Everyone in St. Louis has a story to tell. Lindy Drew, co-creator of the social media project Humans of St. Louis, is willing to listen every time she hits the street with her camera.
Several times a week Drew heads to a different part of the region to strike up conversations with total strangers. On a recent visit to north St. Louis, she approached several men sitting on a porch with what has become her usual introduction.
“This is the project I’m doing, Humans of St. Louis, and basically I walk up to strangers and ask them questions about life and what not.”
Drew has several standard questions. What’s your greatest need? What’s your greatest struggle? What is your highest high and lowest low recently? What’s the nicest thing anyone has said to you lately?
“A very open-ended human question,” said Drew, “that starts a conversation.”
Before you know it, strangers who might not otherwise meet, have a conversation, share their stories, then pose for several of Drew’s photographs.
The best stories, with an accompanying photo, wind up on the Facebook page for Humans of St. Louis, where more than 1,300 of these uniquely St. Louis stories can be found. In 2015, Drew and her former Washington University classmate Caroline Fish decided St. Louis should have what New York already did: Humans of New York, where everyday people can share personal stories and life observations on Facebook.
Drew approached a man in a wheelchair and his young niece. Basic questions soon gave way to a more serious topic, why the man’s leg was amputated and how his niece helped him cope.
“She’s my oldest niece out all the nieces and nephews,” the man told Drew. “She brightened me up when my leg got cut off. A gunshot would tore up the ligaments. My leg got infected and accumulated blood clots. It got out of control to the point where they couldn’t help it. They either had to amputate or it would take my life. It’s been like this for a year now.”
“What do you remember her saying?” asked Drew.
“That it’s going to be okay.”
One of the photos posted on Facebook showed the niece sitting on her uncle’s lap in his wheelchair.
Some of the stories are humorous, like when Drew asked a young girl what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“She said ‘a doctor’. So we asked a follow up question, ‘what kind of doctor?’ And she thought about and she goes ‘Dr. Seuss.’”
Once Drew chooses the best photos and stories and posts them on Facebook, another conversation begins, the online reaction to stories of all kinds.
“Immigration issues, or healthcare, or racial equity. How are you going to receive someone else’s comments if they’re on the opposite side of the spectrum of where you’re from?” said Drew. “When the comments start coming in, the viewers take control of that story because they get into these conversations with each other.”
Drew said the goal is getting people to communicate, to create another way for St. Louisans to have rich conversations.
“If you’re from this region, you’re connected, even if you don’t think that you are,” said Drew.