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The Lifeline

Bringing you the best local stories in and around our community.

The Story of My Life

Featured Photo from The Story of My Life

LMHS principal Dr. Mickey Reynolds joins a national movement to preserve the stories of everyday Americans, and her family’s saga is one of compassion and perseverance.

As part of her job as the principal of Lake Mary High School, Dr. Mickey Reynolds is witness to thousands of lives in progress. In her school hallways, the stories of students, faculty, and staff unfold and develop every day. Part of the school’s stated mission, Mickey has said, is to build connections and relationships between all the people under the Lake Mary High School roof.

It makes sense, then, that Mickey is also a longtime fan of StoryCorps, an initiative that began in a booth on the streets of New York City in 2003. The StoryCorps mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

For more than 10 years now, StoryCorps has sent an Airstream trailer – converted into a traveling recording studio – around the country, where it spends a few weeks at a time in a given city. Locals can sign up for a chance to use the studio to take part in an interview with a friend or family member designed to uncover and tell their stories. The stories are recorded and later archived in the Library of Congress and shared by StoryCorps on their website and in their podcast.

The idea behind the initiative is that every person, family, and community has an important story to tell. As the organization’s website asserts, “Each week, the StoryCorps podcast shares these unscripted conversations, revealing the wisdom, courage, and poetry in the words of people you might not notice walking down the street.”

When Mickey’s cousin, Baldwin Park resident Mike Morgan, heard that the StoryCorps MobileBooth would be visiting Orlando for a few weeks in January and February, he immediately registered Mickey’s 20-year-old niece, Susi Reynolds-Akapelwa, for a time slot.

Mickey has raised Susi since her mother – Mickey’s sister, Christy – died in a car accident in 2009 that was the result of another motorist’s distracted driving. Susi was critically injured in the accident herself, and she has spent the past eight years working to pass legislation against distracted driving and presenting to various groups, sometimes with Mickey, on the dangers distracted drivers create.

Susi asked Mickey to participate in the StoryCorps project with her, and the two decided that Mickey would interview Susi, currently a student at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Georgia. 

Though StoryCorps provides participants with suggested interview prompts, Mickey knew just what to ask her niece.

Mickey began by asking Susi about where she is now in her life and about her studies at SCAD. Mickey then worked backward to reveal how Susi has overcome what happened to her when she lost her mom at just 11 years old.

“The point for us was to share key parts of her journey, overcoming a hardship in childhood and the lessons she has learned along the way,” says Mickey. “We wanted to tell her story of making her own way in the world without the guidance of the one person she always thought would be there.”

Though Mickey lived that story with her niece, there were still moments during the interview that surprised her – and one in particular that made Mickey choke up and begin to cry

When Mickey asked Susi how she felt now about the woman who was responsible for the death of her mother, her niece was firm in her answer.

“Oh, I have forgiven her a long time ago,” Susi replied.

“She was so clear in her realization that this woman made a mistake that, at the time, she thought was not a big deal,” says Mickey. “And afterward, the driver had a really hard time realizing she took someone’s life and someone’s mother away. It was the moment I was most proud of Susi.”

Mickey had not asked Susi in a long time about her feelings regarding the accident, and she didn’t realize Susi had come to the place of forgiveness and acceptance that she has.

“To know that she doesn’t have to carry the burden of hate and that she understands it was an accident is a relief,” Mickey says, noting that in the years after the accident, Susi had worked through a lot of anger.

The StoryCorps interview provided a valuable opportunity for Mickey and Susi to have a conversation they wouldn’t have on a regular day. The chance to sit down face to face and talk honestly and uninterrupted for 40 minutes is one Mickey wishes more people had with those important to them.

“I worry that we aren’t talking to our kids enough,” she says. “If we really took the time to sit and have these conversations with each other, we might be able to solve a lot of the problems we have.”

 

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