The Soul Stories Podcast Mourns the Death of Elijah McClain

Muralists Shaun Burner and Fraceska Gamez painted this tribute to Elijah McClain.
Muralists Shaun Burner and Fraceska Gamez painted this tribute to Elijah McClain. Shelsea Ochoa
Denver has a lot to reckon with — gentrification, the political divide, racism, sexism and more — and that's exactly what the group Soul Stories is all about, says creative director Shelsea Ochoa. Through community gatherings, podcasts and large-scale performances, the organization tackles hard topics and works toward community healing.

Now a year into the project, the group just released a podcast hosted by founder Danny Mazur and produced by Ochoa and former Westword staff writer and The Syndicate podcast host Chris Walker; the show looks into the death of Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old massage therapist and violinist who died after a violent encounter with the Aurora Police Department in August 2019.

Westword caught up with Ochoa to find out more about the podcast, which comes out today, October 16. 

Westword: Talk about the podcast and its history and future.

Shelsea Ochoa: Our podcast has been operating for over a year. All of our other episodes are interviews, hosted by Danny Mazur. Danny is a very intuitive and authentic interviewer, and he has excellent taste for bringing on some very insightful, introspective, impactful people. It’s very entertaining!

The Elijah McClain story is heavy and heartbreaking, and it needs to be shared in as many modalities as possible. ... It is our hope that sharing Elijah’s story will help to build consensus among our communities that we have a real problem with police brutality in this country and it needs to stop.

How did you decide to work on the McClain story?

I was moved to tell this story after being among the crowd at so many protests this summer and then finding myself at the Elijah McClain vigil. It was such a moving experience to be a part of the collective healing that took place that night. I think that many people who do not attend protests do not really see what it's like, both in how moving it can be and how disillusioning it can be to see the way protests are portrayed in the news. So I wanted to share the story from the perspective of people who created the vigils, the participants and the family that was most affected.

This is a single episode, designed to be like a time capsule for this moment in history.

What surprises came up in the reporting?

I was so surprised and thankful that our guests were willing to take time to share their stories with us. Our guests have all been interviewed for this cause before, and they contribute by being willing to show up and share their stories.

I was also surprised to hear the story from the perspective of a white, suburban mother. It gives me a lot of hope that it is not only the communities that are impacted by police brutality that are outraged by it, but now all people are standing up against it. I hope sharing her voice will help to normalize the idea of white people standing up against police brutality.

What do you want people to know about McClain and what his killing means? How do you see his death and awareness around it fitting in with the larger Black Lives Matter movement?

No person deserves to be killed by the police. It is not the job of the police to play the role of judge, jury and executioner of a human life.

The story of Elijah McClain is so innocent, so inarguably wrong, that I hope that it shows people that we cannot simply write off these deaths as the fault of the victim.

Hear The Soul Stories Podcast at Apple Music and find out more on the Soul Stories website.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris