Danny Harris was making a routine visit to the Whole Foods on P Street in Washington, D.C. back in 2009 when he looked around and noticed that while he was surrounded by people just like him — “a community of me-s” — no one was interacting or engaged with each other. They were going about their business, separated from each other and unaware of the person next to them. He had worked in policy for years, specifically as a terrorist financing analyst at the US Department of Treasury, so while he could tell you nuanced stories about distant countries, he could not tell you the name of the middle school down the street. In a panic, he left the store and that night committed himself to talking to at least one stranger a day going forward.
This initiative to hear stranger’s stories within and around D.C., including neighborhoods that he had never been to before, is what birthed People’s District – a website where he documented the stories he collected of Washington’s residents. What he had not anticipated was that this initiative, which started as a personal passion project, would lead to a career change that allowed him to create work that focused around storytelling and creating strong communities. “When I started it, I didn’t have some expected outcome…it was more organic.”
Each thing that followed built upon each other toward a bigger movement of community building. His work with People’s District would lead to him starting StorySocial, a creative design firm centered around the power of storytelling. He then co-founded Feastly, a startup that connects hungry eaters with passionate cooks to offer authentic meals prepared and served in a cook’s home, centered on the belief that the dining room table is the optimal social network. Danny is now a Program Director in San Jose, CA, for the Knight Foundation, which has always been a leader in engaging communities and fostering the arts.
He has created his own path, but each step always connects back to his larger desire to connect people and build community. It just took a panic attack in a grocery store to set it all in motion! Proving that sometimes it is the moments that we least expect that can launch us into the change we need.
In the podcast episode we talk about the personal transformation that propelled him into this new life venture, the work of taking an idea and putting it into action and the importance of connecting with those in your community who might not be like you. Listen below to learn more about Danny’s Chapter Be story…
CHAPTER BE QUESTIONNAIRE…
What’s your favorite quote, story or fact?
“For a lonely soul you’re having such a nice time. “ – Keane
Worst work experience?
Not leaving jobs that I disliked sooner.
What is your definition of success?
Being there and with your family and friends. Being fluent in your community. Not answering the question, “How are you?” by saying “Busy.” Making the time to help others in need. Leaving an imprint on this world that is more than just what you consume.
How do you tap into your creative energies – especially when you are feeling drained?
Walking, exercising, listening to music, talking to creative friends and cooking.
What does “to be” mean to you?
It means being present in whatever moment you are in.
How do you spend your time when you are procrastinating?
Trying to find the end of the Internet.
Ideal READING LIST – books, websites, blogs, podcasts, magazines, etc. that you would want on your Swiss Family Robinson deserted island?
Favorite song with “be” in the title?
Aretha Franklin’s cover of Let It Be
LINKS & RESOURCES…
- People’s District
- Knight Foundation
- NoMa Business Improvement District
- Carol Coletta
- City of San Jose
- Danny at SpeakEasyDC
- Danny on the Power of Storytelling
Images via Danny Harris
Meaningful and authentic storytelling. Great way to start the day a bit more thoughtfully.
Thanks, Donna! Danny is really dedicating his life to using storytelling to build community, and I agree – it’s been a good reminder for me on how we approach our day and the people we interact with throughout!