Jessica Henkin is a co-founder of The Stoop Storytelling Series, a Baltimore-based live show and weekly podcast that features “ordinary” people sharing the extraordinary, true tales of their lives. We turned the tables and asked her to share her life story, which turns out to be another amazing and extraordinary story!!
What obstacles did you overcome?
I had a unique and rather difficult childhood. My family, while loving, struggled significantly with their demons. My mom was an alcoholic and my father left the marriage when I was nine. My brother, who was 9 year older, was addicted to drugs and was a full-blown heroin addict by the time he was 18. When my father left, I essentially raised myself until I was 13, when my mother went to rehab and I went to live with my father. When it was just me, my mother, and my brother, we had very little money. Oddly, I don’t remember being particularly unhappy, as I had a lot of freedom to explore and a vivid imagination. I liked being outdoors and loved riding my bike, so I took long bike rides in the suburbs of Annapolis, exploring the woods and the beaches by the bay. I also loved watching TV so not having anyone telling me to turn it off and go to bed had it perks. I was hard stuff being surrounded by adults who were in so much pain, but I figured out how to survive and forge my own path in my own quirky way.
Moving in with my father when I was 13 was a game-changer because by that point, he had financial resources and a myopic focus on getting me on a better path than anyone else from my family had previously been on. He made me have a bed time, learn how to do chores that benefitted others and not just me. Most importantly, he made my schooling top priority. I went from a mostly B/C student to straight-A student within a year’s time. He was on a path of self-improvement for both of us, so he took me to museums, made me listen to classical music and Ella Fitzgerald, bought me an enormous dictionary, and on my first airplane to see the Grand Canyon and a few months after that, we went to Portugal. I was the first person in my family to have gone to college and I eventually got my Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins and it was all because he believed in me.
Can you share something about yourself that defines who you are?
I love spending time alone. I especially love eating a restaurants alone. When I first went to live with my father (see above), we lived in Historic Annapolis. He had tabs at various restaurants downtown and on nights when he had to work late or had other plans, 8th- grade me would bring a book to a local restaurant, order some food, contentedly fill my belly, say thank you to the wait staff, and head on back home. To this day, restaurants are incredibly comforting to me.
What is the best advice you have ever gotten?
“Keeping going, no matter what.” This is credited to Reginald F. Lewis. I happen to have the honor of calling his sister a co-worker and friend. She told this to me on a particularly hard day we were all having at work, and I’ve never forgotten it since.
How do you manage a work/life balance?
To be honest, I’m not sure that I do manage it. I just know that I want to do all the things in my life right now, so I make it work. I also know that I want to model for both my daughter and my son the value in being a hard-working woman. First and foremost, I am extremely lucky to be married to Aaron Henkin. He’s an incredible husband and father so that certainly helps. After we had our two children, it was very important to me that I still have a career and my own means of making money. I saw how both being dependent on men and not having a career seemed to exacerbate my mother’s depression and alcoholism, so there was zero chance I would be a stay-at-home mom. I proudly work in the Early Childhood office for Baltimore City Public Schools and my focus in on supporting students with disabilities. I also have a side business with my friend, Laura Wexler, the Stoop Storytelling Series (more on that below). It’s my lifeline and I’m so grateful to be doing this work with a woman friend that I adore. Finally, I do improv comedy with the Baltimore Improv Group because one of the things that has gotten me through this life is a dark sense of humor.
Aaron and I have both found that it’s helpful to still allow room in our lives for our hobbies. He is a musician, so I happily give him space to play music. He, in turn, is very supportive of my theater/improv pursuits.
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Laura Wexler and I started The Stoop Storytelling Series in 2006. The mission of The Stoop is to build community through the sharing of personal stories. Stoop shows are intimate and surprising, wonderful and weird, hilarious and heartbreaking. In addition to its mainstage shows at The Senator Theatre, The Stoop presents Special Events, Workshops, and Second Stoop open mic evenings. We’ve hosted events at The Creative Alliance, The Windup Space, Center Stage, Johns Hopkins, and the War Memorial.
The Stoop has featured the tales of more than 2,500 people onstage — including Congressman Elijah Cummings, “Wire” creator David Simon, activist DeRay Mckesson, and Senator Barbara Mikulski. The Stoop has been featured in The Washington Post and The New York Times.
The Stoop Podcast captures the spirit of the live shows with weekly episodes featuring stories and narration from hosts Laura Wexler and Jessica Henkin.
The next Stoop Storytelling event is Truth and Lies: An Evening of Storytelling and Magic on Thursday, July 25th at The Creative Alliance in Baltimore.