The Importance of Connectivity with Archival Donors
By Dino Robinson—
What I enjoy most is interacting with community members. What scares me the most is interacting with community members. What I have learned over the last 15 years is that you generally have three minutes to earn the trust of someone who is considering sharing their family history.
In addition, the first impression could guide its outcome especially if certain community social politics are not followed – and are varied from community to community. My experience has taught me that educational degrees mean absolutely nothing. Premise, theory, terminology—unimportant. Where you are from, who your family is, what drives you is are the only things that matter. . . and yes, knowledge about your interest that you wish to learn more about.
I remember several encounters that provided a crash-course lesson in engagement, and fortunately, all had positive outcomes. One that I remember most involved searching for early 1970s “Soul” singer, Patti Drew.
Patti Drew was part of a 1960s Doo Wop group known as the DruVels. The group was made up of the Drew sisters and were a sister group to the DuVals. She later went solo on the Capitol Records label in the early 1970 and produced four albums, appeared on both American Bandstand and Soul Train and performed in the Playboy Clubs across the United States. Her career was set to really take off. Yet the music industry lifestyle was not forgiving and Patti bowed out and disappeared from the industry.
My interest in her grew after I put together an exhibit of local musicians and a resident told me that Patti was around but not sure where. I spent a year and a half looking for her, asking residents of her whereabouts and the reason why I was looking for her. I had a number of her sister that I called from time to time. Patti, never identifying herself, had always answered. On my third call, she replied, “Whatever you are trying to sell, we don’t want.”
I had three seconds. “Not selling, I want to learn from Ms. Drew about her career so that others can learn.” A long pause. “Well, I’m Patti.” I have three more seconds. “May I share something with you?” Patti responds, “Come by me tomorrow.” I found that Patti lived right around the corner from me. What followed was a friendship that has lasted over ten years and counting.
After three visits, I had earned her initial trust. Over the next several years, Patti and sisters shared with Shorefront their story. In turn, Shorefront located several 45s that the Patti no longer had and recovered studio shots used for her album covers and returned them to the family. It was then, that Shorefront received a valuable gift.
The family donated the gathered items back to Shorefront so that “future generations can see what was done by a group of girls from Evanston.” The DruVels and Patti Drew are now a part of the Shorefront music collection at the Shorefront Legacy Center.
As an active collector of artifacts and family documents, I learned several key factors needed in working with communities: Honor, respect, patience and giving. It is only then, you might earn trust — but more importantly, a genuine relationship.