Oral history is fair and empowering. It provides an evenhanded platform for people from different walks of life to share their experiences uninterpreted. Invariably, valuable and rare insights arise.
Such is the purpose of Poughkeepsie Q&A (PQ&A), an oral history project documenting the lives of city residents on the Dutchess County Historical Society website. With support from the Dutchess County Community Grants Fund of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, the first interviews include people from varied ages and backgrounds, including singles and parents, a maintenance director, small business owners, and a retired police officer. Overcoming misperceptions of the city and its residents is a driving force behind PQ&A.
“It’s usually the people who don’t live here who have the most negative things to say,” observes Frank Johnson, a lifelong resident. “Crime and problems exist in some of the more affluent towns but are not publicized as they are in the City of Poughkeepsie.”
Isis Benitez, a Gen Z’er, credits Poughkeepsie’s influence in her journey from outspoken teen agitating for better textbooks to now working as a public health advocate. “I got my backbone here,” she points out.
City school teacher Shanna Didymus, a fourth- generation resident, recounts joyful gatherings of family and friends in College Hill Park. Didymus also rebuts stereotypes of young single parents by sharing her experience and her mother’s. Case in point: Didymus completed her doctorate in educational leadership and management in her early 40s.
Consider how the city is perceived through the lens of violent crime. Such acts do occur more often in urban Poughkeepsie than elsewhere in the smaller, largely suburban and rural municipalities of Dutchess County. Big local headlines often follow. Statistically, however, violent crime in the city has largely declined over the past decade, except for the same recent spike seen nationwide since the Covid pandemic began.
Still, violent crime, including gun violence, remains a serious concern here, especially to the extent that young people are involved. As our society seeks solutions, the personal context provided through oral history helps us connect with our affected neighbors and learn from them. In their PQ&A interviews, Dwayne Douglas and Ykim Anderson address how violence in the city has struck them, their families, and their friends. These sons of Poughkeepsie also describe the compassionate ways they have responded.
Poughkeepsie Q&A adds two distinct features to
its efforts. Its website spotlights city talent, through commissioned photo portraits of the interviewees taken by young residents. And the text of each interview is provided in English and Spanish; this speaks to the city’s Latinos, who at nearly 21 percent of the population continue to be Poughkeepsie’s fasting-growing demographic group.
Poughkeepsie Q&A founder Jeff Kosmacher is a communications and community development specialist based in the city of Poughkeepsie. The Poughkeepsie Q&A oral histories can be found at Dchsny.org/pqa.