Photos by Asia Morris.
One of the last speakers of the night sheepishly takes the stage and situates himself on a single stool with a mic in his hand. Looking out at an audience of maybe 20 or 30 attentive listeners, he gives a disclaimer that he’s not very good at speaking in front of others.
The soft spoken 29-year-old delves into a story that made him cry tears of joy, responding to Unassuming Collective’s prompt for a Tuesday evening of storytelling at the Long Beach Public Library’s main branch in downtown.
“He took me to an area where there were no streetlights and every house was starting to get more spread out[...],” Jared said, who was walking to his truck in San Bernardino when a man put a gun to the back of his head and told him to get in and drive. “While I’m driving, the whole time I’m thinking maybe I should try to go for the gun, be a hero, or just take him out, drive the car into a wall or something.”
The story ended with Jared safe and home in the arms of his family, shedding tears of joy and relief.
This was just one of the several moving experiences participants shared on November 7, who mustered up the courage to be vulnerable with a room of mostly complete strangers, and soon, an even larger audience with their words recorded and soon to be published on Unassuming Collective’s podcast for anyone to hear.
Long Beach resident Mariah Padilla, co-creator, host and creative director, alongside Alessandro Marquez, was inspired to record others’ stories about a year after her uncle had passed away.
Unassuming Collective co-creator Mariah Padilla.
Experiencing her own sense of loss and witnessing her aunt’s way of coping with it, Padilla started to notice that grief wasn’t just made up of sadness or isolation, but could be a way to bring people together.
“Looking at other people and realizing that they’re all going through hard times, too, and watching my aunt connect with people in front of her house—she was selling some of my uncle's things—and so she’s connecting with all these different people and they would share stories with her about their loss and connect over that and both sort of heal in a way. I just thought it was really inspiring and wanted to capture that,” Padilla told the Post.
So what began with Unassuming Collective’s first recording in September 2016 with Padilla’s aunt Joyce sharing her story, has become a way for locals to share and connect through different events, such as Tuesday’s open mic or through tuning into the podcast.
“The first story is kind of sad, that’s what I wanted though, I wanted to get on that deeper level and talk about things that people don’t like to talk about,” Padilla added.
The stories shared have been as comical and introspective as they have been heart wrenching, with the project embraced by those who come across it. Moving forward, Padilla says she feels a responsibility to continue producing the podcast and hosting these events after receiving such positive feedback, with listeners often sharing with her how they feel connected to certain stories. She wants to use the platform to create more opportunities for diverse people to meet.
“I want to have more diversity, I want different groups of people to interact with each other through this platform and so I’m always thinking of different projects to do through this podcast,” Padilla said. “I’m always thinking of new ways to grow it and make it more than just a podcast, to [make it] a movement.”
Learn more about Unassuming Collective via the website here.