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Montbello Teacher Creates Oral Histories with Mamabird Interviews

In early 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, Montbello high school teacher Dan Clarke observed that his student body’s overflowing potential did not align with the opportunities available to them after high school. Community “students and parents were on the front line, while others were working from home, yet they were getting paid significantly less.”  

“Seeing the disconnect between my life, the lives of my children, and my students’ lives made me very aware that I needed to do more to create real change,” says Clarke. He stated that first “we needed to get money in the pockets of our students.” He felt especially called to support women of color and “be a force to help get women in leadership.” 

Clarke started a business to create oral histories.  “Back in the ’80s, my dad had this idea to record people’s family history on VHS tape. He had interviewed my grandfather before he passed away. Now that we have that, it’s just an amazing treasure for our family.” 

Clarke decided to reimagine his dad’s original business idea using Zoom instead of VHS tapes.  He created an online business called Mamabird Interviews that captures the essence of loved ones through interviews.

The name “Mamabird” came about organically as the team brainstormed ideas about what the business should be called. As soon as someone mentioned “Mamabird” it stuck because it captures all the company’s essence: Family, wisdom, guidance, and opportunity.

Clarke designed Mamabird Interviews to leave just as much of an impact on customers as the aspirational young women of color who would run it. The interview team consists of six women and former high school students of Montbello: Areyana, Janine, Yusura, Allie, Karla, and Lorena. They lead each interview with “curiosity, care, and empathy,” says Clarke.

Successfully conducting hour-and-a-half-long interviews with complete strangers takes a lot of confidence and communication skills. As interviewers, the women become skilled at meeting new people, making connections, and successfully networking. 

Because many of the interviewees are much older than the interviewer, Clarke says they often take on a teaching role to the young women. Clarke says “the age, racial, and socio-economic intersectionality has been a wonderful part of this because now our women are interacting with people they would not have interacted with and vice versa.” 

“Every time we do an interview, the experience is wonderful. People love the videos and are so impressed with our interviewers,” says Clarke.  Mamabird helps these women grow and learn as they pursue their goals–Karla is a nursing student and mother of three, Areyana, Yusura, Allie, and Lorena are college students, and Janine is a military spouse and mother of two.

Mother-to-mother interviews are always very special. In an interview with a woman named Rachna, Janine prompted her and said, “Tell me what you love about your daughters.” Rachna’s eyes lit up as began describing her five and nine-year-old daughters. “They are both very different,” she says. She tells Janine that what she loves about her oldest is that “she really thinks a lot about things. She processes, she reflects, and she sees things that sometimes others don’t.” Rachna then shares that her youngest daughter reminds her of Shakespeare’s quote, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” Some day, this recording will be priceless to her daughters, as the love Rachna has for them is palpable in the video. 

In the last two years, the nonprofit has elevated thirty women from Montbello and placed $200 per interview in each woman’s pocket.  Mamabird continues to touch lives by offering internship programs, career opportunities, and networking events for young women of color. The two-year anniversary video for Mamabird Interviews beautifully captures the essence of how the platform is changing lives.

“The way the women come at the interviews themselves is very different than I would, and they are more empathetic, more caring, more curious about wisdom, as opposed to just factual history, which I think has been very powerful,” says Clarke. Because many of the interviewees are much older than the interviewer, “they often take on somewhat of a teaching role to the young women.” Also, Clarke says the “age, racial, and socio-economic intersectionality has been a wonderful part of this because now our women are interacting with people they would not have interacted with and vice versa.” 

One of the most common life lessons that the interviewers get from older people is “you’ll only regret the things you don’t do.” This phrase seems fitting as Mamabird expands as a non-profit.  Mamabird continues to support marginalized women in their career goals and the team of interviewers continues to teach the world that “women lead differently.”

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