In the News

Treasure Maps: The Georgia Storytelling Roadshow

An episode of City Lights on WABE Radio

Senior Producer Kim Drobes speaks with LaTonya Harris, a Roadshow volunteer and mother of one of the featured storytellers, and Shannon Turner, founder and creative director of Story Muse. The show’s events consist of a collection of short films that showcase 10 Georgia storytellers all of whom share their personal takes on what it’s like to navigate life with a developmental disability.

Treasure Maps, the Georgia Storytelling Roadshow is a series of pop-up outdoor theaters across the state of Georgia. The events consist of a collection of short films that showcase 10 Georgia storytellers, all of whom share their personal takes on what it's like to navigate life with adevelopmental disability. The Atlanta stop on the road show is happening this Saturday, July 10th at Legacy Park in Decatur and WABE’s own Jim Burris will co-host the event. Joining us now on Zoom is LaTonya Harris, a roadshow volunteer and mother of one of the featured storytellers and Shannon Turner, founder and creative director of Storymuse, the company that partnered with the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities to produce the Treasure Maps project. LaTonya and Shannon, welcome to City Lights.

Thank you for having us. Pleasure to be here.

Very pleased to meet both of you and thank you for joining us. Shannon, will you start us off by explaining how the Treasure Maps project came to be?

Absolutely, my company Storymuse is delighted to be part of a project but there are so many other entities coming together to make this work happen. So the Georgia Council on developmental Disabilities is a wonderful advocacy organization that has been endeavoring to make storytelling part of its efforts for several years now. And so the story telling projects started in 2018. We traveled the state collecting stories and those stories walk right into legislators' offices so that we can help educate those folks to say, “Look, this is your constituent, please make better decisions on their behalf.” It was a valiant effort and it did a lot of good. As I was traveling the state in that way telling one story at a time, I started to see trends across those stories. So this year, we wanted to do something that would be Covid-safe, so we proposed to do the roadshow - something where we could film the stories outside and socially distanced and then produce them and show them in a way that was outside and socially distanced. So we went on the road; we collected these 10 stories; we put them together into this beautiful show that happens. I like to say each of these 10 story tellers - their stories are just like a beautiful manifestation of that teller. And the filmmakers have had so much fun making those stories, kind of experimenting genres. So we have a guy who loves to cook, so we ended up making a cooking show like you might see on the Travel Channel or Food Network. And then, we had another young woman who is a jewelry maker, and so watching her story is kind of like watching something on HGTV. But in the same way that all of those stories are so unique and connected to the teller, each of these shows has become a beautiful manifestation of that community. And Atlanta is our final stop. We’ll wrap it up on Saturday after we've been to Columbus and Macon and Savannah and Athens and Dahlonega.

What a run you’ve had, and amongst other reasons it's a great reason to get out there and get a chance to lay eyes on WABE’s own Jim Burrows, who will be co-hosting the event.

Along with Jim we have Bethany Stevens who's a wonderful advocate in the community. I'm just planning on geeking out as I am up there on the stage with both Jim and Bethany Saturday night.

That's fantastic. LaTonya, what were your original thoughts when they approached you about your daughter Faith participating in the project?

I thought this is going to be awesome. You know, Faith loves to tell her story as only Faith can do and so we just thought it would be an awesome way to get her out in the community and I love to volunteer where I can to support our young adults and persons with disabilities just overall. So I was really excited when we were introduced to this project. And it has been such an amazing experience for Faith, for my family overall. My oldest daughter, Faith’s sister, had an opportunity to be a part of the project as well and so it was really a family affair.

Aww, that’s wonderful. So since Faith is not here to share her story, would you tell us a little bit about Faith?

Faith is this amazing 21-year-od who loves life. When she walks into a room you know she has arrived because she has lit it up.

It’s true. She is one of the happiest people I have ever met.

And she wakes up like that, she goes to be like that. Anyone that has ever encountered Faith, has encountered this amazing individual, who will ask you how you are doing, stop to listen to make sure she understood how you’re doing, and if you’re not doing well, to make sure that you know that you’re loved. We call Faith the Hallmark greeter, affectionally, because she’s never met a stranger, and she’s just this amazing person that just brings light. So that’s part of my drive, because I want her to always have a space in our community. And usually, that doesn’t happen after our young adults exit school and there aren’t a lot of spaces for them to be in. That’s been my passion, my heart, my push, my life. Just to make sure she has a space when she exits school next spring. So that’s our story and she’s just this, I won’t be put in a box kind of woman. I just follow Faith’s lead and wherever she leads us that’s where we’ll go.

Sounds like we could all use a little Faith in our corner. Shannon, you mentioned a couple different things that are going on, so can you tell us a little more about some of the other presentations that people can see if they can make it to the event on Saturday?

We also have a young man who has autism. He's so clever with his words and he's a brilliant artist and so we helped him turn his story into a children's book. He reads the story as if he were performing to children at a library. A young man from Athens is a professional Elvis. He doesn't like say impersonator but Elvis impression artist. His story is really fun to watch. He made us do the countdown with a da-da-dah, you know that Elvis music where Elvis would come onto the stage, every single time we had to do that. SO fun.

Does he sing as well?

He does. So I’m really glad that LaTonya brought up this phenomenon that she's trying to get out in front of with her daughter Faith, which is what we call in the business the school to couch pipeline. So a lot of folks find that there's this total drop off in services after they graduate high school. So the Medicaid waiver is this really important legislative agenda behind the work we're doing. We want people to understand the importance of the Medicaid waiver ;why we should have it ;why we need to fund it. Is this waiver Georgians specific? It's not. But interestingly, the Supreme court case that started it, started here in Georgia, but now it's a national structure. But sadly, there are 7000 Georgians on the waiting list for Medicaid waiver.

Oh, that is problematic.

Deeply problematic. But we're trying to help people understand all of the things that Medicaid waiver can support in a person's life. So that young woman who does that HGTV style show with her jewelry making, she has a caregiver who coaches her in her work; helps her get out into the community and does all kinds of things to help her live independently. A Medicaid waiver is called a waiver because the first line of defense and the way our society works is to put people into an institution. So the waiver is waiving them out of that system and putting them into the community. Basically we want people to understand the importance of these waivers; how they function and why we need to be encouraging our legislators to continue to support them.

Yeah, continued visibility and being part of a community is everything. What can individuals do if they want to support your project?

Well, first of all, just come out and enjoy this rockin good time. I really think that for a lot of people they haven’t had so many opportunities yet to come out and be together with community post-pandemic. So we really do want you to come out and enjoy the food trucks; the art vendors; the Feed N Seed Marching Abominable Band. So, you know, I really do want people see this as a celebration of community, an opportunity to come out after the pandemic.

We have pieces about how you can stay connected with Medicaid waiver advocacy and the next thing I want to say is, how important it is to just make a relationship with your legislators. I don't think people understand how fundamentally important that is to do. At the end of the day, it's two clicks on Google, and there's your legislator. You just call that person up or e-mail them and you say, look, this is what's important to me. This is why I think you should be in my camp on this. And they will hear you. If they don't, then you should tell them why they should lose their job. It's really that easy.

They get their information from us. Their decisions are made from those who contact them and share those things are important to us. A lot of people when they don't live in our world, they don't know the importance of having a support person to escort you to COSCO to get your favorite meal. You know, they don't know the importance of having someone to transport you to these different places so you can access your community.

One thing that I was wondering is if either of you could speak to, just as far as being a community member who maybe hasn't had that much exposure to people with developmental disabilities. Do you have any suggestions on, say it's me, how I can communicate better with someone who has developmental disabilities if they are looking to make a connection?

As a parent, to hear someone actually want to do that just makes my heart full. If you have things that you can make a bit more available to persons with disabilities; if you're open to having people with disabilities come into the space and be able to be as they are; would be absolutely wonderful. Attending things like what we're doing this weekend, actually joining in when you see those e-mails. Employers actually thinking outside the box of how these amazing individuals can contribute to your organization. I'm a transition specialist by trade and I just see all of these opportunities that I think we miss because the person has this disability. But we don't look at the possibilities that they bring; the abilities; the light that they bring to the table.

That's very well said. LaTonya, can you share a little more about that light that Faith has and the story that she shares for the Treasure Maps project?

She tells the story about learning how to walk. So her father was deployed and me being who I am I was like, OK what do I need to give you so you'll come back to us the same way we send you over here, right? At that point in time and Faith wasn't walking. So she is 3 and our pledge to him was, if he came back, Faith would walk to him when he got off the plane. We shared that with our team and the physical therapist we had was absolutely amazing. Every spare moment she had, she would work with Faith and Faith walked to her dad when he got off the plane that following year when he came home from being in the Middle East. It was really, really exciting to see her tell that story and Faith is, like I said earlier, one of those people who refuses to be put in a box. She's going to do it like she wants to do it. I have been amazed at the perseverance that this young woman has exhibited. And now she's a Special Olympian and she has 4 or 5 gold medals. She's competed at state at least 4 times.

What’s her specialty?

She does track and field, she does the standing long jump. We had her in the actual 100 meter but she loves her fans, so she would stop and wave at her fans before continuing to run. So we just gave up on the track team because Faith would say, “wait, there’s all of my people right there, I need to stop a wave and you know, let everybody know that I'm on the track. We had to stop the track team, but she's always competed in the standing long jump and made it to state and medaled. Yeah, so that's who she is and that's our family.

Well, you can hear the joy in your voice when you tell a story and Shannon, I was wondering since this is what you do for a living, can you speak for a moment just to the importance of being able to share your story?

Oh gosh, how long have you got? I mean we live in a world where some will say that we have an empathy deficit. We are literally building walls around ourselves, unfortunately. One of my favorite quotes says that the shortest distance between two human hearts is a story. Unfortunately, we have all of these ways our stories are being stolen away from us and sold back through capitalist structures. And a lot of people, the first thing they’ll say is I’m not a good story teller. Which is so unfortunate because it is our most ancient skill. You know we used to sit around and talk to each other at the end of the night around campfires and on porches and it wasn't judged, it was just how we communicated, how we transported our values from one generation to the next. I really find that this work is so crucial. It is not short term technology; it definitely is something that takes time and investment. But when people do it they get longer-term dividends. I’m so proud of Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities for making this long-term investment in the Storytelling Project because I do think it is helpful. The reason why Treasure Maps is called Treasure Maps is because I do life maps with people as a story cultivation and discovery technique.

Oh what are life maps?

It’s basically it's very simple. I just make sure that every participant has a large piece of paper and multiple colors of markers and we go through a process of drawing out a map of their life. So a lot of times people find that some of the common stories they think about all the time fall away, or maybe they still on that map, but there are new stories they haven't thought about in forever that come up on that map. And that becomes the really juicy thing they want to work on developing. When that workshop is coming to a close, we always do this gallery walk, where everybody goes around and looks at everybody else's life map. And there's always this quiet, almost sacred moment, where people are really taking in each other's maps. And I think about that all the time and in the time when somebody cuts me off in traffic and I want to show them some part of my hand, or somebody makes me really angry on the Internet. And I just think, what if their life map could become revealed to me? What if I could connect with their stories? And that's what we're doing, just very slowly and intentionally.

Shannon Turner, creative director of Storymuse and LaTonya Harris, transition specialist, volunteer and Faith’s mom. Treasure Maps, the Georgia Storytelling Roadshow is happening this Saturday at Legacy Park in Decatur. WABE’s Jim Burris will be co-hosting the event. And you can learn more on our website lights

The original episode broadcast on WABE Radio's City Lights on July 8, 2021 at 11 AM and 9 PM.