Through Human Spaces, Lisa Rokusek is exploring how people can learn from each other with empathy and purpose.
The crowd is a bit beyond capacity at Human Spaces tonight, with about 60 people from all walks of life cramming into what used to be a small living room. Many are chatting with those they’ve run into before; some are meeting for the first time. There’s a light din as polite mumbles become fuller conversation punctuated by laughter and hugs.
A woman makes her way to the front of the room, a drink in one hand and a sheet of paper in the other. “Thanks for coming out tonight. I’m Shine Goodie. Welcome to Goodie House,” she says. Seeing her, the crowd claps and begins settling into their seats, ready for the words that will merge language, performance, history and emotion.
Lisa Rokusek takes in the scene, fully in her element. Goodie House, a monthly poetry and storytelling event, is among her favorites that Human Spaces hosts and one reason she created this activity center with her spouse Ginger Human.
“Poetry is life,” Rokusek says later. “At the end of the night, I am fed. My soul is fed.”
Through Human Spaces, a community center in the Carondelet neighborhood of St. Louis, Rokusek is on a mission to feed souls, but not just with poetry. Over the last two years, Human Spaces has also become a gathering spot for technology meetups, journal article reviews, meditation sessions, yoga classes, art exhibits, jazz brunches and donation drives. The common thread: meaningful connections, intentional inclusivity and actions to help vulnerable people thrive in St. Louis. Rokusek believes that by relating to others in open, healthy spaces, people can find shared interests and gently push each other forward.
“Ginger and I founded Human Spaces as a way to create community, to build appreciation of difference and as a place for cross-pollination to happen,” Rokusek says. “I really feel like we’re just getting our momentum now,”
“And her last name is Human, so we had to name it Human Spaces,” she laughs.
Humanity is at the forefront of what Human Spaces is about, Rokusek says, and all who enter are welcomed as houseguests — which makes sense, as Rokusek and Human live above the community space, themselves.
“It is really cool to have the world wander into your house, and you never know what will happen,” says Rokusek, who also uses intentional connection in her career as a recruiter. “I get to see a side of human beings that I wouldn’t out in other places, and that’s neat.”
At Human Spaces, Rokusek aims to explore human differences and how to bridge them. She welcomes meaningfully provocative discussions about the intersections of race, identity, class, education and more, and how these issues affect St. Louis. The region is ready for it, she asserts.
“One of the things that we realized was that we needed to have a focus on local relationships and connections and strengthening our community,” Rokusek says. “I think that if we could incorporate an appreciation of difference and spaces that helped us do that, we would solve a lot of problems that plague us. There’d be no limit to where we could go or what we could be.”
“Some of the things that give me inspiration and hope are the hunger and desire to come together,” Rokusek continues. “I think we know that separateness and division are not the way to build a sustainable community. It’s the coming smack up against things that make us uncomfortable that helps us grow empathy.”
For Rokusek, the Carondelet neighborhood is the perfect setting for hosting events where people are encouraged to address deeply personal topics and where app developers applaud poetry writers and vice versa.
“This is a cool neighborhood because there’s a lot of history here. You can see the Mississippi River from our porch,” Rokusek says. “And there’s a lot of pain in the neighborhood, but there’s also a lot of pride. And if we can continue to have momentum and build community, that’ll be what helps our neighborhood continue to improve and thrive.”
“St. Louis is cool and there’s a lot going on, and we are waking up to the things that separate us maybe more than we ever have,” she continues. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. We can start where we are with what we have and do what we can. And that’s enough.”
Rokusek has bigger plans for Human Spaces as it continues to grow beyond even what she’d initially dreamed. But for tonight, Goodie House has her full attention. She listens as one storyteller examines what it means to date after age 40 and another shares a painful, personal anecdote that has the room nodding along in understanding. Through these stories, people can find their way to each other, Rokusek says.
“Goodie House Poetry is one of my favorite poetry groups that I fell in love with in St. Louis. And secretly when I started going there, I was like, ‘I sure would like to have them in my space when I have one,’” she says. “There’s just a lot of diversity, and it’s challenging poetry that is also accessible. It’s lives in high relief that you can hear and feel, and you’re touched.”