Welcome to YourRealStories.org
Weaving a human fabric, one story at a time…
We use storytelling and the magic of theatre and other media to challenge people to talk and listen to each other across perceived differences of identity, experience and opinions. We start with a focus on raising the level of discourse on race in America toward the elimination of prejudice and discrimination.
What We Do
Your Real Stories (YRS) is incorporated as an organization under the laws of the State of Florida. We obtained our federal tax exempt 501(c)(3) status effective August 23, 2013. We are governed by a Board of Directors.
We create opportunities for people to engage in conversation about difficult issues. All of our activities complement the mission of YRS and include the following.
- Record and archive the real life stories of people in and around the state of Florida
- Produce plays and other live events that engage audiences in discussion
- Produce short-form and long-form documentaries
- Convene moderated community conversations about race and other issues that divide people
- Present photographic exhibits
- Prepare book-length manuscripts
- Produce segments for television and radio news shows
- Create curriculum materials for K-12 and university level courses
- Produce an annual storytelling festival
How We Make a Difference
We began in June 2011 with the launch of www.yourrealstories.org, a story-sharing website. Our first theatre project was influenced by the movie version of the book The Help. After its opening, we invited people to share their own real life stories about ‘domestic day work’, the limited job opportunities available to black women across the decades, and the effect of the institution of ‘day work’ on the families of workers and their white employers. We partnered with The Studio@620 in St. Petersburg, Florida to present the stories of sixteen people in a three-part series called Decades of Day Work© that was presented in 2011 and 2012. Your Real Stories used 2013 as a planning year and to explore a documentary project. In February 2014, we presented Decades of Day Work IV at freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg. Our special guest storyteller for that show was Dr. My Haley, widow of author Alex Haley and collaborator with him on the iconic book and television mini-series “Roots.” Decades of Day Work V was performed at freeFall in March 2015. Each Decades of Day Work program is presented in two parts: a dramatic reading of the stories by actors and a moderated panel discussion that includes the original storytellers and reaches out to the audience.
“Very special and enlightening.” “Powerful …extremely well told…(an) important contribution to social healing.” (Audience responses to “Decades of Day Work” )
We have already seen the impact of the work that we do. Our storytellers have told us that their experiences from interview to performance have been ‘life changing’. Our audiences have told us that they have never before had the opportunity to discuss matters of race and race relations so openly. We have gathered over a hundred hours of audio and video of storyteller interviews and recordings of our live performances. We have collected archival photographs from our storytellers. We have generated interest from WEDU-TV (PBS) in producing a documentary of our project, and WUSF Public Media (NPR) has expressed interest in airing some of our interviews on radio.
Our other projects…
St Pete Stories™
“Everyone in our community has a story to share. These special stories highlight our differences and our similarities, which we should celebrate in a meaningful way. After all, they are what make our families, neighborhoods, communities and our city so remarkable.” Mayor Rick Kriseman, St .Petersburg, FL
The St Pete Stories series features professional actors presenting the scripted life stories of real people from the community. Partnering with the City of St Petersburg, we presented the first 16 of these stories in four programs called This is my city: St Pete Stories. The first people to sit for the two- to three-hour interviews were the Mayor and Deputy Mayor. Other storytellers included: an African American man in his mid-forties who spent nearly 20 years in prison; a young woman who arrived as a teenage refugee from Bosnia and faced the new challenges of living in the American South; and a Czechoslovakian immigrant who is grateful for her American citizenship that allowed her to earn a college degree and be deaf at the same time. Participants responded to This is my city: St Pete Stories with, “Awesome, powerful, excellent…moving and inspiring…great stories, great personalities…We need more events like this!… It was the most revealing and transforming experience that I have had in years living in this city.”
This traveling museum exhibit features the archival photographs collected from the original storytellers along with excerpts from their first-person stories and contemporary portraits of each of the storytellers by award-winning photojournalist Boyzell Hosey. Venues for the exhibit have included the Dr. Carter G Woodson African American History Museum and the Studio@620 in St Petersburg and the annual meeting of the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists in Tampa.
Story Days in Tampa Bay ™
Begun in 2014, this annual storytelling festival presents stories in a variety of ways. Stories are told, sung, danced, read to children in libraries, analyzed in writing seminars, seen in documentaries and experienced in poetry slams. Each year Your Real Stories produces some of the events and then collaborates with partners around Tampa Bay to complete the rest of the five-day schedule. Current partners include the Tampa Bay Times, the Dali Museum, The St. Petersburg Library System, University of South Florida (USF) Tampa and USF St. Petersburg, The Studio@620, Poynter Institute, and others. For the second annual Story Days in Tampa Bay, Your Real Stories partnered with The USF College of The Arts and the Confucius Institute to present former NBC Universal VP, Paula Madison and “Finding Samuel Lowe: from Harlem to China,” the documentary that traces her search for her Chinese relatives. The fourth annual festival is scheduled for October 2-7, 2017.
American Stage Forums
Your Real Stories partners with the American Stage Theatre Company to produce evenings of theatre that invite the audience to explore themes found in their staged performances. Your Real Stories creates scripted stories of people in the Tampa Bay area that are then used to engaged the audience in conversation. Following the August Wilson play, Radio Golf and Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel, Your Real stories gathered and scripted the stories of several area residents and led the conversation about the themes presented in each play. Following the production of A Tale of Two Cities as told by a drag queen, Your Real Stories presented the life of the famous drag queen, Heather Fontaine, and led a full house in a discussion about responses to this part of the Tampa Bay community.
Out of the Shadows: the LGBTQ Homeless Youth Project
Your Real Stories along with Family Resources and Planning Works, LLC both of Tampa Bay secured a grant to create awareness about the number and needs of LGBTQ+ Young People. Your Real Stories produced a two-hour presentation at The Palladium, an 800-seat theatre of St Petersburg College, featuring the stories of LGBTQ+ young people, parents, and people who provide services and shelter to young people after they have been disconnected from their families or aged out of foster care. The Palladium Theatre production follows the trademarked model created by Your Real Stories.
Where we are headed
Your Real Stories has gathered over a hundred hours of audio and video of storyteller interviews and recordings of our live performances. We are convinced that we must share our St. Petersburg-based storytelling model with the rest of the state, the country and the world.
You Can Help Move Us Forward
We have funding and volunteer opportunities for individuals, partners and sponsors. Let us know your support interests. Thank You!
Executive Director/Co-Founder& Interim Board Member
Lillian Dunlap, Ph.D. is a former television news reporter/producer and professor of journalism at Indiana University/Shah Alam, Malaysia, the University of Missouri School of Journalism and at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida. Lillian graduated from Defiance College with a degree in music and received a master of music education (voice) degree and a Ph.D. in communication and mass communication from Indiana University. She is a founding director of the I.U. African American Arts Institute that continues to support three touring ensembles. Lillian arrived in St. Petersburg in 1999 to join the Poynter Institute Ethics/Diversity faculty and began training professional journalists from all over the world . She has since coached journalists in South Africa at the South African Broadcasting Corporation, in the U.K at the University of Central Lancashire, and most recently in Belgrade, Serbia for the Association of Independent Journalists.
Jaye Annette Sheldon is a professional singer and actor and has maintained a voice studio for over 20 years. Her clients include corporate executives and community leaders as well as actors and singers. They all seek Jaye’s holistic approach to growth as an artist. She is a graduate of both Colgate and Syracuse Universities, and has studied acting and directing with Jerome Kilty, Jonathan Miller and Lucy Bailey. Jaye holds a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance and has been a voice faculty member at St. Lawrence University. She has appeared at Glimmerglass Opera. Directorial credits include: Assistant Director of the World Premier of Holiday Heart with director Tazewell Thompson and Director/Conductor of Dido and Aeneas at Colgate University.
Board of Directors
Teresa A. Nixon, Project Director, Advantage Environmental Services, brings a comprehensive set of leadership and management skills, along with clear insight and vision to this company she founded in 1994. At Advantage, Teresa has directed project planning and execution for government agencies and private sector businesses throughout the Southeast; she has managed contracts in excess of one million dollars. Teresa has assisted and been actively involved in developing and setting up Waste Management and Remediation programs for multinational companies. Before founding Advantage, Teresa has held several positions at hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal firms in Florida and North Carolina, including the National Institute of Environmental Health Services. Teresa’s education and certification include Bachelors of Science, Lenior Rhyne, NC, and 40 Hour HazWoper Certification for work associated with Hazardous Waste Sites.
Linda Steele, Owner of Steele Advertising, providing communication strategies for growing businesses and organizations since 1990. Steele Advertising, based in Fort Meyers, FL offers a range of services including development of creative advertising strategies and brand identity programs. Steele manages content of broadcast, print (including newsletters), web and outdoor campaigns. Clients include tourist attractions, retail stores and business service providers. An advocate for social activism, Steele has served on the board of Metropolitan Charities, a 501(c)3 organization that provides case management services, social networking, and other health and wellness programs. She helps organizations build awareness, gain exposure, raise funds, strengthen relationships, obtain new donors and volunteers. Linda served for several years as a board member of King of Peace Metropolitan Community Church. In her time off, she shoots birds (with a camera). Her photos can be seen at 2wingpictures.com. Steele received a degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and has completed post-graduate work in business administration at the University of South Florida.
Rachel Harrison is a professional production and stage manager with a love for experimental, experiential, and environmental theater. She particularly enjoys the challenge of producing and managing theater in unconventional and unlikely performance spaces. Rachel has lived her life backstage and in the tech booths of dozens of performance venues and theaters across the country since her “ah hah moment” at age 12, when she pointed at the stage during an intermission, as black-clad stagehands scurried to change the scenery, and proclaimed to her mother, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up!” Rachel has stage managed in local and regional theaters from PA to FL and DE to AZ, and currently serves as the production coordinator and as a production stage manager for American Stage Theater Company in St. Petersburg, FL.
E. “Stella” Sanders, originally from St. Louis Missouri, is an artist specializing in contemporary art. Her unique gel ink artwork of African women has been well received across the United States. Each piece offers a glimpse of the fashion, fabric and rhythm of the African continent. Stella’s work has been presented in multi-artist as well as several one-woman shows. Stella draws from her heart onto the canvas. Each image and color give expression to her deeply held faith and appreciation for life. Her art is collected by admirers around the country in California, Washington, Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia, Washington D.C., New York, Illinois and Louisiana. Stella not only creates art, she teaches through her community activism and commitment to the education of young artists.
Yvonne Scruggs Leftwich, Ph.D.