We Love BuHi is beginning an oral history project to collect the stories of people living and working on Buford Highway as one way to preserve the history of the corridor that is known regionally for its diversity and international restaurants.

Marian Liou of Brookhaven, founder and executive director of We Love BuHi, said her organization is teaming up with Georgia State University Library Special Collections and Archives and the Asian American Journalists Association of Atlanta to “collect, record and preserve the stories of Buford Highway’s immigrants, refugees, and their descendants.”

Working on the Buford Highway Oral History Project kicking off this year are, from left, Marian Liou, founder and executive director of We Love BuHi; Willoughby Mariano, Atlanta Journal- Constitution investigative reporter and president of the Asian American Journalists Association (Atlanta); and Katherine Fisher, social change archivist at the Library of Georgia State University. (Special)

“We’re not looking for answers. We just want to listen,” Liou said in an interview. “We want to listen to their life stories. We want to know the individual stories of how Buford Highway became what it is now … from those on the front lines of change.”

The Buford Highway Oral History Project is expected to last several years with a goal of collecting 120 to 150 oral history interviews from people who arrived in or were raised in and around the Buford Highway Corridor from 1950 through today. The interviews will be recorded and transcribed and then permanently archived at the Georgia State Library, Liou said.

The project is just beginning and interviewees and volunteers to conduct interviews are now being sought. Interviewers will be trained by a GSU archivist, Liou said.

The mission of the project is “to develop a strong, inclusive sense of Buford Highway’s community heritage, a comprehensive understanding of the past, and an inventory of current needs, challenges, and strengths, with the desire to generate a shared vision for the future,” Liou said in press release.

The interviews will take place at the DeKalb County Public Library’s Chamblee branch.

The project will rely on volunteer interviewers who can make at least a year-long commitment to the project and the ideal interviewer will have speaking, reading and writing fluency in a language other than English.

The first interviews, however, will be done in English, Liou said.

“We are trying to do this very slowly, to find out who are we missing. We are cognizant that we need to get representation from different decades, country or region of origin,” she said.

The collected stories are also intended to raise awareness around the cultural importance of Buford Highway, Liou said. As communities change and evolve without a clear understanding of their origins, it is easy to forget their importance, she said.

“Knowledge is the first step to understand what a community is,” she said. “If people know the history of their neighbor or the restaurant they eat at weekly, then they can understand what needs protection and care.”

“If we don’t know what we have, we don’t know what we lost,” Liou added.

The idea of encouraging people to tell their stories also means “activating” people to exercise their voice, she said.

“It is really affirming to be heard. When you realize you’re of value, you are better able to advocate for yourself and see what’s universal of the human experience,” she said. “This is the heart of what this organization is about … this is the heartbeat of the organization.

“We want to activate people to start speaking and to keep on speaking,” she said.

Another goal of the oral history project is to have a historical record that will infuse and inform community planning efforts, especially for those currently not represented in those efforts, Liou said.

“This is not a historical exercise. This is a community-building exercise,” she said.

By transcribing, recording and archiving stories of people who have lived or do live around Buford Highway, the GSU library will become a centralized location for people seeking information about Buford Highway, she said.

For more information, visit welovebuhi.com/oralhistory.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.