I began my first experience with the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers full of apprehension for what the night might hold. My nervousness was quickly relieved by a beautiful and lively performance by Foxtrot Ball Room Champions, Pamela More and Kevin Collins. With a smile already on my face, Satori Shakoor, our guide for the night, danced her way up on stage to introduce the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers to the night’s virgins. Being a “virgin” to storytelling myself, I had no idea what I was in for when Tim Elorby made his way to the stage.
Tim began his story with an experience he had with an older woman at a coffee shop he worked at. The woman’s advise to marry his best friend effected Tim profoundly and he ended up married three years later to a woman he thought was his best friend. This marriage failed after many complications and his inability to follow his creative dreams. The cycle repeated once more and it finally hit him that his happiness would be found in his creative pursuits and children. After Tim’s story, the theme of the night “Break Downs, Ups, and Th rough” began to take hold in me as I felt for Tim and the major life changes he had the courage to make.
Next to share his story was the impeccably dressed Shawn Jenkins. A native to Detroit and a motivational fitness instructor, Shawn recounted the long and twisted road to becoming the success he is today. Shawn began his journey as an aspiring actor in Los Angeles, and in a funny twist of fate, Shawn found himself with a traffic ticket and had to preform community service at the YMCA. There , he was introduced to the high energy world of fitness. Not long after Shawn was told of his father’s bleak encounter with cancer. He then recieved a phone call one afternoon, and prepared himself to hear the worst of news of his father’s condition. As Shawn stood on stage, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for his next words, seeing the visible pain on his face. He began pounding his heart and let the words slip that it was not his father the call was about, but his little brother who had passed. It was as if the whole audience had been struck with the same shock and grief Shawn had felt that day. Shawn then went on to his break down. He left the fitness world for a time and began doubting his faith, until one day he realized that everyone has gifts and that he would find happiness once again in his own gift of helping others in their pursuits.
Feeling almost completely drained from the heart-wrenching stories I had just experienced, Dr. Bob Pizzimenti came to the microphone with bright aura and funky feathered hat and swept the audience up into his life adventures through the U.S. and Ireland. Dr. Bob, a holistic chiropractor of 30 years began his journey studying in South Carolina and then to Dublin, Ireland. His time in Ireland forever changed his perspective on healing and brought his experiences back to the U.S. Through many wives and challenges to open his own practice in Michigan, Dr. Bob connected his perception of healing to his spirituality and came to the belief that nothing is wrong with an individual when he or she is sick, but just unbalanced and he or she can regain that balance through holistic practices. Dr. Bob brought the ideals of community and health to his current practice and became the beloved “Robert in the Hood”. Dr. Bob’s story took the audience through not just the surface trials and tribulations of opening his own holistic chiropractor’s office, but also the ups and downs of his personal connection with his work, passions, and community.
After a short break, the audience was greeted by the lovely Lady D and her accompaniment, Larry Johnson. Lady D sang a soulful rendition of Cry Me A River by Ella Fitzgerald that left me hanging off the edge of her every note.
After a wonderful musical relief, Lavender Spirit made her way to the spot light in a gorgeous hijab. Lavender spoke of her experience as the wife of a minister in the Nation of Islam and the conflicts she felt trying to fulfill her obligations as a sister of the Nation of Islam and still trying to keep true to herself and her family. Lavender Spirit referred to all the issues in her marriage as a leak in the roof and instead of addressing those issues, she would just put a bucket under each leak. Eventually, Lavender had so many buckets sitting in her life, that she could barely function. She came to terms with her many roles as wife, mother, and sister after a retreat to help her sort out the “leaky buckets”. Although her and her husband divorced, she was able to find her true self and reinvented herself as “Lavender Spirit”. Lavender found her place and happiness ultimately in her children.
After taking a breather from Lavender Spirit’s touching journey, the audience was introduced to AJ O’niell, owner of Detroit Bold Coffee and holder of the Guinness World Record for the longest concert. AJ’s road to coffee shop owner began with a roofing business he created to employ not just himself, but his brother as well. AJ’s roofing business went well for 20 years until one day, a storm was approaching and a gust of wind swept AJ off of his ladder from three stories up. After his recovery, AJ tried to go back to roofing, but found himself going into the cafe business with a shop in Ferndale. Business was slow so he decided an open mic night would help bring in more people. The event became a weekly tradition where AJ would routinely sing Danny Boy for his patrons. The idea then came that AJ would go for the Guinness world record for world’s longest concert by multiple artists. The coffee shop held a 50 hour marathon of Danny Boy and the coverage that AJ’s cafe received earned it the title of “The coffee shop that bailed out the auto industry, one cup of joe at a time.” AJ’s cafe has since closed it’s doors, but Detroit Bold Coffee lives on as the Detroit working man’s joe.
AJ O’neill’s story of his break down and eventual break through to not only be a successful business owner but a pillar in his community in it’s time of need was inspiring.
As the night came to a close, I reflected upon my first experience to the art of storytelling and found that I felt uplifted. Listening to the lives of other people and feeling their emotions with them was truly an experience that was like none other. I went home feeling cleansed after a night full of laughter, tears, sorrow, and joy and an excitement for my next time with The Secret Society Of Twisted Storytellers. You can bet that I will be at the Charles H. Wright Museum on Friday, May 15th to indulge once again in the beautiful stories the night will have to offer.
Article by Jenna Priest / GreeningDetroit.com’s resident Historian, who also helps to write afterglow stories for Greening Detroit events. She can be contacted via Email at: Jenna@GreeningDetroit.com