“There are important stories that we should all get a chance to hear that exist outside of a profit model or news cycle.” This thought is what led Colorado Public Radio’s (CPR) community audio producer, Luis Antonio Perez to create and host CPR’s newest podcast, My Story So Far.

My Story So Far highlights underrepresented communities in Colorado and with a live audience, tells intensely personal stories of the indomitable human spirit. The six-episode podcast invites these Coloradans to share their stories and truth, which is then made available wherever you listen to podcasts. 303 magazine talked with Perez to hear the story behind the stories that you’ll hear, as well as why it is important that each one is told.

My Story So far, CPR, PODCAST, Luis Antonio Perez

Photo Courtesy of CPR My Story So Far

The first episode of My Story So Far became available on March 23 and focuses on David and Ashley, two formerly incarcerated Coloradans as they tell their stories of navigating a new world and rebuilding their lives. It all started when Perez got in touch with Remerg, a connector organization. “When you just get out of prison it is very disorienting, you don’t know where to go, or what to do,” says Perez. “You know that there are resources, but it’s hard to find them. Remerg connects folks who need services with the people who provide them.”

Perez asked if they would be interested in a storytelling event. They said yes and everyone got to work.

Though it’s almost impossible to tell, for most of the speakers on the podcast, this was their first time telling this story to an audience, so Perez used his background in storytelling to help coach them. “It sounds cliche, but everyone has a story,” shared Perez. “When going into these coaching sessions with them, I’m trying to unlock the expertise that already exists within them. I tell people you are an expert in storytelling, you’ve been consuming stories your entire life. It’s all already in there, you know what a good story looks like.”

Once the narrative was refined, the Tattered Cover on Colfax lent their basement as a creative space, and a small audience was brought together of allies and other formerly incarcerated Coloradans. The event was held and recorded — being turned into the first episode.

My Story So far, tattered Cover

Photo by Hart Van Denburg, Courtesy of CPR and My Story So Far

The rest of the episodes focus on different communities in Colorado, two episodes focus on those who lost their homes in the Marshall Fire, with a particularly tense narrative of a local rodeo queen saving as many horses in the area while battling the evergrowing inferno.

One episode focuses on YEBO, a non-profit working to amplify youth BIPOC voices through podcasting and media. Perez stated the importance of being able to hear these different stories, “There’s nothing that connects you to another person more than hearing them tell a personal story.” Each one told in the podcast challenges listeners to look at the world through another set of eyes. Even when you think you have nothing in common with someone, hearing their tale can help us to realize we all call this state home, and a little understanding can go a long way.

Photo by Hart Van Denburg, Courtesy of CPR and My Story So Far

Perez has been involved in the storytelling scene for a while now, telling 303, “In my hometown of Chicago about 10 years ago, that particular style of performance was really growing. I was able to be a part of that movement to help popularize this style of event. We didn’t invent it though.” In 2020, Perez started work for CPR in the audio innovation studio department, where he is the community audio producer

His main focus is building new initiatives to connect Colorado communities and bring more storytelling to the non-profit. Besides sharing these stories with the public, the live events themselves have a different purpose. “I did not want it to be extracted,” says Perez. “I wanted it to be collaborative and useful for that community. I wanted it to be a service. Even if we never do anything with the tape itself, I want the event to be a service.”

Thankfully, every community was happy to take part in the project. Perez and his team then met with mental health professionals from the Marshall community — a transformation for the project. “These folks who have insight on the state of mental health in the community were really useful,” says Perez. “Then we were able to approach it with a trauma-informed approach, where we have a better idea of what these folks are going through and can approach the event and community with more sensitivity, more empathy, more compassion and it worked out.”

New episodes of My Story So Far will release every other Thursday after March 23. To stay up to date with Perez and his team, you can visit the community audio at CPR.