First Voice Story Slam Promotes Community for Students


First Voice storytellers and host (L to R): Kyle Hopkins, Lana Abdallah, Jacob Hernandez, Shannon Cason (host), Jah’miaa C. Brooks, Ashley Tse, and Angelina Antolin

Ray Harkless, Phoenix Staff writer

On April 6, the Center for Community Media (CCM) held its third installment of the “First Voice” Story Slam. This event was organized by Dr. Kerri Morris, Professor of English and Co-Lead of Media Across Curriculum (MAC) and Dr. Novia Pagone, Assistant Professor of Spanish Language and Literature and Global Studies (Director of CCM and Faculty Co-Lead, MAC).  

The goal of this event was to bring together GSU students and faculty in a space that is welcoming, expressive, and perspective building. For this event, the prompt was to “tell a story about a time when the mask came off.”

As I settled into my seat, waiting for the program to begin, I looked around to capture the feel of what was unfolding. Honestly, I did not know what to expect. What I observed was not necessarily a surprise because of my experience as a student, but it was refreshing all the same.

I saw a mix of students, faculty, and friends congregated in a comfortable yet energized space. I noticed how bright it was in the Lakeside Lounge that day. Maybe it was the free pizza. Regardless, once host Shannon Cason hit the stage, he reinforced a close community atmosphere, injecting some electricity into the audience as well.

Cason is a professional storyteller. He has told stories across the country with platforms like The Moth and Snap Judgment. He is the host of three podcasts and is the chief educator for the Brutally Honest Storytelling workshop series. Though there were judges voting on the performances of the participants of this event, Cason wanted to take the “competition” out of it. He emphasized that this was a safe space, that the focus is on sharing “human expression.”

Cason broke the ice sharing a story about his father’s “triple black” Cadillac that he described as gaudy and tacky. However, by the end of his story, Cason intimated that the very same car made him feel like someone special.

What I found to be inspiring was how each of the story tellers used this platform to be vulnerable and expressive of challenging situations and emotions that, though universal in the human experience, are rarely voiced. The audience took it in stride: encouraging, supporting, clapping, high fiving even.

The most warming moment of the event came during Ashley Tse’s story. Understandably nervous, Ashley, with full support from the audience shared a story about her former self, Brian, and the journey of self-acceptance, becoming who she is today.

My favorite story came from Jacob Hernandez. His story was about the challenges of being autistic and navigating socio-emotional situations that can be confusing for him at times. Jacob’s story stood out to me because we could tell as an audience that though there have been challenging times, he has always meant well. It was important to him that he continued to learn from his experience. After his story, he gave high fives to the crowd as he returned to his seat. That put a smile on everyone’s face.

There were 6 performers in this event: Jah’miaa C. Brooks, Ashley Tse, Jacob Hernandez, Kyle Hopkins, Lana Abdallah and Angelina Antolin. All 6 are moving on to perform in the “Grand Slam” event on Thursday, April 20, in the E Lounge. Having received coaching from professionals, the participants will be competing for cash prizes.

For more information on the Center for Community Media Program and the resources available, visit the page on the GSU website.