‘Walking history forward’: New podcast aims to highlight Black neighborhoods in Virginia Beach

Audio producer Hannah Sobol and Del. Jackie Glass want to connect the past and the future, and the two are setting out to tell the stories of Virginia Beach’s historically Black neighborhoods through a new podcast series.

Their podcast, “Truth Be Told,” is in pre-production. The site-specific audio tour will take place in neighborhoods in Virginia Beach, and it will allow visitors to scan a QR code at certain locations to hear first-hand stories that connect neighbors to local history, and learn how that has shaped the present. Specifically, stories featured in the podcast will include experiences of how racism and classism influenced Black neighborhoods and livelihoods.

The tour will also provide ways to act and interact with the present-day neighborhood.

“I do think it’s important for locals, but I also know that this area, in particular, is a hugely transient area,” Sobol said. “We’re what (Glass) calls ‘Come-heres-not-from-heres.’ When you are passing through, I think it’s really important to get a quick touchstone of who lived there and what happened in that location.”

The “Truth Be Told” team received $152,000 in grant funding to help launch the podcast. The grant, from the Virginia Tourism Corporation, was approved by Virginia African American Cultural Center and will allow the pair to travel across the city and produce the project.

Glass, who represents Norfolk in the state legislature, is no stranger to audio storytelling. She created Your Neighbor’s Hood, a podcast series that explores uncomfortable cultural conversations about race. The series is what initially drew Sobol to work with Glass. Sobol eventually became a co-host on Your Neighbor’s Hood, and through further research on how racism affects communities, the idea for Truth Be Told emerged.

“Myself being first generation post-Jim Crow, it’s so recent, and I think that attaching people to that history will help them, hopefully, critically think about our current space and place,” Glass said. “Some of these narratives (revolve) around what’s happened right in this place, and it puts us in a better position to critically think about how we move forward and not repeat history — whether intentionally or unintentionally. It’s really walking that history forward.”

The hardest part, though, is choosing which parts of Virginia Beach to feature, Sobol and Glass said. Though they have already gathered some ideas of locations to feature, they hope that the community will participate in sharing their own experiences as well.

In Virginia Beach, historic Black neighborhoods include Seatack, Gracetown, Newsome Farm and Burton Station. Glass emphasized that she wants the project to expand beyond generations to show how communities have changed over time, and to engage listeners who may not be familiar with the area’s history.

The expected release date for the podcast is set for next fall. In the coming months, Sobol and Glass will visit with current and former residents of historically Black neighborhoods to hear their stories as well as gather material from the public. Though the first season of the podcast will focus on Virginia Beach, the two are excited about the potential of the series.

“And who knows — down the road, maybe there can be seasons that we build out so that you can experience different tours, but we’re thinking about stories that are really site-specific,Sobol said. “It should be connected very strongly to the land in some way.”

The duo hope listeners will think critically about their roles in their home communities and how they can participate in bettering their neighborhoods and communities. If listeners feel more connected to a place through listening to someone else’s story, they said, then their job is done.

“I would love for our listeners to kind of have the same thing I think I want my own children to have,” Glass said. “I would hope that from this people gain a little bit of self awareness – of themselves in their own spaces and places. Really, this is a story of communities and community building, and the way they grow and nourish. Sometimes, they are stifled. I would hope that listeners gain a bit of empathy for whatever the stories are, for better or for worse.”

Community members can submit their stories to potentially be featured. Multigenerational stories are encouraged, and they can be submitted online at http://Bit.Ly/tbtvb.

Eliza Noe, eliza.noe@virginiamedia.com