivor stories may likely trigger all your issues of grief, privilege, loss and sorrow as well. To avoid vicarious traumatization, listen to yourself and honor limits. For instance, if your grief comes up, ask yourself what this reminds you of, talk and debrief about the experience with a counselor, and note that whatever comes up for you needs to be honored with the compassion. Being mindful of your experience and doing necessary self-care can allow for vicarious transformation and compassion satisfaction, rather than vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue.

KNOW all of the therapeutic and social service resources that are available in the area. Come prepared with a list of names and phone numbers of free, accessible local services. At the end of the conversation, ask the person you've spoken to if they would like this list. If the list does not meet their needs, ask in what other ways you can help them access information and resources in the local area.

—Catherine Cogburn, M.A., L.P.C

Tips for Taking Care of Trauma Survivors When Interviewing Them

Explain the purpose of the conversation very clearly. Offer all the options you have available in terms of location, privacy, time, method of interview, and recording options. Recording is never necessary; listening comes first. If possible, offer childcare to parents and a quiet, safe physical space.

Maintain eye contact. Allow the speaker to lead the conversation. Never interrupt. Do not criticize, interpret, or counter any statement. Validate often with nodding and body language (but try not to make sympathetic sounds the microphone can pick up.)

Uphold the dignity and self-perception of the speaker at all times. Let them know that you are capable and willing to hear as much emotional difficult material, including sorrow and anger as they wish to share. Express your genuine emotional reactions to their story without drawing attention to your own experience. If tears are appropriate, tears are fine.

Ask short, open-ended, questions: "Where did you live in New Orleans?" "Who raised you?" "What was life like for you before now?" "How did you get here to Austin?" "Do you want to talk about the Hurricane?" "How is your family?" "How is it for you here in the shelter?" "How are you feeling?"

Speak from the "I" perspective. For example: "I am so sorry for what happened to you. I am angry about how you were treated. I want to change this system of governmental neglect and racial bias. I am inspired by how strong you are."

Be aware of your own biases, privilege and limits (racial, religious, economic, regional). Awareness and understanding of cultural humility regarding race, class, dialect and issues of difference is essential. You are here to listen to their stories, not to tell yours—unless asked.

To close the interview, ask questions which are rooted in the Here-and-Now. Ask if you can touch them, before you offer a hug or a caring gesture. If the speaker seems upset, make sure that they have counseling options, or family or friends nearby before you leave. Do not leave a narrator in a position of emotional distress. Stay with them until they have access to their own resources.

Make sure the speaker knows how to contact you, and can get a copy of his or her story, change it, or add to it. Let the speaker know clearly that we will not share or publish any story before returning a copy of the transcript to the speaker for their review, and will seek their permission for any publication or usage beyond this archive.

When discussing the release form, say, "This is the paper that you can sign if you'd like me to make your words public on the Internet or in a book or the library. Would you like to read it, or would you like me to read it to you?" Make sure that the speaker knows they are free to sign or not to sign, and what granting permission on a release form means.

Thank the speaker for sharing their story and express that it is a gift many people will learn and benefit from into the future.

In the News

Interviewers, Social Workers, Transcribers and Web Designers

Katy Adams * Dr. Kris Hogan * Rebecca Solnit * Ginny Agnew * Wayne Wiley * Sari Albornoz * Cindy Austin * Liz Belile * Carolyn Blankenship * Tim Catts * Catherine Cogburn * Jessie Cohen * Ann Connell * Sarah Cross * Mollie Fischer * Maya Katz * Pat Louis * Krissy Mahan * Melissa McKanna * Melissa Metry * Courtney Morris * Marti Pomputius * Pedro Reynoso * Brigid Shea * Rebecca Solnit * Jess Weida * Merry Winslow * Sarah Yahm * Pilar Castrejon * Jordan Erdos * Jennifer Margulies * Jodi Relyea * Carolyn Walls * Meg Daly * Zanne deJanvier * D'Arcy Randall * Kate X Messer * Lisa Martin * Matthew Wheeland * Riza Falk * Roxanne Mitchell * Allyson Murphy * Dr. D'Ann Penner * Melanie Cofield * Kris Bronstad * Paul Aumer-Ryan * Luuk Bertus

Special Thanks to Our Supporters:

Austin Community Foundation * Austin History Center * Benjamin Hooks Institute for Social Change * University of Texas at Austin School of Information * Publishing Resources * ConnectNC * Foundation Communities * Corners of the Mouth Food Store * Mason-Martin Group * Dale Cotton * Edward and Veronica Young * Patricia Shea * Betsy Harries


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