A new installation across Gainesville gave people this month a chance to step in a room and unravel their stories of hardships and concerns within their neighborhoods.
The Goddsville Squad, of the Florida-based organization Dream Defenders, are trying to reshape the way community members can give their input and have their voices heard.
The Listening Project, a new initiative the group launched, caters to community members who say they are often left out of decisions the city makes.
Through talking booths that were placed in key areas around the city, residents voiced their stories in hopes they’d reach the heights of city government. The locations of the talking booths were the Civic Media Center library, Porters neighborhood and Grace Marketplace, one of Gainesville’s homeless shelters.
The group chose the location because they felt they would capture the most potent insights of the communities.
The talking booths were opened to the public from April 10 through April 17.
“This project comes out of the mindset of wanting people to tell us their direct needs and service that wholeheartedly rather than making assumptions on behalf of other community members about what they think is useful for their them,” said Karine Dieuvil, an organizer for the Goddsville Squad.
These communities are often large minority areas.
And their residents, who often experience the reality of harsher living conditions filled with higher crime rates and low-income living, have a greater opportunity to voice their concerns on necessary changes for their hometowns, she said.
“I think a lot people know what they need. It’s just about actually listening to them to get that done,” Dieuvil said.
Residents in these areas perceive the people who oversee the proposed plans for the communities in Gainesville as not seeing issues on the ground level when it comes to their constraints.
Hearing individuals from different sides of the city was crucial for the group to both gain and provide a holistic view of what the residents in Gainesville want.
That is, the resources and their taxpaying money to flood into more health care, more resources for the helpless, low-income communities, and Black communities to help restore areas that have been degraded or are in the process of being gentrified, such as the former Seminary Lane complex.
The Listening Project took four months to produce. The booths were housed in rented U-Haul box trucks decorated and set up by the project’s lead designer, Alyson Larson.
The inspiration came after a routine COVID-19 test that Larson did at the Curtis M. Phillips Center, a performing arts venue on the University of Florida campus. There, the testing location used U-Haul box trucks as a drop-off point for the samples from testers.
“We outfitted the inside of them to look more like a home, like a living room. A place where we normally share stories,” said Larson, who is also a filmmaker. The vision for the layout of the boxed discussions was to resemble and create a comfortable, peaceful ambiance where participants could feel at ease to share their stories.
Some of the materials even came directly from the houses of the volunteers who contributed to the development of the project, adding an even more realistic touch.
In addition to a cozy atmosphere, ensuring the spaces were pandemic-friendly by following CDC guidelines and providing proper ventilation was also a pivotal point.
“Telling stories is what I do, and I think if we can get to know the people in our community from everywhere and amplify all those voices, especially the ones that don’t get heard, I’m all for that,” she said.
Students stepping out into the community in underrepresented areas has provided a steady footing in the city for the Goddsville Squad’s first phase of a collective of initiatives to illuminate issues of racism, the flaws of the criminal justice system, and lack of attention from administration on the concerns of the people in the community.
“The Listening Project gives people an opportunity to humanize things that are seen every day on the street but aren’t regarded and are dismissed. It’s about humanizing people within different systems,” said Dieuvil, who is also active in a social organizing practice called transformative justice.
This sub-group within the Goddsville Squad works to see that all promises and missions that the organization makes are fulfilled.
The next steps for the Goddsville Squad after the first run of The Listening Project will be to analyze the results and feedback from the project to refine it for a possible, and strengthened, recreation of the project to fulfill the wishes of the community and provide more resources to them.
Producing a documentary with the community’s stories is their initial plan.