“Imagine a ‘TED talk’ that doesn’t sound scripted and isn’t lecture-style, but is more so just me telling you a story about how I didn’t have a spoon to stir my Kool-Aid, and I woke everybody up on Saturday morning in the residence halls trying to find a spoon to stir my Kool-Aid and the valuable lessons that I learned from that.”

As described by Comprehensive Studies Program (CSP) Academic Advisor Keith Jason, who spearheaded the event, “Value the Voice” is just that: A storyteller’s lounge.

“It’s the person’s story, so we’re asking them to tell real stories,” Jason said. “Not myths or legends or anything like that. But, [to] communicate their own experiences in their own authentic voice and share their experiences so that other people can learn from those.”

Making its debut this Tuesday at the UMMA, the event will have four installments (in September, November, January and March). The theme of this first one is “Transitions.” A new city, a new school year, a new challenge ­­— the evening will focus on all of the transition-related experiences and sentiments that matter to its storytellers.

The event will include about seven stories, five of which will be told by students. The other two will be by Dr. Harold Waters, director of CSP, and Elizabeth James, the Program Associate in Afro-American and African Studies. Coined as “voices of wisdom,” they’ll be there to share moments of their lives that may speak to the social and political landscapes both within and beyond the University community.

“It’s sad, but it’s reality that these kinds of tough times are not new,” Jason said. “I don’t think our culture that’s 40 and under does the best job of reaching out to those folks who’ve lived through it in their time and how they overcame those challenges.”

Elizabeth James, a Daily Arts alum and incredible force of compassion, shared with the Daily what she hopes to come from being a “voice of wisdom” for the night.

“I can remember certain great moments in my classes, but most of all, I remember the things that happened outside of class,” James said. “[It] means all the world to me if I can help anybody or help their way be a little easier. I feel like what I went through is worth it, because it’s not something that I’ve left and just held in my heart.”

A third-generation storyteller, James grew up understanding the power of sharing. Her grandmother was a traditional healer down in New Orleans, Louisiana, using stories to calm the patients that came to see her. Her mother, also an alum, told stories through her night-time radio show in Detroit.

“Somewhere between the two, I think I fall. And I’m really happy, because I feel like I’m a bridge between all three of the generations. That’s very meaningful for me because I feel like I’m carrying their approval and carrying it on,” she said.

Passing down tradition, surveying the present, informing the future — “Value the Voice” is a safe space for people to examine themselves and experience belonging in a University setting that can sometimes be isolating.

“It’s so important, because I feel as though the sense of community is being shattered,” James said. “We need to return to that idea of what community means and feels like… Just knowing that you have every right to be here, and that your voice matters; that’s what I think my key intent is with this program. That’s why we called it ‘Value the Voice.'”

“You know, we’ve got two different things going on — the climate of the country and the climate of the earth — all of these things are coming at us, and it’s very easy to lose track of who we are and that we’re better together and stronger together… If we want to be, I think, our highest level of humankind, I really think that means you have to be able to share,” James said. “Share your toys, share your stories, share. You get more back when you share than you ever imagined you could.”

The world is a better place because people like Elizabeth James and Keith Jason do what they do. “Value the Voice” will challenge you and love you like only the best nights can. Go in with an open heart, and let yourself explore the inclusivity and healing that comes from simply sharing. It’ll be worth it.

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