CLEVELAND (WJW) – Walking into Cleveland Public Library‘s MLK Branch these days, it’s hard not to light up. There’s a big, bright mailbox in the entryway and you should know, the person who got it placed there wants you to feel something.
“Yellow is my color for joy,” said Allison Hite, founder and facilitator of Never Ever Give Up, an anonymous storytelling project she started in Cleveland.
Hite, like all of us, has experienced a range of emotions.
Six years ago, she lost her mother in a traffic accident. Hite kept the grief to herself for a while, fearing others wouldn’t understand, but she couldn’t hold it forever.
“I went to an open mic one night and I just sort of let everything go about how I was struggling, how hard of a spot I was in, how much pain I was in,” said Hite. “But at the end of the night, there was a line of people waiting to talk to me, about 11 or 12 people, and everybody had something else to share.”
From there, Hite had an idea. What if she could get others to write about their own struggles? Maybe then, everyone wouldn’t feel so alone?
“Never Ever Give Up collects one page, anonymous handwritten stories, all answering the question, ‘What is the hardest thing that you’ve ever had to do?’ and in response, our followers write back letters of hope and words of encouragement, support and connection to the original storyteller,” said Hite.
The followers Hite referenced are on Instagram, where the storytelling project began. After winning a local pitch competition, Hite had the funding to create a public art installation that also serves as a mailbox for the letters she’s been collecting for four years.
These are the stories of being human, including losing spouses to cancer, unexpected breakups and quitting a job. However, Hite says, there are also one-page letters that highlight systems of an oppressive society, like when anonymous writers share fears about coming out to their friends and family.
Since founding the project, Hite says she’s received more than 800 submissions.
“They could be people I work with, they could be people I see on the bus, at the grocery store, and so, I think it’s just, it’s transformed my perspective of the people around me,” said Hite.
That’s the bright spot, possibly even brighter than the vibrant yellow mailbox.
Hite says the anonymity helps dismantle stereotypes and stigmas. Plus, because others write back in response, she’s been able to create a network of anonymous pen pals that spans societal barriers and generations.
“So, this is an invitation to everybody, you know. Just grab a pen, grab a piece of paper, type it up, whatever you need to do to submit and get it off your shoulders,” said Hite.
If you’re interested in sharing, you can submit one-page letters by slipping them into the mailbox, online, and on Instagram. The Never Ever Give Up mailbox will be on display at the Cleveland Public Library MLK Branch through November.