Tye Bentley is a graduate of Rosemary Anderson High School who now works as a server at Olive Garden. Joshua Thomas works for the Oregon Food Bank as a network compliance coordinator. Myranda Harris is seeking work in HIV advocacy.
They’d never met before connecting through Paul Iarrobino, the creator of a recurring Portland storytelling event called Our Bold Voices, which produced its first event this spring.
Along with two other storytellers, Bentley, Thomas and Harris will take the stage at the Mission Theater in Northwest Portland Sept. 13. Gathered at Iarrobino’s house for a Friday-afternoon rehearsal, the group talked about their backgrounds, why they got interested in storytelling and what they had done to prepare for the event.
Next week’s iteration of the event, titled “Our Bold Voices Presents: Schooled,” focused on the idea of mentorship, with storytellers answering the question: Who got you here?
“And in 10 minutes!” said Harris, prompting laughter from the group.
Everyone who participates in Our Bold Voices receives some coaching on how to prepare their story – which was part of the draw for Bentley, who was put in touch with Iarrobino after his presentation at RAHS + POIC’s 50th anniversary event. He already enjoys public speaking but wanted to get more practice and coaching. Iarrobino said the initial draft was “a beautiful speech,” but it sounded more like a speech for a black-tie fundraiser than a story. He’s worked with Bentley on finding a more natural, straightforward style that better fits this type of event.
The program is styled after events like The Moth, a New York City-based storytelling event that has spawned a public radio show and touring events, but with the intention of elevating more diverse voices, Iarrobino said.
“I like to think I can pick really good storytellers,” Iarrobino said.
Harris, who was introduced to Iarrobino at a barbecue last summer in North Portland’s Peninsula Park, was terrified of the idea of public speaking at first.
“I used to shrink in front of other people,” she said, adding she has been practicing her talk in front of her chinchilla. “I’m grateful for this event.”
Harris said her story is about mental health, addiction, struggling to survive – and finding the strength to ask for and accept help and support when she needs it.
“I don’t expect to take the journey solo,” Harris said.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to vulnerable, to grow and share our experience,” Thomas said.
While the storytelling prompt asked them to reflect on the mentors that brought them to where they are, Thomas said they’ve found an additional mentor in Iarrobino – but not just in him.
“We’ve all become mentors to each other,” Thomas said.
Thomas wrote a blog post last year about his path to hunger advocacy that led to participation in a six-month voice exhibit for the Portland Art Museum and subsequent speaking engagements, including events with the Buddhist faith community he is part of. He talked about struggling to find self-acceptance and how he hopes the event will present a positive picture of African Americans in a predominantly White city.
Harris said participating in the event was about learning to find the language she needed to love and accept herself, a theme Thomas and Bentley echoed.
“People who are hurt, hurt people. People who are healers, heal people,” Thomas said.
“The way I always heard it was generational curses. We have the opportunity to change that,” Bentley said.