Storytelling show to share ‘Lessons Learned’

Dianna Náñez believes storytelling builds bridges across diverse communities.

That’s why she writes stories.

And that’s why she tells stories.

Náñez will join four other Americans from across the country in sharing a true, personal story about a lesson learned. It’s part of a virtual storytelling series produced by the Storytellers Project live streaming on its Facebook page and YouTube channel at 8 p.m. ET on Aug. 20.

Náñez, a senior reporter at The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network, says her story is about how to live with regret when you know you did the right thing. It’s framed around her experience returning home to report on California’s Camp Fire, the deadliest U.S. wildfire in the last century.

She will share how her work as a journalist forced her to choose between honoring the woman who raised her and the strangers who needed her.

Kelly Buffalo-Quinn, 37, is an organizer and member of the Meskwaki tribe in Des Moines, and will tell a story about her unexpected pregnancy in 2005 and her decision to place her son up for adoption. 

Because she is Native American, Buffalo-Quinn had to abide by rules in the Indian Child Welfare Act, which dictates that an Indigenous child must be adopted by an Indigenous family if possible. But Buffalo-Quinn had chosen a white family to adopt her son. 

WATCH: Americans tell entertaining and illuminating personal stories

Her father objected to her decision and alerted the tribe, which eventually took the child and gave him to an Indigenous couple. 

“The decision to strip me of custody was made by my father and a council comprised of all men. My voice as a mother, an enrolled tribal member, and a woman, was effectively silenced,” she told The Des Moines Register last summer.

Buffalo-Quinn’s story was covered nationally as she fought for the right to make her own decision. But after a period of struggles while raising her son during the court battle, she said she gave in to the tribe and her son was placed with a Native family.

“I began a period of self-loathing. I hated myself. I hated my skin. I hated my heritage. I hated where I came from,” she said. “I no longer wanted to be Meskwaki and I gave serious thought to dis-enrolling myself from the tribe.”

But, over time, she came to realize the tribe was ultimately looking out for the best interest of her son and their heritage. 

“I wanted to remove the Native from my son by sending him to a non-Native family,” she told The Register. “But the beautiful irony here is that he was placed with a lovely, upstanding family on the settlement. This family follows all the traditional Meskwaki ways. He is being raised with our history, our language and our customs.”

Storyteller Erin Myers Madeira, 43, of Pacific Grove, California, works for the Nature Conservancy and it’s her job to build stronger collaborations between conservation organizations and Indigenous people.

“It’s the land and waters where we live that bring us together, said Myers Madeira. “And we need to come together to care for the places that care for us if we are going to create a future where all of our grandchildren can thrive.”

Michael Heller, 44, who works in Phoenix, Arizona, as head of Brand Partnerships for USAT/Storytellers Brand Studio, will share a story about grief and honoring a friend’s last wishes.

Heller traveled alone to India to spread his friend’s ashes in a special ceremony.

“I thought I was mentally and emotionally prepared for the moment, and that I could handle it,” he said. “But I realized that my anxiety and anxiousness about doing right by my friend was overcoming me at every step of my journey until a moment happens where I let it all go. In that moment, I was able to make peace with my loss, grief and purpose for being there.”

Jim Tankersley, 42, who lives outside Washington, D.C, is an economics reporter at The New York Times and the author of “The Riches of This Land: The Untold, True Story of America’s Middle Class.” He’s telling a story about what he’s learned while reporting out answers to a question he’d been asking himself since high school. 

“I believe telling human stories is the very best way we help each other understand complicated, important problems in our lives,” he said. 

The Storytellers Project’s virtual series, called “LIVE, In Your House!,” has reached more than 1 million viewers since its debut on April 2, when the COVID-19 pandemic started closing down venues where in-person shows had been held. Viewers can now tune in to the Storytellers Project’s Facebook page or YouTube channel to watch and comment live.

The line-up Aug. 20

  • Kelly Buffalo-Quinn, 37, of Des Moines, Iowa 
  • Erin Myers Madeira, 42, of Pacific Grove, California
  • Jim Tankersley, 42, of Alexandria, Virginia
  • Michael Heller, 44, of Phoenix, Arizona
  • Dianna Náñez of Phoenix, Arizona

Upcoming shows

  • Sept. 3: Stories About Stories
  • Sept. 17: School Stories
  • Sept. 24: Uprisings: Stories of the Struggle for Civil Rights
  • Oct. 1: Entrepreneurship and Hustle
  • Oct. 15: Far from Alone
  • Oct. 29: I Am An American
  • Nov. 12: Food & Family


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