Julia Nusbaum, 26, originally from a little town west of Chicago called Dixon, moved to Nashville to attend graduate school at Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2012.
Following a double major undergraduate degree in history and religion from Augustana College in Illinois, Julia was accepted into two graduate schools, Vanderbilt and a school in New Jersey.
“Nashville won me over,” she said. “I liked both of the schools equally, but the people in Nashville were so much nicer and that’s what drew me here. Also, at the time, rent was a little lower too, but ya know,” she said.
In her last year of graduate school, Julia did a yearlong, in depth internship with Thistle Farms on Charlotte Pike in lieu of a thesis.
The Thistle Farms, a recovery home and a social enterprise, makes bath and body products to employ women coming out of human trafficking.
Julia called the nonprofit “one of the kindest and most loving places I’ve ever been in my life.”
While she was with them, Julia helped with their marketing and social media team. Through a business etiquette class that she helped instruct, she found that some of the women loved writing.
“So, I started a creative writing class and for about 3 months every Tuesday we’d get together and write.”
Composed of approximately 11 women, Julia thought she’d give them prompts and little stories to write about.
“It turns out they didn’t like that at all,” she said. She said a lot of them didn’t have high school diplomas or college degrees.
“They wanted to write about themselves. Not in a selfish way, they just had things to say about themselves that they hadn’t been able to get out yet.”
One day she asked the women to write a poem with each line starting with the words, “I am from…” She said the poems narrated the women’s journey from being from homeless, poverty, abuse and violence to forgiveness and love.
“I wrote along with them,” she said of her first real teaching experience. “If I was asking them to share part of themselves then I would share part of me too. Whatever they wrote, I wrote something about it too, and I ended up learning a lot about myself.”
Julia soon did some thinking. She said if these women felt like getting their story out, then other women probably feel the same way as well.
“I haven’t had their life experiences and I probably never will, but I thought other women who maybe haven’t had as much trauma in their lives want to have a chance to have their story heard too,” she said.
Julia started talking to her friends about her ideas. She said her first thought was to turn it into a nonprofit. She said the idea at the time was so big she almost couldn’t wrap her head around getting it started.
“I narrowed it down and said I’d start a blog and see where it goes from there,” she said.
Julia said it took her about a year to get started. She officially launched the blog in July of this year.
“I remember in theological ethics, I spent a lot of time outlining Her Story instead of listening to my ethics lecture, which is probably why I got a B. I had a notebook full of ideas and themes and what we were going to do.”
She said she’s the kind of person to let things ruminate first. She said she wanted this to be intentional and inclusive and not something that pinholes a few women.
“I market it as women and female identifying individuals,” she said. “Any one who calls themselves a female, it’s a place for them to write their story.”
Julia said she specifically asks other women to submit their stories.
“It’s been cool to have people send me these raw and inspiring stories about themselves,” she said. “It’s like I’m some sort of story keeper, and I love that. I’ve always been interested in people’s stories. I think that’s why I majored in history.”
“There’s something sacred about telling your story and being able to say this is what I come from, this is who I am, and this is the experiences. Everyone’s story is different but we’re all connected because we’re experiencing a bigger narrative together.”
Julia said she writes on the blog as well.
“Just like the creative writing class, if I’m asking people to bear themselves then I have to bear myself too,” she said.
It’s more than just stories. Her Story also includes poetry and starting next month, there will be monthly themes like what it’s like growing up in the South, and stories of women who have travelled.
Poems are published on Mondays and stories are published on Wednesdays.
Julia said in the future she really wants to turn Her Story into a nonprofit organization.
“I can see it in ways of writing workshops for adults and young girls. I think writing boosts self-esteem. It’s empowering to write about yourself and to know yourself, and I’d love to share that in some way with other women.”
“Part of Her Story is about preserving history too. I want to preserve people’s stories and preserve the way people know the world,” she said.
Julia said she didn’t discover feminism until graduate school.
“Fortunately, women’s rights and feminism are trending, which is good because these are the things we need to talk about but also not good because it’s going to stop trending, and we’re going to stop talking about it.”
Julia said working with women and creating a blog space for other women to share their stories has empowered her to find her own voice and say things that she would have never been able to say before.
“I worked with a lot of strong women at the Divinity School and Thistle Farms, so I want to help other women become strong,” she said.
Separately, Julia does freelance social media work for an event planner, the Tennessee Holocaust Commission and a startup called Henry Rose, that sells ethical pajamas from women in Cambodia.
She said in the future she would love to work with nonprofit organizations and hopes to be gainfully employed in one spot.
Julia said community is changing in a way that it’s no longer just a neighborhood, but something bigger and broader than that.
“I define community as the people who have a similar value system as your own and see you as the person you really are,” she said. “It’s a place that nurtures you and helps you grow and not a place that tears you down.”
She said she wants Her Story to be a community of women and writers.
As far as Nashville, Julia said it’s the biggest place she’s ever lived so she’s still kind of working her way around it.
“There are some parts of the Nashville community that are inclusive and then some parts that are exclusive,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to make your way into the community here. You have to know certain people to get certain jobs and things.”
At the same time, Julia said Nashville is one of the friendliest places she’s ever lived.
“People here are loving and welcoming. It seems like almost every one really does go out of their way to be good neighborhoods to each other,” she said.
She moved to the Woodbine community last year. She said a big concern of hers is gentrification and the way it’s affecting the communities. She said she sees the income inequality and the poverty line being drawn.
“Not that I’m in poverty, but I have a feeling people are going to be priced out of Nashville,” she said. “I’m so baffled by gentrification. It happens everywhere and throughout time, but I just see it as people being entitled to have whatever they want.”
Julia said family as well a creating something that is sustainable and life giving, are important to her.
“Now that I’ve moved 700 miles away from my family, I don’t feel like I have to be right beside them all the time but I’m realizing I need to talk to them and be a part of their lives and check in on them,” she said.
She said she has always been an independent person and now she sees that family doesn’t take away that independence but instead, gives support to it.
For more information about Her Story and to read about amazing women, visit their website or email them at email@example.com.
Thanks for reading Nashville!
Every Thursday at noon Neat Nashville embraces the community by highlighting an individual in a feature article that tells their story and voices their concerns about the city moving forward. It is our hope to inspire good change locally, to be a force of unity, and support the people we all call neighbors.
It starts with community. It starts where you are.