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There and Back Again, Part 2

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Untold Stories Podcast
Untold Stories. A WJCT Public Media and Florida Threatre Production.(Morgan Gesell, Rain Henderson)

In this poignant episode of "Untold Stories," recorded live at the Florida Theatre on May 6, 2022, we explore diverse narratives bound by themes of discovery, resilience, and transformation. The episode "There and Back Again, Part 2" presents three unique stories, each offering a window into the profound journeys of its storytellers.

Barbara Colaciello of BAB'S LAB meticulously curates stories, coaches the storytellers, and skillfully hosts and serves as master of ceremonies for the live events for each 'Untold Stories' episode.

Yhang Quintero, originally from Venezuela and now a Jacksonville entrepreneur, shares his harrowing yet inspiring journey through cancer. At just 19, Yhang faced a life-altering diagnosis that propelled him into a world of uncertainty and treatment. He narrates his experience with a blend of humor and depth, reflecting on his youthful days in Caracas, the vibrant cultural scene, and the drastic shift his life took post-diagnosis. Yhang's story culminates in his creation of Wildcrafters in Jacksonville, a non-alcoholic bar symbolizing his journey back home and his passion for community and wellness.

Hope McMath, a cultural leader and Jacksonville native, delves into her transformative experience on a trip to Montgomery, Alabama. She recounts the profound impact of visiting sites dedicated to the victims of racial terror lynching and the history of American slavery and mass incarceration. This journey leads Hope to a moment of introspection on a stalled bus in southern Alabama, where she confronts her family history, grappling with the revelation of her ancestors' involvement in slavery. Her narrative is a powerful testament to the importance of facing uncomfortable truths for personal and communal healing.

Matt Colaciello's story takes us on a global journey from Jacksonville to Mali, India, and Indonesia. Growing up in Jacksonville, Matt navigated challenges related to identity and belonging, which propelled him into a life of exploration and self-discovery. His travels and experiences abroad, including harrowing moments and enlightening interactions, shaped his perspective on life, leading to a deeper understanding of his purpose and place in the world. Matt's narrative is a compelling tale of personal evolution and the quest for meaning beyond one's immediate environment.

Together, these stories form an intricate tapestry of life experiences, showcasing the resilience of the human spirit and the unending quest for self-discovery and connection. Tune in to this episode of "Untold Stories" for an evening of emotional depth, laughter, and inspiration, revealing the power of storytelling in understanding our world and ourselves.

Content warning: This episode of "Untold Stories" contains a historical recount that includes the use of the word "faggot." This term is referenced in a personal story to authentically convey the experiences and challenges faced by the storyteller. We understand this term is offensive and hurtful. It is not used to promote discrimination or harm but rather to provide a truthful depiction of the individual's journey and the societal challenges they overcame. Listener discretion is advised.

Transcript

Please note that the following transcript has been generated by automated technology. While efforts have been made to ensure accuracy, there may be errors, inconsistencies, or deviations from the original audio. We encourage listeners to refer to the actual podcast episode for complete and accurate content. This transcript is provided for convenience and may not fully capture the nuances of the spoken word.

David Luckin:
Welcome to Untold Stories, a production of the Florida Theatre and WJCT Public Media.
Tonight's program was recorded May 6, 2022.
The theme, there and back again.

Barbara Colaciello:
Yhang Quintero

Yhang Quintero:
[applause]
Thank you
[applause]
Woo!
[applause]
It's Tuesday morning, and I wake up like every day, go to the bathroom.
[laughter]
I look down, and I notice something was different today.
My left testicle is a lot larger than the other one.
It doesn't hurt, it's kind of hard.
But I, you know, I went on with my day.
Didn't make up much of it.
Couple of days later, I talk to my mom, and we go see Hwanchu.
Hwanchu is a family friend that happens to be a neurologist.
Who knew they were both doctors?
[laughter]
I didn't.
Hwanchu checks me out, and immediately he gives me a diagnosis.
He says, "Yhang, you have a tumor.
We don't know what it is, but you have a tumor."
And he right away scheduled a surgery for the same night to remove that testicle.
Couple more days, mom and I go back to see Hwanchu to talk about the biopsy,
and surprisingly he tells me, it's cancer.
Here I am, I'm 19 years old, ready to eat up the world.
Having a great time in life, and what?
Now I have to put my life in pause and, you know, dive into this amazing, fun time,
which is cancer treatment.
Everything went so fast that I didn't even have time to get scared.
In fact, I felt that I needed to keep my family spirit up.
Everyone in my family, you know, when they hear the C word,
they kind of got in a little bit of a panic mode.
So, yeah, it was on me to, you know, make fun of everything.
And I really was having fun throughout my whole process.
It was a little scary, but even though it was scary,
it brought a lot of things into perspective for me.
You know, I realized then that the life that I had just started
a couple years prior to that was so awesome.
And now I have to adjust to it.
Think about a lot of sunshine,
greenity everywhere, fun, diverse, culture.
That was Caracas, Venezuela in 1994.
I'm 17 years old, long hair, pawnbroker.
I'm having a great time.
I scored a fake ID from a neighbor, and with that,
I landed a job at the coolest venue in the city.
Brooklyn Bar was a little bar, little eclectic,
loud, dark, smoky venue where you could go see
the best underground bands and any really act in Caracas.
There were some time international acts too.
Brooklyn Bar was actually known as the CVGV of South America.
Who of you remembers CVGV?
It was badass, right? I worked there.
So here I am in 17, I'm hot.
I'm having a lot of fun.
I spent a lot of nights in Brooklyn Bar surrounded by musicians,
photographers, dancers, poets,
all kinds of amazing artists, and we together had a community.
We loved to do things together. We hung out together.
We worked together. We loved to make cool #### happen.
That was our thing.
You know, after a while,
I started looking around my life and I realized I had a really cool life.
My life was full but simple. I lived with my grandparents at the time.
Mom Carolina, or grandma Carolina was my mom.
She loved plants. My house was full of plants everywhere.
It felt like we lived in the prime forest for a little bit.
She knew all about her plants. There was one thing that it seems like she never got.
It was how to water them. Because every side of it, you know,
every single side of it for years, I had to get up and water all her plants.
To the point that I started making up stories and leaving early,
6 in the morning, I'm out, so I didn't have to water the plants.
It was great though.
Carolina was a kindergarten teacher. She loved to paint and sing.
She really had this thing with nature.
Dad — Grandpa Marín — he was also a school teacher.
He was a man of faith, very, very involved in the community.
He was a healer. At the time, I didn't think much about this.
But every time anyone at the house got sick, he will go to the backyard,
get some herbs, and make us what he called "varao de monte."
Cool name, huh?
It was an herbal tea that he made with these plants and a little spices.
And every single time got the job done.
Somehow, he got us well.
Every time it tasted different, it was delicious.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was so good.
And that was my life. I live a really good life.
A year and a half has passed since I started my cancer treatment.
And now I'm in remission.
Yeah.
[applause]
I'm back in school. I'm back at Brooklyn bar.
I'm thin, bold.
I'm feeling sexy.
My birthday is coming up.
And I decided to take a trip to visit some friends up in the mountains.
So I grabbed my backpack and I headed to the bus station.
I'm standing in line, long line to get a ticket.
And this beautiful chick walks right by me.
Obviously, it was the normal thing to do in this situation.
I left my place in line and went to the other counter,
where she just got her ticket.
I asked the guy behind the counter, where was this bus going to?
And immediately without hesitation, I buy a ticket.
To an 18-hour bus ride, to a remote little town in the middle of the Amazon,
called Puerto Ayacucho.
That's how much of a hot #### I was.
Now I'm really feeling good.
That was a bold move. She's so sexy.
I'm going to talk to her.
And so I did.
I go over here, just sit her in the bench.
I sit next to her.
I show my ticket, introduce myself, and I say, "You know what?
I got this ticket because of you."
And I tell her, "Why?"
Really soon after, I found out that this gorgeous woman,
girl, who were about the same age, was a nun.
And this amazing story, an adventure I had planned already in my mind,
ended right then, before it even started, it's okay though.
Everything worked out.
We went on 18 hours.
I think we prayed about 42 times.
I faked to be asleep, through a couple of those prayers.
But she was super cool though.
18 hours later, we get to Puerto Ayacucho.
Goodbye now.
And I get out of the bus and I meet this guy, Juan.
There was a car parked right by the bus station with a hand-written sign
on the windshield that says "Taxi."
Very legit.
So I go there.
I tell him my story.
He immediately opens up the car.
"Come on, dude. I got you."
Takes me into town, introduced me to a few locals,
shows me around.ƒ
He takes me to a cool place to stay, affordable, safe,
and he tells me all the good places to go to have a really good rainforest experience.
Juan is awesome.
Juan introduces me to Natalia.
Natalia is the owner of this jungle expedition company.
I want to talk to her for a little while.
After a few hours talking, we both realize that she's the mother of this musician
that had played at Brooklyn Bar.
He's been living in Caracas to go to college.
And after playing a few times, he became a regular, and then my friend, Luis.
What are the odds?
I go home with my knight, and the next day, there's not a lot to do in this little place.
So the next day, I go back to the office to say hi to Natalia,
and she tells me she talked to Luis, but not before.
He didn't tell her that it was my birthday, and so he said, "Please, take care of him.
Show him a good time."
He doesn't know what he's doing. He wasn't even going there.
So she follow up to say, "Yhang, there is a five-day expedition to the jungle.
Are you in? You'll have to pay anything. It's already paid for. Come on."
Obviously, I say, "Hell yeah."
Went on, got excited, got my backpack, got up early.
Right early in the morning, go to meet the crew.
It's a small group of tourists, and two guys, and myself.
We board this canoe-looking boat.
It looks like it was made out of a really long and wide tree.
I wasn't sure if that thing was going to float, but we were all there.
And we take off.
Ramon is one of the guys.
Ramon is a Yanomami native, and he's well known around that area.
It's probably the best expedition tour guide there was at the moment.
He spoke a few different languages, super knowledgeable, cool guy.
And our first stop of this expedition was in his village.
He was bringing some supplies to his family, and then we were picking up Ramoncito.
His 14-year-old son.
We went on with our trip. Ramoncito blew my mind.
And that was probably the first really big lesson I had in my young age.
Ramoncito also spoke a few different languages, even though he lived in a village, in a remote village in the Amazon.
He walked around bare food, and he was being trained to be the next shaman of his village.
Ramoncito and I clicked it. He was my buddy the whole time.
Before I went back into town and before the trip was over, Ramoncito tells me,
at this point he already know my story and my cancer thing.
At one point Ramoncito tells me, "Hey, you were a man of medicine.
You need to do this."
And he tells me that his shaman is leading a ceremony back in town within the few days.
He's like, "I don't have details, but you go and you ask for it and you're going to find it."
And so I did what I was told. I get back to town. I was supposed to be heading back home, but I canceled that.
And I found the people that was hosting the ceremony, and I see it in ceremony.
His shaman came to town, and it was a Jopo ceremony. Anybody knows what this is?
Well, Jopo is a psychoactive or psychedelic, actually,
systems that is made out of a bark of a tree.
And shamans in the Amazon use this to connect to the earth and with the power up above.
This is how they find out where are the right medicines that they can take and give to the village.
And this is how they find out answers for the well-being of the village and the earth.
The job of the work of that shaman wasn't only to save people or heal people.
He needed to heal the earth, and that was pretty cool.
At that moment, I felt connected. For the first time in my life, I felt what my grandpa, Marín and Ramoncito were all about.
Now I understood whether what Appomonta was.
And now I know that plants know a lot more than we do.
I get back home, and you know, I'm inspired. I'm like, this is it.
Now I'm a man, a man of the jungle.
It's August of 2001.
My sister, Michelle, is in Venezuela. I never met Michelle.
I don't know her, but she's pretty cool. She couldn't speak English. I mean, Spanish. I couldn't speak English.
But somehow we communicated.
And she convinced me to come to the States and spend some time with her and my brother Johnny.
Obviously, I say yes. And within weeks, I'm there again, grabbing my backpack, filling, packing it up,
and getting ready to embark on this journey, but now to another country.
I come to Florida. Oddly enough, I moved to the town where I was born, Melbourne, Florida.
Never thought I was going to be there again.
Now I'm in the States and life is a little bit different.
My priorities, my goals have changed.
I made this beautiful, amazing woman, Melina, who then I married her and had the most amazing kid with my son, Lucas.
The American dream is in my mind.
I think everything that I ever wanted was there. I had it.
The life that most people back home and including myself thought was the perfect life.
I was living it.
But even so, even having that perfect life that everybody thought I was having, I kept catching myself thinking, is this it?
Am I going to be a good dog like this?
Why am I going to teach Lucas?
Am I happy?
The relationship with Melina ran its course. We end up getting a divorce.
You know how that goes? Life is a little shaky.
I then come to Jacksonville to visit a girlfriend, and I get a job offer.
So I say, "Yeah, why not?" "I'm going to Jacksonville."
I moved to Jacksonville and I immediately fell in love with this place.
It's diversity, culture, a lot of artists, a lot of things going on.
There is the sunshine and the nature. Somehow it feels a little bit familiar.
Jacksonville has given me probably the best gift I've ever gotten.
In Jacksonville, I found a family away from my family.
Some of you are here.
When I got here, I fell right in.
It was like the Lego piece, the puzzle piece got in.
A few months later, after a move here, I got invited to share a studio at CoRK.
There I got to meet and work and collaborate with musicians, artists, photographers, poets.
I have met some of the most interesting people here in Jacksonville.
I'm now a part of something that is a lot bigger than me.
I'm now a part of a community.
I'm hanging out with people, they love to work together and they love to get cool #### done.
I knew you were safe, I get invited to go to a dinner with some friends.
I show up to a restaurant right here in San Marco.
There's this guy sitting at the table.
Bearded guy, kind of long hair, serious looking.
Never seen this guy in my life.
He's a friend of a friend.
I don't know nothing about him and I sit down and introduce myself.
And the little that I know, this guy was going to be one of the most impactful person in my life from then on.
At the dinner table, he talks about this super powerful shamanic ceremony he just came from
and he immediately caught my attention.
Then after he started talking about a bunch of hippies, yoga, meditation.
I was like, you know, I kind of make fun of it a little bit as we were getting a little
boosie, you know.
I just brushed it off and we went and danced and had a great time.
I thought he was hitting on my girlfriend, I just let him be.
Well, exactly a year from that day, here I am, I just started my first yoga teacher training.
I'm learning meditation and I'm a goddamn hippie.
[Applause]
That exact day, a year later, Kyle Roberts, that guy.
And I sat together for the first time in ceremony with who is now our chairman, Julio.
At that moment, I found my place.
I found my medicine and I once again felt connected to this earth and to all of you, and I know
that sound hippies.
[Laughter]
From then on and through years of work with this medicine, I started receiving messages.
And one of them was that I needed to create this place, a safe space, where everybody could
come and hang out and connect through these plants and connect through nature.
That's how Wildcrafters was created.
[Applause]
Wildcrafters was a message receiving ceremony that then, with the help of a bunch of hippies, we manifested.
[Laughter]
And now, it's the place where people come to feel better, when people come to try and
a natural alternative to all these toxic options that we have had for years.
It's four in the morning, I'm standing in the middle of Wildcrafters, and I'm looking around
and there are plants everywhere.
I'm surrounding by an excessive amount of plants, just like I did when I was a kid.
I also look up and up in the wall there's a shelf that is holding a bunch of jars filled with herbs and teas.
And at that moment I couldn't help it, but just started to cry.
At that moment I realized, oh I'm back home.
Now I'm surrounded by plants that I still have to water once a week.
And while there's still a pain in my eyes, I don't hate it anymore.
I'm now own a place where people will come, and I will make them what I've all wanted for them to feel better.
I'm now surrounded by artists, musicians, photographers, dancers, and a bunch of cool people that like to do cool ####.
I created a small eclectic, dark, cool little bar that I can share with my family and friends.
At that moment I realized, it felt better back then.
It wasn't that hard.
Life was real and complete.
I'm now 44 years old going on 17 and I couldn't be happy about the place I am and the new family I got.
Thank you.

Barbara Colaciello:
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.
Yum.
[applause]
She's a Jacksonville native. Please welcome Hope McMath.
[applause]

Hope McMath:
So it's a few minutes after midnight and I am sitting on a bus that is not moving on a two-lane road somewhere in southern Alabama.
I'm sharing that space with 24 other folks from my city of Jacksonville.
We've just spent three incredibly intense, powerful days together in Montgomery.
We were there with the purpose of really visiting two sites.
One is the Peace and Justice Memorial, which is a place where we remember the victims of racial terror lynching.
The second site is a museum established by the Equal Justice Initiative that really focuses on American history as told through the arc that leads us from slavery to this moment of mass incarceration.
So to say the trip was heavy is an understatement.
The reason we're sitting still on this bus in the middle of the night is because it turns out there's an accident further up the road that has actually blocked the road.
And we can't get off of it.
So I look around at the people that I'm traveling with and after a couple hours of very boisterous conversation, things are starting to chill.
People are doing what you would expect them to do a little after midnight on a dark bus.
Some are napping, some are listening to music.
You can tell that some tell that some people are reading because you can see those little lights above people's heads that sort of go through the darkness and create a pool of light in their laps.
And I decide this is my moment to also chill a bit because I was one of the organizers on this trip and so I was obsessing with keeping the bus driver awake.
But at this point it didn't matter.
We had been there a while and it looked like we were going to be there a while longer.
So I did what I like to do anytime I can carve out a couple of extra minutes in the day and I pulled out my journal.
And I opened it up and put it on my lap.
And what I wanted to do was document the things I had seen, the people I had met, the conversations I had had, and of course to create that list of the things I wanted to do when I got home.
And before I began I took a deep breath and I looked out the window.
And it was pitch black, couldn't see anything.
And it was quiet because at this point everybody had turned the engines of their vehicles off.
And I was overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude really for the people who were on that bus with me.
Because for three days we had sat in circle together and people had shared their very, very honest lived experiences, especially as it intersected with race and racism.
And some of those folks were able to actually reach way back into their history and pull it forward so that we could all learn from their ancestors.
And that deep feeling of gratitude began to be swept away by something else.
And with this one, this second feeling, it's harder to describe.
All I know is my space in the bus began to feel a little smaller.
The air felt heavy, like a weight on my shoulders.
And there was almost like a crackliness in the air.
Whispers next to my ears, not of specific words that I could understand, but just something that had shifted.
It was not a comfortable feeling.
It actually was incredibly unsettling.
So much so that I looked around to the other people on the bus to see if they noticed that anything had changed.
And of course they hadn't.
And I decided it was time to start writing in my journal.
And now I felt like I needed to write about what I was feeling in that moment.
And when I looked down at my journal pages, the pages that were once blank, there were now two sentences written there.
I had no consciousness of having written them, but they were in my hand, so I had done it.
And the first line said, "Do your work."
And the second one said, "Figure out where you're from."
I was a little bit stunned, very confused, and uncomfortable.
But as I looked at that second line, "Figure out where you're from," when I think about my own history, it doesn't feel like it goes any further back than the 1970s in Arlington, where my sister and I grew up.
But neighborhood just right over the Matthews Bridge from where we are right now.
We grew up in a lower middle income neighborhood where the parents all worked really hard, and the kids played even harder.
It was joyful and fun.
It was also super diverse.
My schools and my neighborhood were places where black, brown, and white families lived hard together, took care of one another, where the neighbors' parents were also my parents.
In some ways, it didn't seem like we had a lot, and yet it felt like we had everything that we needed.
It was idyllic.
And as childhoods go, things began to sort of morph and change, and as my sister and I became teenagers, my father left the picture.
Now, this seems like a dramatic thing, but in some ways it was inconsequential.
He wasn't a huge figure in our home, but it was still a severing.
And that separation from him also meant a separation from his family.
And though we did not know them very well, not near as well as we knew my mother's family who lived in Ohio, it was still a separation.
It was also a separation from their history.
The fact is I had no idea who the McMath's were.
I knew absolutely nothing about that family.
And at the age of 16, 17, I could have cared less.
In fact, for most of my adult life, I didn't care.
So as life continued to throw its curveballs at us, I decided I was going to stay home for college, stay local.
And when I say local, I mean real local.
Like, I went to JU, which was like three blocks from where I grew up.
And I was fortunate.
I got a scholarship, a full ride, which was absolutely the only way I was going to be able to do it.
And I went to study art and art history, and it was terrific.
But there was something that was a little uncomfortable about JU.
There was a big class difference between me and my peers.
And it was also a place where absolutely everybody looked just like me.
Meaning it was very different than the neighborhood I had grown up in.
And that would actually set up a trend in my life, at least for a long time.
I started a career that ended up a 22-year career in an art museum here in Jacksonville, Florida.
It was sort of a dream job.
And when I got there, that place too seemed very exclusive, very closed, and very white.
But I still loved it, and I loved the people I was working with.
And I was around some people who were a lot smarter than me, who convinced me that as an educator and an artist,
I could actually be part of what would change that system.
That I could actually play some sort of role in creating a more just and equitable world.
That actually became my calling.
And at some point in my career at the museum, it became an obsession.
In my last couple years there, I began waking up every day thinking about how do I use this place I am working in,
this seat I am sitting in, to try to create real change.
Not just in the organization, but in the city that I loved.
Now, just because I was waking up every day obsessing about this, did not mean other people were.
In fact, you could say there was maybe a bit of the opposite.
So I began to recognize that if I was going to follow that authentic path that started to become such a driver for me,
that I was going to have to do it in a different way in a different place.
So I leapt out of that world that I knew so well.
And when I did, I leapt into, it seemed like nothing.
And then it started to take the shape of a little yellow house.
And that little yellow house is a place where art and activism and education and community and love and care get to play with one another.
And it's messy and it's fabulous.
And it's that work, the work I do with Yellow House, that put me on that bus in Alabama.
Well, that bus finally began to move.
And we pulled into Jacksonville at 5.30 a.m. in the morning.
And I was one of the fortunate few that actually got to go home, get a little bit of sleep.
But I'll tell you what, when I woke up,
all I could think about were those lines in my journal and all that I had learned.
And I decided it was absolutely time to get to work. There was no time to waste.
So in my pajamas still, sitting on my couch in my living room, I opened up my laptop and got to work.
And of course, the first thing I had to do was renew my membership with Ancestry.com, which I hadn't used in 10 years.
I have no idea why I ever even had it.
But now I had a purpose for it.
And to be honest with you, I really thought it would take a long time to find out anything about the McMath Clan.
And y'all, I was wrong.
(Laughter)
It did not take long. And it was kind of nasty back there.
As I was looking at my screen, and there were census records and newspaper articles and family trees and war records
and even historic photographs,
I realized that information had always been there. I just had never looked.
I began to be introduced to people in my family named Hachaliah McMath and Malachi and Elijah,
and a woman named Espy Turnip Seed McMath, like for real.
(Laughter)
I won't even tell you what she was up to.
(Laughter)
I also was introduced to an entire generation of young men who had fought and many of them died for the Confederacy.
This was really uncomfortable for me.
Because I'm one of those people who is much more interested in burning that Confederate flag and melting those monuments.
And now I had to face the fact that those people's blood was coursing through mine.
I also learned that I had ancestors who were writing Jim Crow laws to create a segregated society,
and they were doing so in Georgia and Mississippi.
And I knew, I just knew that the more I looked, that it was only going to get harder.
But I decided to keep to it.
And on the third day after returning from my trip to Montgomery, there it was.
A census record from one of my ancestors who lived in North Georgia.
And in addition to naming his wife and his sons and his daughters,
and the tools that he owned and the livestock that he had,
there was also a list of nine people who he had enslaved.
It made me sick.
And yet I wasn't shocked.
In fact, there had to have been a part of me that knew that was going to be there, which is why I had not looked.
And that nine people in that first census record I found has now turned into 423.
As I was discovering these stories about these people, I also was looking at places
and I had a little paper map where every time I found a place where the McMath family had lived,
I was putting little dots.
And on the fourth day after returning from Montgomery,
I put a little dot somewhere in Southern Alabama.
And it was in Henry County, a place I had never heard of.
But it felt so familiar.
So I pulled up Google Maps and I retraced the route we had taken from Montgomery
to Jackson, though only a few days before.
And there it was.
The spot where I had sat on that bus in the middle of the night for hours in the dark
was in spitting distance to a piece of property the McMath family had owned.
A place where they had had their children, where they had gone to church,
where they had farmed the land—correction—where the people they owned farmed the land.
And I realized that everything that happened on that bus had a completely different context now.
The fact is when I was looking out the window of the bus,
if I had been able to pierce through the darkness and see past the trees,
I would have seen that piece of land.
So what was it that created that shift in the air?
Was it that the ground recognized me, or that I recognized that ground?
Were those whispers that I was hearing breaking through that crackling, shifting air?
Were those people asking me to pay attention?
To maybe recognize that there were stories that had never been told about people who had lived there?
The fact is, I have no idea.
In fact, I have no idea what I'm going to do with any of this.
As an artist, I have started making art inspired by what I'm learning,
which is great because it gives me a way to process it, to live with it, and to share it eventually.
But I've decided that I don't need to have that big lofty goal.
That maybe the power in all of this is simply holding on to the truth.
For exactly what it is.
And to stare directly at her.
No matter how glorious she is or how wretched.
And I happen to believe that to heal requires truth to be an important ingredient.
And maybe, just maybe, by me looking at my own truth,
puts one more stitch in the repair that this world needs.
And if we all do a little bit of this, and we lock our arms together while we're doing it,
anything is possible.
So, I don't know where it's going, but I will tell you this.
I'm grateful for that trip to Montgomery and the people that I got to share that experience with.
And I am so glad that that damn bus stopped on that road.
It provided an opportunity, a pause, to feel the tug, and to hear those whispers.
And I am grateful that I listened.
Thank you.

Barbara Colaciello:
(Applause)
That was just wonderful.
Please welcome Matt Colaciello.

Matt Colaciello:
Hey!
I am on a makeshift dock on an island called Bao-Bao in southeast Sulawesi in eastern Indonesia.
A place I am certain no one in the city I grew up in probably has ever heard of,
because even in Indonesia, Bao-Bao isn't exactly a big destination.
Part of that maybe because it means bad smells.
We are about to carry our bags over a narrow, cut-in-half coconut tree log to board a boat.
I am a study abroad instructor, and I have twelve 18-20 year-old American students with me.
And we are boarding a boat that looks like it hasn't been surfaced since 1972.
And as we board and the students, all of whom are from America, not used to carrying luggage on their shoulder over a narrow log into a boat,
are all looking a little concerned.
And my co-worker, Sarah, says, "Okay, everybody, now remember, this is Fun Type B.
What we just did was Fun Type A, where we are getting to know people in another culture and making friends and dancing.
Fun Type B is the kind of fun well, that you learn from."
And I am thinking, "Okay, red at night, sailors delight, red in the morning, sailors warning, and it's the afternoon and the sky looks pretty much blue, so we're good.
We're not going to encounter a storm on our trip to Wangi-Wangi, the island eight hours away, which means good smells."
So we board the boat and everything seems okay. We give our students Dramamine and they wear their life vests along with everyone else on the boat.
And the Indonesians on the boat all sort of look around and say Insha'Allah, and we depart.
A couple of hours into the trip, lightning appears on the horizon.
And then, as the sky goes pitch black, the lightning is over us and it's pouring rain, and the ship begins to rock, and then sway violently back and forth.
And to everyone, including the Indonesians, who are very used to being on the sea, look extremely concerned.
I'm looking at the ropes with barnacles attached to them that connect the captain in the front, his steering wheel, to the rudder in the back.
And I'm thinking this cannot be safe, and this definitely is not Fun Type B.
As the storm gets worse, my students are clinging to one another, and my co-instructors, and to the mast of the boat, and one of our students gets violently ill.
And so I get up with her and cling to the side of the boat as she throws up into the ocean, and I hold her hair back.
And she's throwing up, and then she looks at me and she says, "When is this going to end?"
And I don't blame her because I am thinking the same thing. It is like, "Oh my God, are we going to die?"
And I'm suddenly asking myself before answering her question, "How the hell did I end up here?"
I am in a classroom in a Jacksonville public school. I'm in fourth grade, and it's my music classroom, which is my favorite place to be in school, because it's the one place where I don't have to be like a "boy boy."
I get to play music and sway my hips, which I'm always trying to find an opportunity to do.
And it's coming, you just wait.
And everything is beautiful in that space. But then someone like every day, multiple times, calls me a faggot.
And on this day, a little girl that I had stuck up for myself, she tells on that boy to our music teacher, and the teacher calls us both together.
And I remember so clearly looking up at her, as she said to the little boy next to me, "Don't you ever call anyone that" And I feel vindicated. I feel affirmed.
I'm like, "Thanks Desiree. You can tell on him any time you want."
But then she turns to me and she says, "That is the worst thing you can be."
And I just remember thinking, "I thought a murderer is the worst thing you can be."
But that was just one experience. I mean, this was a kind of daily experience. I have the words now to call it navigating heteropatriarchy.
But at the time, I was just a little boy carrying around a lot of shame.
When sixth grade came around and I was about 12 years old, two things happened. One was that my feelings of attraction began to happen, and they were for other boys.
And something intellectually made a connection in my mind, which is that that word faggot is a category, and that category accurately describes the feelings I'm having.
And so, of course, I spent my year of being 12 on the floor in my bedroom with my arms,
splayed out looking up at the sky — well, at the ceiling, but I had painted the sky on my ceiling, and crying, and asking God, praying to God, "Why did you make me this way? Why did you condemn me to hell? Why did you make it so that I have no future?"
It did. It seemed like a logical conclusion that if it was worse to be gay than to be a murderer, that I might as well murder myself.
And so I spent middle school and most of high school dipping in and out of suicidal thoughts.
But when you live with that feeling of existential threat long enough, yeah, it's there. It sits there inside of you.
But you also start to feel bigger than it. You actually, in its presence, start to feel a little bit fearless.
It's like the evolutionary part of us that lives in all of us, that part that drove us to change our circumstances from being monkeys to becoming humans wakes up inside of you and affects your individual person. And for me, it meant that I started looking for something bigger that I could identify with.
And the first thing I identified with was nature. Beautiful, rejuvenating, vital nature, which we have so plentifully in Jacksonville.
It had survived colonialism, strip mining, deforestation, dredging, pollution, and yet it lives here everywhere you go, coming between the cracks.
And that was how I wanted to be. And so I started taking walks in middle school and connecting with the sky and the trees and the Spanish moths.
And then I began to feel like I was connecting with my land-sestors, the Timacuan people. This was just like my desperate fantasy as a seventh grader.
And then the sun would set. And I would look into the sky and feel bliss. A bliss that was identifying with something bigger than me, something bigger than the culture and the religion that condemned me to hell.
And when the sun would set outside of the gaze of my peers and their parents, I started slipping my walkman into my pocket and putting on headphones.
I would listen to the music that my dad brought home. It was world music. I felt foreign to hear, so world music must be my music because foreign music was for a foreign boy.
And I became obsessed with Manu Chao, anybody, and I would go out to that field.
🎵 "Me llaman el desaparecido
Fantasma que nunca está
Me dicen el desagradecido
Pero esa no es la verdad" 🎵
I mean, this is me like at 13 years old, alone in the field in Jacksonville, like just like,
🎵 "Mm, mm, mm, mm, mm." 🎵
That was me evolving. But that only lasted so long because it started to hit my intellect as well, and I could not stay in school.
I wanted to read Howard Zinn. I didn't want to read the AP textbook about American history.
I wanted to know the meaning, truly, of what it was to be a colony.
And so, I came home to my parents and I said, "Look, I cannot be healthy in an unhealthy environment.
My mother loves to quote that quote." She said, "That's what you said. You have to tell that in the story."
I said, "I cannot be healthy in an unhealthy environment, and I am not learning about what I need to learn about to live in this world,
which is why we die and where the universe comes from."
And with a little prodding and a promise that I would figure out how to get into college, my parents said, "Yes."
So now I'm 15, and it's like the rest of my life has begun.
I walk into the public library like it is walking into the library at Alexandria, and I am so excited to go first to the cosmology section
and take out books about the Big Bang, where I discover that the cosmic radiation background means that we were all just energy once,
and there is no reason to categorize anyone in any way that creates any suffering because we were just energy, and we still are.
And then, I went to the religion section and took out books on Hinduism and Buddhism and Gnosticism and Indigenous mythology,
and I imbibed and imbibed and imbibed, and then I came home and said to my parents, "I have transcended my location.
I was in the library today, but I was time traveling and space traveling."
And then I graduated from high school, which was just a performance art show at the theatre, my parents,
the theatre that my mom worked at, where I sang,
🎵"They say, if you see the Buddha,
if you see the Buddha in the road,
you should kill him, but if I saw the Buddha, I would make love to him." 🎵
That was my graduation.
(Laughter)
And then I went to college, and this was my opportunity to get someone to pay for me to travel abroad.
So I got my work study job in the study abroad office, and I made best friends with everybody that worked there.
So that when my junior year came around, I got them to pay for me to go to West Africa, to Mali, to study with Griots.
Griots are people who combine sort of the work of a historian and a conflict mediator and a musician.
It was like, "Oh, well, that's what I want to do."
And so I went to Mali, and for a year I studied Bambra and dance, and the practice of the Griot,
which at the time the president of Mali had a musician who would come and help negotiate situations.
Over the course of the journey that I have been on, I have met incredible people, but one of them was named Daikone,
and he was the Griot that I studied with for a year.
And by study I mean just sort of riding around on the back of his motorcycle and going wherever he went
as he pulled out his Griot lute, which is called Angelion Goney, and he would pick at the lute with his long fingernails
and sing about the history of the people who were in conflict, make jokes about their ancestors, make very, very poignant points
because Daikone was the kind of guy that was laughing until he wasn't.
And he had something to say.
And I watched this man who was a musician who was effervescent, who was beautiful, who was always dressed in a silk indigo robe,
and no one was calling him "faggot."
He was just being his musical existential navigating self, and it was okay.
And I know it might sound strange, but it was in that place at that time when I was 22
that I finally stopped wanting to kill myself there in West Africa.
But from West Africa I had to go to India because I wanted to study that religion that says "concept and culture"
and even mythology, even the concept of God.
Those are empty.
What is is and what is is.
And that is all there is.
So I was like, "Yes, I want to make isness, my business."
So I went to India to live in a monastery, something I had actually been wanting to do since I was 14 years old.
I wanted to put on the robes and step outside of society.
I wanted to be in the liminal space.
I loved the word liminal when I was in my early 20s and interstitial.
I wanted to be in the spaces in between where I had always felt at home.
And I was.
I lived in this monastery in Bodh Gaya, the place where the Buddha,
and tamed enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
I would sit in meditation.
I would study texts in Sanskrit.
And at the end of my time in the monastery I decided to take a vow.
The Buddhist vow, it's called the Bodhisattva vow, to serve all beings and stay in your life
in the constant mission of trying to end the suffering of all beings.
Because it started to become clear to me that I could not just be my own teacher
or seek out other teachers for a one-on-one relationship.
That was really, really important and I needed it to heal myself.
But I had to also start to do the work to make myself a servant,
to make myself a teacher, and actually serve other beings.
So we all gathered under the Bodhi tree, me and the other students from the monastery,
and the teacher gave us our vows.
And he read a passage from a fourth century Buddhist scholar named Shantideva,
and basically described what this vow means.
That we should each be medicine for those who are sick.
That we should be a bridge for those who need to cross the river.
And that we should be a boat for those who wish to get to the other shore.
And I prayed hard to be given opportunities to do that.
And then, six months later, I got a job as a study abroad instructor in Indonesia,
a place I was wholly unqualified to be reading a study abroad program.
And I found myself on that boat from Bao-Bao to Wangi-Wangi, thinking,
"Maybe we're going to die."
But having had all this flash through my mind,
holding that student's hair back as she looked up at me, asking me,
"When is this going to end?"
I realized that this was precisely what I had asked for,
and precisely what I had been prepared to do.
And so I said to her in so many words, because, you know,
we were also actually really thinking we were going to die.
"I have navigated stormy waters,
and I have been under this dark sky.
And I have suffered the consequences,
gastrointestinaly of poor infrastructure in many countries.
And I promise you that no matter how painful this moment is,
you are going to find a way to turn it into a cause for your evolution.
And when we reach that other shore, it may even smell better, too."
Thank you.

Barbara Colaciello:
[Applause]
Thank you, Matt.

David Luckin:
The live performances of untold stories at the Florida Theatre
were originally recorded by Jeremy Moore and Eric Stansfield.
Saul Lucio is the technical director of the Florida Theatre.
The untold stories broadcast and podcast was produced by Brady Corum and Ray Hollister.
[Applause]
[Music]
(piano music)

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コンテンツは WJCT Public Media & the Florida Theatre, WJCT Public Media, and The Florida Theatre によって提供されます。エピソード、グラフィック、ポッドキャストの説明を含むすべてのポッドキャスト コンテンツは、WJCT Public Media & the Florida Theatre, WJCT Public Media, and The Florida Theatre またはそのポッドキャスト プラットフォーム パートナーによって直接アップロードされ、提供されます。誰かがあなたの著作権で保護された作品をあなたの許可なく使用していると思われる場合は、ここで概説されているプロセスに従うことができますhttps://ja.player.fm/legal
Untold Stories Podcast
Untold Stories. A WJCT Public Media and Florida Threatre Production.(Morgan Gesell, Rain Henderson)

In this poignant episode of "Untold Stories," recorded live at the Florida Theatre on May 6, 2022, we explore diverse narratives bound by themes of discovery, resilience, and transformation. The episode "There and Back Again, Part 2" presents three unique stories, each offering a window into the profound journeys of its storytellers.

Barbara Colaciello of BAB'S LAB meticulously curates stories, coaches the storytellers, and skillfully hosts and serves as master of ceremonies for the live events for each 'Untold Stories' episode.

Yhang Quintero, originally from Venezuela and now a Jacksonville entrepreneur, shares his harrowing yet inspiring journey through cancer. At just 19, Yhang faced a life-altering diagnosis that propelled him into a world of uncertainty and treatment. He narrates his experience with a blend of humor and depth, reflecting on his youthful days in Caracas, the vibrant cultural scene, and the drastic shift his life took post-diagnosis. Yhang's story culminates in his creation of Wildcrafters in Jacksonville, a non-alcoholic bar symbolizing his journey back home and his passion for community and wellness.

Hope McMath, a cultural leader and Jacksonville native, delves into her transformative experience on a trip to Montgomery, Alabama. She recounts the profound impact of visiting sites dedicated to the victims of racial terror lynching and the history of American slavery and mass incarceration. This journey leads Hope to a moment of introspection on a stalled bus in southern Alabama, where she confronts her family history, grappling with the revelation of her ancestors' involvement in slavery. Her narrative is a powerful testament to the importance of facing uncomfortable truths for personal and communal healing.

Matt Colaciello's story takes us on a global journey from Jacksonville to Mali, India, and Indonesia. Growing up in Jacksonville, Matt navigated challenges related to identity and belonging, which propelled him into a life of exploration and self-discovery. His travels and experiences abroad, including harrowing moments and enlightening interactions, shaped his perspective on life, leading to a deeper understanding of his purpose and place in the world. Matt's narrative is a compelling tale of personal evolution and the quest for meaning beyond one's immediate environment.

Together, these stories form an intricate tapestry of life experiences, showcasing the resilience of the human spirit and the unending quest for self-discovery and connection. Tune in to this episode of "Untold Stories" for an evening of emotional depth, laughter, and inspiration, revealing the power of storytelling in understanding our world and ourselves.

Content warning: This episode of "Untold Stories" contains a historical recount that includes the use of the word "faggot." This term is referenced in a personal story to authentically convey the experiences and challenges faced by the storyteller. We understand this term is offensive and hurtful. It is not used to promote discrimination or harm but rather to provide a truthful depiction of the individual's journey and the societal challenges they overcame. Listener discretion is advised.

Transcript

Please note that the following transcript has been generated by automated technology. While efforts have been made to ensure accuracy, there may be errors, inconsistencies, or deviations from the original audio. We encourage listeners to refer to the actual podcast episode for complete and accurate content. This transcript is provided for convenience and may not fully capture the nuances of the spoken word.

David Luckin:
Welcome to Untold Stories, a production of the Florida Theatre and WJCT Public Media.
Tonight's program was recorded May 6, 2022.
The theme, there and back again.

Barbara Colaciello:
Yhang Quintero

Yhang Quintero:
[applause]
Thank you
[applause]
Woo!
[applause]
It's Tuesday morning, and I wake up like every day, go to the bathroom.
[laughter]
I look down, and I notice something was different today.
My left testicle is a lot larger than the other one.
It doesn't hurt, it's kind of hard.
But I, you know, I went on with my day.
Didn't make up much of it.
Couple of days later, I talk to my mom, and we go see Hwanchu.
Hwanchu is a family friend that happens to be a neurologist.
Who knew they were both doctors?
[laughter]
I didn't.
Hwanchu checks me out, and immediately he gives me a diagnosis.
He says, "Yhang, you have a tumor.
We don't know what it is, but you have a tumor."
And he right away scheduled a surgery for the same night to remove that testicle.
Couple more days, mom and I go back to see Hwanchu to talk about the biopsy,
and surprisingly he tells me, it's cancer.
Here I am, I'm 19 years old, ready to eat up the world.
Having a great time in life, and what?
Now I have to put my life in pause and, you know, dive into this amazing, fun time,
which is cancer treatment.
Everything went so fast that I didn't even have time to get scared.
In fact, I felt that I needed to keep my family spirit up.
Everyone in my family, you know, when they hear the C word,
they kind of got in a little bit of a panic mode.
So, yeah, it was on me to, you know, make fun of everything.
And I really was having fun throughout my whole process.
It was a little scary, but even though it was scary,
it brought a lot of things into perspective for me.
You know, I realized then that the life that I had just started
a couple years prior to that was so awesome.
And now I have to adjust to it.
Think about a lot of sunshine,
greenity everywhere, fun, diverse, culture.
That was Caracas, Venezuela in 1994.
I'm 17 years old, long hair, pawnbroker.
I'm having a great time.
I scored a fake ID from a neighbor, and with that,
I landed a job at the coolest venue in the city.
Brooklyn Bar was a little bar, little eclectic,
loud, dark, smoky venue where you could go see
the best underground bands and any really act in Caracas.
There were some time international acts too.
Brooklyn Bar was actually known as the CVGV of South America.
Who of you remembers CVGV?
It was badass, right? I worked there.
So here I am in 17, I'm hot.
I'm having a lot of fun.
I spent a lot of nights in Brooklyn Bar surrounded by musicians,
photographers, dancers, poets,
all kinds of amazing artists, and we together had a community.
We loved to do things together. We hung out together.
We worked together. We loved to make cool #### happen.
That was our thing.
You know, after a while,
I started looking around my life and I realized I had a really cool life.
My life was full but simple. I lived with my grandparents at the time.
Mom Carolina, or grandma Carolina was my mom.
She loved plants. My house was full of plants everywhere.
It felt like we lived in the prime forest for a little bit.
She knew all about her plants. There was one thing that it seems like she never got.
It was how to water them. Because every side of it, you know,
every single side of it for years, I had to get up and water all her plants.
To the point that I started making up stories and leaving early,
6 in the morning, I'm out, so I didn't have to water the plants.
It was great though.
Carolina was a kindergarten teacher. She loved to paint and sing.
She really had this thing with nature.
Dad — Grandpa Marín — he was also a school teacher.
He was a man of faith, very, very involved in the community.
He was a healer. At the time, I didn't think much about this.
But every time anyone at the house got sick, he will go to the backyard,
get some herbs, and make us what he called "varao de monte."
Cool name, huh?
It was an herbal tea that he made with these plants and a little spices.
And every single time got the job done.
Somehow, he got us well.
Every time it tasted different, it was delicious.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was so good.
And that was my life. I live a really good life.
A year and a half has passed since I started my cancer treatment.
And now I'm in remission.
Yeah.
[applause]
I'm back in school. I'm back at Brooklyn bar.
I'm thin, bold.
I'm feeling sexy.
My birthday is coming up.
And I decided to take a trip to visit some friends up in the mountains.
So I grabbed my backpack and I headed to the bus station.
I'm standing in line, long line to get a ticket.
And this beautiful chick walks right by me.
Obviously, it was the normal thing to do in this situation.
I left my place in line and went to the other counter,
where she just got her ticket.
I asked the guy behind the counter, where was this bus going to?
And immediately without hesitation, I buy a ticket.
To an 18-hour bus ride, to a remote little town in the middle of the Amazon,
called Puerto Ayacucho.
That's how much of a hot #### I was.
Now I'm really feeling good.
That was a bold move. She's so sexy.
I'm going to talk to her.
And so I did.
I go over here, just sit her in the bench.
I sit next to her.
I show my ticket, introduce myself, and I say, "You know what?
I got this ticket because of you."
And I tell her, "Why?"
Really soon after, I found out that this gorgeous woman,
girl, who were about the same age, was a nun.
And this amazing story, an adventure I had planned already in my mind,
ended right then, before it even started, it's okay though.
Everything worked out.
We went on 18 hours.
I think we prayed about 42 times.
I faked to be asleep, through a couple of those prayers.
But she was super cool though.
18 hours later, we get to Puerto Ayacucho.
Goodbye now.
And I get out of the bus and I meet this guy, Juan.
There was a car parked right by the bus station with a hand-written sign
on the windshield that says "Taxi."
Very legit.
So I go there.
I tell him my story.
He immediately opens up the car.
"Come on, dude. I got you."
Takes me into town, introduced me to a few locals,
shows me around.ƒ
He takes me to a cool place to stay, affordable, safe,
and he tells me all the good places to go to have a really good rainforest experience.
Juan is awesome.
Juan introduces me to Natalia.
Natalia is the owner of this jungle expedition company.
I want to talk to her for a little while.
After a few hours talking, we both realize that she's the mother of this musician
that had played at Brooklyn Bar.
He's been living in Caracas to go to college.
And after playing a few times, he became a regular, and then my friend, Luis.
What are the odds?
I go home with my knight, and the next day, there's not a lot to do in this little place.
So the next day, I go back to the office to say hi to Natalia,
and she tells me she talked to Luis, but not before.
He didn't tell her that it was my birthday, and so he said, "Please, take care of him.
Show him a good time."
He doesn't know what he's doing. He wasn't even going there.
So she follow up to say, "Yhang, there is a five-day expedition to the jungle.
Are you in? You'll have to pay anything. It's already paid for. Come on."
Obviously, I say, "Hell yeah."
Went on, got excited, got my backpack, got up early.
Right early in the morning, go to meet the crew.
It's a small group of tourists, and two guys, and myself.
We board this canoe-looking boat.
It looks like it was made out of a really long and wide tree.
I wasn't sure if that thing was going to float, but we were all there.
And we take off.
Ramon is one of the guys.
Ramon is a Yanomami native, and he's well known around that area.
It's probably the best expedition tour guide there was at the moment.
He spoke a few different languages, super knowledgeable, cool guy.
And our first stop of this expedition was in his village.
He was bringing some supplies to his family, and then we were picking up Ramoncito.
His 14-year-old son.
We went on with our trip. Ramoncito blew my mind.
And that was probably the first really big lesson I had in my young age.
Ramoncito also spoke a few different languages, even though he lived in a village, in a remote village in the Amazon.
He walked around bare food, and he was being trained to be the next shaman of his village.
Ramoncito and I clicked it. He was my buddy the whole time.
Before I went back into town and before the trip was over, Ramoncito tells me,
at this point he already know my story and my cancer thing.
At one point Ramoncito tells me, "Hey, you were a man of medicine.
You need to do this."
And he tells me that his shaman is leading a ceremony back in town within the few days.
He's like, "I don't have details, but you go and you ask for it and you're going to find it."
And so I did what I was told. I get back to town. I was supposed to be heading back home, but I canceled that.
And I found the people that was hosting the ceremony, and I see it in ceremony.
His shaman came to town, and it was a Jopo ceremony. Anybody knows what this is?
Well, Jopo is a psychoactive or psychedelic, actually,
systems that is made out of a bark of a tree.
And shamans in the Amazon use this to connect to the earth and with the power up above.
This is how they find out where are the right medicines that they can take and give to the village.
And this is how they find out answers for the well-being of the village and the earth.
The job of the work of that shaman wasn't only to save people or heal people.
He needed to heal the earth, and that was pretty cool.
At that moment, I felt connected. For the first time in my life, I felt what my grandpa, Marín and Ramoncito were all about.
Now I understood whether what Appomonta was.
And now I know that plants know a lot more than we do.
I get back home, and you know, I'm inspired. I'm like, this is it.
Now I'm a man, a man of the jungle.
It's August of 2001.
My sister, Michelle, is in Venezuela. I never met Michelle.
I don't know her, but she's pretty cool. She couldn't speak English. I mean, Spanish. I couldn't speak English.
But somehow we communicated.
And she convinced me to come to the States and spend some time with her and my brother Johnny.
Obviously, I say yes. And within weeks, I'm there again, grabbing my backpack, filling, packing it up,
and getting ready to embark on this journey, but now to another country.
I come to Florida. Oddly enough, I moved to the town where I was born, Melbourne, Florida.
Never thought I was going to be there again.
Now I'm in the States and life is a little bit different.
My priorities, my goals have changed.
I made this beautiful, amazing woman, Melina, who then I married her and had the most amazing kid with my son, Lucas.
The American dream is in my mind.
I think everything that I ever wanted was there. I had it.
The life that most people back home and including myself thought was the perfect life.
I was living it.
But even so, even having that perfect life that everybody thought I was having, I kept catching myself thinking, is this it?
Am I going to be a good dog like this?
Why am I going to teach Lucas?
Am I happy?
The relationship with Melina ran its course. We end up getting a divorce.
You know how that goes? Life is a little shaky.
I then come to Jacksonville to visit a girlfriend, and I get a job offer.
So I say, "Yeah, why not?" "I'm going to Jacksonville."
I moved to Jacksonville and I immediately fell in love with this place.
It's diversity, culture, a lot of artists, a lot of things going on.
There is the sunshine and the nature. Somehow it feels a little bit familiar.
Jacksonville has given me probably the best gift I've ever gotten.
In Jacksonville, I found a family away from my family.
Some of you are here.
When I got here, I fell right in.
It was like the Lego piece, the puzzle piece got in.
A few months later, after a move here, I got invited to share a studio at CoRK.
There I got to meet and work and collaborate with musicians, artists, photographers, poets.
I have met some of the most interesting people here in Jacksonville.
I'm now a part of something that is a lot bigger than me.
I'm now a part of a community.
I'm hanging out with people, they love to work together and they love to get cool #### done.
I knew you were safe, I get invited to go to a dinner with some friends.
I show up to a restaurant right here in San Marco.
There's this guy sitting at the table.
Bearded guy, kind of long hair, serious looking.
Never seen this guy in my life.
He's a friend of a friend.
I don't know nothing about him and I sit down and introduce myself.
And the little that I know, this guy was going to be one of the most impactful person in my life from then on.
At the dinner table, he talks about this super powerful shamanic ceremony he just came from
and he immediately caught my attention.
Then after he started talking about a bunch of hippies, yoga, meditation.
I was like, you know, I kind of make fun of it a little bit as we were getting a little
boosie, you know.
I just brushed it off and we went and danced and had a great time.
I thought he was hitting on my girlfriend, I just let him be.
Well, exactly a year from that day, here I am, I just started my first yoga teacher training.
I'm learning meditation and I'm a goddamn hippie.
[Applause]
That exact day, a year later, Kyle Roberts, that guy.
And I sat together for the first time in ceremony with who is now our chairman, Julio.
At that moment, I found my place.
I found my medicine and I once again felt connected to this earth and to all of you, and I know
that sound hippies.
[Laughter]
From then on and through years of work with this medicine, I started receiving messages.
And one of them was that I needed to create this place, a safe space, where everybody could
come and hang out and connect through these plants and connect through nature.
That's how Wildcrafters was created.
[Applause]
Wildcrafters was a message receiving ceremony that then, with the help of a bunch of hippies, we manifested.
[Laughter]
And now, it's the place where people come to feel better, when people come to try and
a natural alternative to all these toxic options that we have had for years.
It's four in the morning, I'm standing in the middle of Wildcrafters, and I'm looking around
and there are plants everywhere.
I'm surrounding by an excessive amount of plants, just like I did when I was a kid.
I also look up and up in the wall there's a shelf that is holding a bunch of jars filled with herbs and teas.
And at that moment I couldn't help it, but just started to cry.
At that moment I realized, oh I'm back home.
Now I'm surrounded by plants that I still have to water once a week.
And while there's still a pain in my eyes, I don't hate it anymore.
I'm now own a place where people will come, and I will make them what I've all wanted for them to feel better.
I'm now surrounded by artists, musicians, photographers, dancers, and a bunch of cool people that like to do cool ####.
I created a small eclectic, dark, cool little bar that I can share with my family and friends.
At that moment I realized, it felt better back then.
It wasn't that hard.
Life was real and complete.
I'm now 44 years old going on 17 and I couldn't be happy about the place I am and the new family I got.
Thank you.

Barbara Colaciello:
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.
Yum.
[applause]
She's a Jacksonville native. Please welcome Hope McMath.
[applause]

Hope McMath:
So it's a few minutes after midnight and I am sitting on a bus that is not moving on a two-lane road somewhere in southern Alabama.
I'm sharing that space with 24 other folks from my city of Jacksonville.
We've just spent three incredibly intense, powerful days together in Montgomery.
We were there with the purpose of really visiting two sites.
One is the Peace and Justice Memorial, which is a place where we remember the victims of racial terror lynching.
The second site is a museum established by the Equal Justice Initiative that really focuses on American history as told through the arc that leads us from slavery to this moment of mass incarceration.
So to say the trip was heavy is an understatement.
The reason we're sitting still on this bus in the middle of the night is because it turns out there's an accident further up the road that has actually blocked the road.
And we can't get off of it.
So I look around at the people that I'm traveling with and after a couple hours of very boisterous conversation, things are starting to chill.
People are doing what you would expect them to do a little after midnight on a dark bus.
Some are napping, some are listening to music.
You can tell that some tell that some people are reading because you can see those little lights above people's heads that sort of go through the darkness and create a pool of light in their laps.
And I decide this is my moment to also chill a bit because I was one of the organizers on this trip and so I was obsessing with keeping the bus driver awake.
But at this point it didn't matter.
We had been there a while and it looked like we were going to be there a while longer.
So I did what I like to do anytime I can carve out a couple of extra minutes in the day and I pulled out my journal.
And I opened it up and put it on my lap.
And what I wanted to do was document the things I had seen, the people I had met, the conversations I had had, and of course to create that list of the things I wanted to do when I got home.
And before I began I took a deep breath and I looked out the window.
And it was pitch black, couldn't see anything.
And it was quiet because at this point everybody had turned the engines of their vehicles off.
And I was overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude really for the people who were on that bus with me.
Because for three days we had sat in circle together and people had shared their very, very honest lived experiences, especially as it intersected with race and racism.
And some of those folks were able to actually reach way back into their history and pull it forward so that we could all learn from their ancestors.
And that deep feeling of gratitude began to be swept away by something else.
And with this one, this second feeling, it's harder to describe.
All I know is my space in the bus began to feel a little smaller.
The air felt heavy, like a weight on my shoulders.
And there was almost like a crackliness in the air.
Whispers next to my ears, not of specific words that I could understand, but just something that had shifted.
It was not a comfortable feeling.
It actually was incredibly unsettling.
So much so that I looked around to the other people on the bus to see if they noticed that anything had changed.
And of course they hadn't.
And I decided it was time to start writing in my journal.
And now I felt like I needed to write about what I was feeling in that moment.
And when I looked down at my journal pages, the pages that were once blank, there were now two sentences written there.
I had no consciousness of having written them, but they were in my hand, so I had done it.
And the first line said, "Do your work."
And the second one said, "Figure out where you're from."
I was a little bit stunned, very confused, and uncomfortable.
But as I looked at that second line, "Figure out where you're from," when I think about my own history, it doesn't feel like it goes any further back than the 1970s in Arlington, where my sister and I grew up.
But neighborhood just right over the Matthews Bridge from where we are right now.
We grew up in a lower middle income neighborhood where the parents all worked really hard, and the kids played even harder.
It was joyful and fun.
It was also super diverse.
My schools and my neighborhood were places where black, brown, and white families lived hard together, took care of one another, where the neighbors' parents were also my parents.
In some ways, it didn't seem like we had a lot, and yet it felt like we had everything that we needed.
It was idyllic.
And as childhoods go, things began to sort of morph and change, and as my sister and I became teenagers, my father left the picture.
Now, this seems like a dramatic thing, but in some ways it was inconsequential.
He wasn't a huge figure in our home, but it was still a severing.
And that separation from him also meant a separation from his family.
And though we did not know them very well, not near as well as we knew my mother's family who lived in Ohio, it was still a separation.
It was also a separation from their history.
The fact is I had no idea who the McMath's were.
I knew absolutely nothing about that family.
And at the age of 16, 17, I could have cared less.
In fact, for most of my adult life, I didn't care.
So as life continued to throw its curveballs at us, I decided I was going to stay home for college, stay local.
And when I say local, I mean real local.
Like, I went to JU, which was like three blocks from where I grew up.
And I was fortunate.
I got a scholarship, a full ride, which was absolutely the only way I was going to be able to do it.
And I went to study art and art history, and it was terrific.
But there was something that was a little uncomfortable about JU.
There was a big class difference between me and my peers.
And it was also a place where absolutely everybody looked just like me.
Meaning it was very different than the neighborhood I had grown up in.
And that would actually set up a trend in my life, at least for a long time.
I started a career that ended up a 22-year career in an art museum here in Jacksonville, Florida.
It was sort of a dream job.
And when I got there, that place too seemed very exclusive, very closed, and very white.
But I still loved it, and I loved the people I was working with.
And I was around some people who were a lot smarter than me, who convinced me that as an educator and an artist,
I could actually be part of what would change that system.
That I could actually play some sort of role in creating a more just and equitable world.
That actually became my calling.
And at some point in my career at the museum, it became an obsession.
In my last couple years there, I began waking up every day thinking about how do I use this place I am working in,
this seat I am sitting in, to try to create real change.
Not just in the organization, but in the city that I loved.
Now, just because I was waking up every day obsessing about this, did not mean other people were.
In fact, you could say there was maybe a bit of the opposite.
So I began to recognize that if I was going to follow that authentic path that started to become such a driver for me,
that I was going to have to do it in a different way in a different place.
So I leapt out of that world that I knew so well.
And when I did, I leapt into, it seemed like nothing.
And then it started to take the shape of a little yellow house.
And that little yellow house is a place where art and activism and education and community and love and care get to play with one another.
And it's messy and it's fabulous.
And it's that work, the work I do with Yellow House, that put me on that bus in Alabama.
Well, that bus finally began to move.
And we pulled into Jacksonville at 5.30 a.m. in the morning.
And I was one of the fortunate few that actually got to go home, get a little bit of sleep.
But I'll tell you what, when I woke up,
all I could think about were those lines in my journal and all that I had learned.
And I decided it was absolutely time to get to work. There was no time to waste.
So in my pajamas still, sitting on my couch in my living room, I opened up my laptop and got to work.
And of course, the first thing I had to do was renew my membership with Ancestry.com, which I hadn't used in 10 years.
I have no idea why I ever even had it.
But now I had a purpose for it.
And to be honest with you, I really thought it would take a long time to find out anything about the McMath Clan.
And y'all, I was wrong.
(Laughter)
It did not take long. And it was kind of nasty back there.
As I was looking at my screen, and there were census records and newspaper articles and family trees and war records
and even historic photographs,
I realized that information had always been there. I just had never looked.
I began to be introduced to people in my family named Hachaliah McMath and Malachi and Elijah,
and a woman named Espy Turnip Seed McMath, like for real.
(Laughter)
I won't even tell you what she was up to.
(Laughter)
I also was introduced to an entire generation of young men who had fought and many of them died for the Confederacy.
This was really uncomfortable for me.
Because I'm one of those people who is much more interested in burning that Confederate flag and melting those monuments.
And now I had to face the fact that those people's blood was coursing through mine.
I also learned that I had ancestors who were writing Jim Crow laws to create a segregated society,
and they were doing so in Georgia and Mississippi.
And I knew, I just knew that the more I looked, that it was only going to get harder.
But I decided to keep to it.
And on the third day after returning from my trip to Montgomery, there it was.
A census record from one of my ancestors who lived in North Georgia.
And in addition to naming his wife and his sons and his daughters,
and the tools that he owned and the livestock that he had,
there was also a list of nine people who he had enslaved.
It made me sick.
And yet I wasn't shocked.
In fact, there had to have been a part of me that knew that was going to be there, which is why I had not looked.
And that nine people in that first census record I found has now turned into 423.
As I was discovering these stories about these people, I also was looking at places
and I had a little paper map where every time I found a place where the McMath family had lived,
I was putting little dots.
And on the fourth day after returning from Montgomery,
I put a little dot somewhere in Southern Alabama.
And it was in Henry County, a place I had never heard of.
But it felt so familiar.
So I pulled up Google Maps and I retraced the route we had taken from Montgomery
to Jackson, though only a few days before.
And there it was.
The spot where I had sat on that bus in the middle of the night for hours in the dark
was in spitting distance to a piece of property the McMath family had owned.
A place where they had had their children, where they had gone to church,
where they had farmed the land—correction—where the people they owned farmed the land.
And I realized that everything that happened on that bus had a completely different context now.
The fact is when I was looking out the window of the bus,
if I had been able to pierce through the darkness and see past the trees,
I would have seen that piece of land.
So what was it that created that shift in the air?
Was it that the ground recognized me, or that I recognized that ground?
Were those whispers that I was hearing breaking through that crackling, shifting air?
Were those people asking me to pay attention?
To maybe recognize that there were stories that had never been told about people who had lived there?
The fact is, I have no idea.
In fact, I have no idea what I'm going to do with any of this.
As an artist, I have started making art inspired by what I'm learning,
which is great because it gives me a way to process it, to live with it, and to share it eventually.
But I've decided that I don't need to have that big lofty goal.
That maybe the power in all of this is simply holding on to the truth.
For exactly what it is.
And to stare directly at her.
No matter how glorious she is or how wretched.
And I happen to believe that to heal requires truth to be an important ingredient.
And maybe, just maybe, by me looking at my own truth,
puts one more stitch in the repair that this world needs.
And if we all do a little bit of this, and we lock our arms together while we're doing it,
anything is possible.
So, I don't know where it's going, but I will tell you this.
I'm grateful for that trip to Montgomery and the people that I got to share that experience with.
And I am so glad that that damn bus stopped on that road.
It provided an opportunity, a pause, to feel the tug, and to hear those whispers.
And I am grateful that I listened.
Thank you.

Barbara Colaciello:
(Applause)
That was just wonderful.
Please welcome Matt Colaciello.

Matt Colaciello:
Hey!
I am on a makeshift dock on an island called Bao-Bao in southeast Sulawesi in eastern Indonesia.
A place I am certain no one in the city I grew up in probably has ever heard of,
because even in Indonesia, Bao-Bao isn't exactly a big destination.
Part of that maybe because it means bad smells.
We are about to carry our bags over a narrow, cut-in-half coconut tree log to board a boat.
I am a study abroad instructor, and I have twelve 18-20 year-old American students with me.
And we are boarding a boat that looks like it hasn't been surfaced since 1972.
And as we board and the students, all of whom are from America, not used to carrying luggage on their shoulder over a narrow log into a boat,
are all looking a little concerned.
And my co-worker, Sarah, says, "Okay, everybody, now remember, this is Fun Type B.
What we just did was Fun Type A, where we are getting to know people in another culture and making friends and dancing.
Fun Type B is the kind of fun well, that you learn from."
And I am thinking, "Okay, red at night, sailors delight, red in the morning, sailors warning, and it's the afternoon and the sky looks pretty much blue, so we're good.
We're not going to encounter a storm on our trip to Wangi-Wangi, the island eight hours away, which means good smells."
So we board the boat and everything seems okay. We give our students Dramamine and they wear their life vests along with everyone else on the boat.
And the Indonesians on the boat all sort of look around and say Insha'Allah, and we depart.
A couple of hours into the trip, lightning appears on the horizon.
And then, as the sky goes pitch black, the lightning is over us and it's pouring rain, and the ship begins to rock, and then sway violently back and forth.
And to everyone, including the Indonesians, who are very used to being on the sea, look extremely concerned.
I'm looking at the ropes with barnacles attached to them that connect the captain in the front, his steering wheel, to the rudder in the back.
And I'm thinking this cannot be safe, and this definitely is not Fun Type B.
As the storm gets worse, my students are clinging to one another, and my co-instructors, and to the mast of the boat, and one of our students gets violently ill.
And so I get up with her and cling to the side of the boat as she throws up into the ocean, and I hold her hair back.
And she's throwing up, and then she looks at me and she says, "When is this going to end?"
And I don't blame her because I am thinking the same thing. It is like, "Oh my God, are we going to die?"
And I'm suddenly asking myself before answering her question, "How the hell did I end up here?"
I am in a classroom in a Jacksonville public school. I'm in fourth grade, and it's my music classroom, which is my favorite place to be in school, because it's the one place where I don't have to be like a "boy boy."
I get to play music and sway my hips, which I'm always trying to find an opportunity to do.
And it's coming, you just wait.
And everything is beautiful in that space. But then someone like every day, multiple times, calls me a faggot.
And on this day, a little girl that I had stuck up for myself, she tells on that boy to our music teacher, and the teacher calls us both together.
And I remember so clearly looking up at her, as she said to the little boy next to me, "Don't you ever call anyone that" And I feel vindicated. I feel affirmed.
I'm like, "Thanks Desiree. You can tell on him any time you want."
But then she turns to me and she says, "That is the worst thing you can be."
And I just remember thinking, "I thought a murderer is the worst thing you can be."
But that was just one experience. I mean, this was a kind of daily experience. I have the words now to call it navigating heteropatriarchy.
But at the time, I was just a little boy carrying around a lot of shame.
When sixth grade came around and I was about 12 years old, two things happened. One was that my feelings of attraction began to happen, and they were for other boys.
And something intellectually made a connection in my mind, which is that that word faggot is a category, and that category accurately describes the feelings I'm having.
And so, of course, I spent my year of being 12 on the floor in my bedroom with my arms,
splayed out looking up at the sky — well, at the ceiling, but I had painted the sky on my ceiling, and crying, and asking God, praying to God, "Why did you make me this way? Why did you condemn me to hell? Why did you make it so that I have no future?"
It did. It seemed like a logical conclusion that if it was worse to be gay than to be a murderer, that I might as well murder myself.
And so I spent middle school and most of high school dipping in and out of suicidal thoughts.
But when you live with that feeling of existential threat long enough, yeah, it's there. It sits there inside of you.
But you also start to feel bigger than it. You actually, in its presence, start to feel a little bit fearless.
It's like the evolutionary part of us that lives in all of us, that part that drove us to change our circumstances from being monkeys to becoming humans wakes up inside of you and affects your individual person. And for me, it meant that I started looking for something bigger that I could identify with.
And the first thing I identified with was nature. Beautiful, rejuvenating, vital nature, which we have so plentifully in Jacksonville.
It had survived colonialism, strip mining, deforestation, dredging, pollution, and yet it lives here everywhere you go, coming between the cracks.
And that was how I wanted to be. And so I started taking walks in middle school and connecting with the sky and the trees and the Spanish moths.
And then I began to feel like I was connecting with my land-sestors, the Timacuan people. This was just like my desperate fantasy as a seventh grader.
And then the sun would set. And I would look into the sky and feel bliss. A bliss that was identifying with something bigger than me, something bigger than the culture and the religion that condemned me to hell.
And when the sun would set outside of the gaze of my peers and their parents, I started slipping my walkman into my pocket and putting on headphones.
I would listen to the music that my dad brought home. It was world music. I felt foreign to hear, so world music must be my music because foreign music was for a foreign boy.
And I became obsessed with Manu Chao, anybody, and I would go out to that field.
🎵 "Me llaman el desaparecido
Fantasma que nunca está
Me dicen el desagradecido
Pero esa no es la verdad" 🎵
I mean, this is me like at 13 years old, alone in the field in Jacksonville, like just like,
🎵 "Mm, mm, mm, mm, mm." 🎵
That was me evolving. But that only lasted so long because it started to hit my intellect as well, and I could not stay in school.
I wanted to read Howard Zinn. I didn't want to read the AP textbook about American history.
I wanted to know the meaning, truly, of what it was to be a colony.
And so, I came home to my parents and I said, "Look, I cannot be healthy in an unhealthy environment.
My mother loves to quote that quote." She said, "That's what you said. You have to tell that in the story."
I said, "I cannot be healthy in an unhealthy environment, and I am not learning about what I need to learn about to live in this world,
which is why we die and where the universe comes from."
And with a little prodding and a promise that I would figure out how to get into college, my parents said, "Yes."
So now I'm 15, and it's like the rest of my life has begun.
I walk into the public library like it is walking into the library at Alexandria, and I am so excited to go first to the cosmology section
and take out books about the Big Bang, where I discover that the cosmic radiation background means that we were all just energy once,
and there is no reason to categorize anyone in any way that creates any suffering because we were just energy, and we still are.
And then, I went to the religion section and took out books on Hinduism and Buddhism and Gnosticism and Indigenous mythology,
and I imbibed and imbibed and imbibed, and then I came home and said to my parents, "I have transcended my location.
I was in the library today, but I was time traveling and space traveling."
And then I graduated from high school, which was just a performance art show at the theatre, my parents,
the theatre that my mom worked at, where I sang,
🎵"They say, if you see the Buddha,
if you see the Buddha in the road,
you should kill him, but if I saw the Buddha, I would make love to him." 🎵
That was my graduation.
(Laughter)
And then I went to college, and this was my opportunity to get someone to pay for me to travel abroad.
So I got my work study job in the study abroad office, and I made best friends with everybody that worked there.
So that when my junior year came around, I got them to pay for me to go to West Africa, to Mali, to study with Griots.
Griots are people who combine sort of the work of a historian and a conflict mediator and a musician.
It was like, "Oh, well, that's what I want to do."
And so I went to Mali, and for a year I studied Bambra and dance, and the practice of the Griot,
which at the time the president of Mali had a musician who would come and help negotiate situations.
Over the course of the journey that I have been on, I have met incredible people, but one of them was named Daikone,
and he was the Griot that I studied with for a year.
And by study I mean just sort of riding around on the back of his motorcycle and going wherever he went
as he pulled out his Griot lute, which is called Angelion Goney, and he would pick at the lute with his long fingernails
and sing about the history of the people who were in conflict, make jokes about their ancestors, make very, very poignant points
because Daikone was the kind of guy that was laughing until he wasn't.
And he had something to say.
And I watched this man who was a musician who was effervescent, who was beautiful, who was always dressed in a silk indigo robe,
and no one was calling him "faggot."
He was just being his musical existential navigating self, and it was okay.
And I know it might sound strange, but it was in that place at that time when I was 22
that I finally stopped wanting to kill myself there in West Africa.
But from West Africa I had to go to India because I wanted to study that religion that says "concept and culture"
and even mythology, even the concept of God.
Those are empty.
What is is and what is is.
And that is all there is.
So I was like, "Yes, I want to make isness, my business."
So I went to India to live in a monastery, something I had actually been wanting to do since I was 14 years old.
I wanted to put on the robes and step outside of society.
I wanted to be in the liminal space.
I loved the word liminal when I was in my early 20s and interstitial.
I wanted to be in the spaces in between where I had always felt at home.
And I was.
I lived in this monastery in Bodh Gaya, the place where the Buddha,
and tamed enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
I would sit in meditation.
I would study texts in Sanskrit.
And at the end of my time in the monastery I decided to take a vow.
The Buddhist vow, it's called the Bodhisattva vow, to serve all beings and stay in your life
in the constant mission of trying to end the suffering of all beings.
Because it started to become clear to me that I could not just be my own teacher
or seek out other teachers for a one-on-one relationship.
That was really, really important and I needed it to heal myself.
But I had to also start to do the work to make myself a servant,
to make myself a teacher, and actually serve other beings.
So we all gathered under the Bodhi tree, me and the other students from the monastery,
and the teacher gave us our vows.
And he read a passage from a fourth century Buddhist scholar named Shantideva,
and basically described what this vow means.
That we should each be medicine for those who are sick.
That we should be a bridge for those who need to cross the river.
And that we should be a boat for those who wish to get to the other shore.
And I prayed hard to be given opportunities to do that.
And then, six months later, I got a job as a study abroad instructor in Indonesia,
a place I was wholly unqualified to be reading a study abroad program.
And I found myself on that boat from Bao-Bao to Wangi-Wangi, thinking,
"Maybe we're going to die."
But having had all this flash through my mind,
holding that student's hair back as she looked up at me, asking me,
"When is this going to end?"
I realized that this was precisely what I had asked for,
and precisely what I had been prepared to do.
And so I said to her in so many words, because, you know,
we were also actually really thinking we were going to die.
"I have navigated stormy waters,
and I have been under this dark sky.
And I have suffered the consequences,
gastrointestinaly of poor infrastructure in many countries.
And I promise you that no matter how painful this moment is,
you are going to find a way to turn it into a cause for your evolution.
And when we reach that other shore, it may even smell better, too."
Thank you.

Barbara Colaciello:
[Applause]
Thank you, Matt.

David Luckin:
The live performances of untold stories at the Florida Theatre
were originally recorded by Jeremy Moore and Eric Stansfield.
Saul Lucio is the technical director of the Florida Theatre.
The untold stories broadcast and podcast was produced by Brady Corum and Ray Hollister.
[Applause]
[Music]
(piano music)

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