by Michael D. McCarty

Story Summary

Michael D. McCarty reflects on how he discovered the art of storytelling. Michael and several of his storytelling colleagues consider the impact of storytelling in schools, in prison settings and in the community.

Discussion Questions

  1. In 1992, Michael asked himself, "What would I do as a profession if I were independently wealthy?" and came up with storytelling as his choice. Why might telling stories rise to the top as his first choice? How would you answer that question?
  2. Michael said, “Yes” to facilitating a storytelling workshop before he knew for sure he could do it. However, he said that his mother had taught him that if he could read, he could do anything. How can reading support someone in taking calculated risks?
  3. When hearing Michael tell stories, a little 10-year-old girl was able to laugh even though she had recently experienced a tragic loss. Has a story ever lifted your spirits? How are stories able to uplift and inspire people?
  4. Michael says that storytelling in the prisons helps the inmates “free their minds.” Why would receiving acknowledgement and acceptance from their fellow inmates be important for these men? What difference could it make?
  5. Do you agree with Michael’s colleague, Eric Cyrs, that our “brains are wired for story”? How do stories help us “transcend who we are in one moment to become more in the next”?
  6. How do stories allow us see the “differences in cultures” as well as the “similarities”? Have you read or heard a story that helped you see how you were similar and different from someone of a different culture?


  • National Storytelling Network (NSN) – Storytellers across the U.S. and globe join NSN to learn their craft, attend the annual conference and contribute to the monthly magazine.
  • International Storytelling Center (ISC)– Based in Jonesborough, TN, ISC produces Storytelling Live! featuring a different professional storyteller every week for six afternoon performances April – October and the National Storytelling Festival where over 10,000 people gather to hear three days of stories (always the first full weekend in October).
  • Belonging in the USA: Stories from Our Neighbors – This excerpt “The Story of Michael D. McCarty” is part of an award-winning series of documentaries about America’s freedom fighters.
  • For a list of more storytelling organizations:
  • From Plot to Narrative by Elizabeth Ellis, Parkhurst Brothers Publishing
  • Story Twisting: A Guide to Remixing & Reinventing Stories by Jeri Burns & Barry Marshall, Parkhurst Brothers Publishing
  • Telling Your Own Stories by Donald David, August House Publishing
  • The Story Factor by Annette Simmons, Cambridge Basic Books


  • African American/Africans
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript
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Have Mouth Will Run It by Michael D. McCarty

MICHAEL: Greetings and Salutations! I’m Michael D. McCarty, Storyteller and I’ve been telling for stories for well over  25 years. I’m happy to be here with my friends from RaceBridges Studios. I have recorded quite a few stories on that site that you can go and see. But what you’re about to see is an excerpt from a 59 minute documentary of my life that was done by Legacy Connections Film. And it’s about the up, sideways and various things I’ve had in my life and the lessons I’ve learned. How I’ve learned to overcome obstacles and keep going.

Storytelling has a great power when it comes to sharing your experiences and allowing you to communicate and allowing people to see into your life, your culture and the things that have been meaningful to you.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt and be sure to check out a bunch of my stories on RaceBridges Studios because you’re going to love them!

(An excerpt from the film, Belonging in the USA: The Story of Michael D. McCarty, produced by Legacy Connections Film.

MICHAEL (to camera): In 1993, I met Joel Ben Izzy who was introduced to me as a professional storyteller. I was at CAJE, the Conference on Alternative and Jewish Education. (laughs) That’s another story.

I said, “You do what? People pay you to tell stories. How do you do that?”

And I proceeded to pick his brain.

And the next week I asked myself, “What would I do as a profession if I were independently wealthy?”

I said, “I’d tell stories.”

I said, “Okay, that’s what I’m gonna do.”

I went and got business cards printed up. I went to a library. I was living in Echo Park area of L.A. at the time. I started getting all these books about storytelling and this librarian, Anthony Bernier, says to me, “Why are you getting all these books?” He was helping me find books one day. “Are you writing a paper?”

I said, “No, I’m a storyteller.”

“You’re a storyteller? I’ve got these teenagers; they want to learn storytelling. Can you give me a workshop?”

I said, “Sure!”

And this goes back to my Mom. My Mom said if I could read, I could do anything. I can read my butt off.

So, I said, “Yes.”

I gave the workshop. It was a great success. I became a resource for the L.A. library system and, then, all the surrounding library systems. And, then, I met all these storytellers and storytelling groups. Been running my mouth around the country and around the world ever since.

Generally, we’re talking about performance storytellers. We’re talking about people who get up in front of a group of people on a stage or at a school and tell stories. Not read them. Tell them.

MICHAEL (telling to students): So, you know I call this story, “That’s My Baby.”

When my daughter was born it was very, very clear that there were certain things she had inherited from… moi!

CARLA McCARTY (Michael’s daughter): I teach seventh and eighth grade. He comes every year. He tells to my students and they remember it

“I would like to introduce to you guys… my Daddy!”

There’s a childlike quality about him that, you know, an excitement for life which children have and I think, so often, adults lose. His storytelling is unique.

BARBARA H. CLARK (Professional Storyteller): He is so enthusiastic and the one thing I know is he is thoroughly enjoying it.

MICHAEL (telling to students): In the middle of her junior in high school year, she got that attitude.

BARBARA H. CLARK (Professional Storyteller): But that’s Michael. And because of that he is popular with children.

MICHAEL (telling to students): Young man, I’m going to give you a tip that may save your life…

MICHAEL (to camera): For several years, I would do a program over at Dorsey High School.

Most of the kids were Black and I would go there and tell stories. And most of these boys didn’t read and this teacher would have the kids write me thank you notes. And one of them wrote. One of the boys wrote, “After listening to your stories, I decided I’m going to be a reader.”

I was doing a program at a school and I’d just done an assembly. The room had cleared except for one fourth grade girl. She was 10 years old. And she comes up to me she says, “Mr. McCarty, I want to thank you for your stories. They made me laugh. I haven’t laughed in a long time. Thank you!”

She left and I’m blown away by this. The principal came in and I told her about this encounter. She said, “Oh. That little girl’s father committed suicide a few months ago.”

So, for that little girl on that day being able to laugh that was, that was worth it.

One of the things that is on the wall of my office it says something like, “If you’ve made a difference in the life of one child you’ve lived a successful life.”

MICHAEL (telling to students): Willy put the deadbolt lock across the door, sat down at the piano, started playing those special tunes for Jamie Sue. You know what I’m saying?

MICHAEL (to camera): There are three aspects. There’s the prisoner work. The work I do in schools work. And the work I do in libraries. People innately know stories, but they need encouragement. They need some guidance and direction. And they need to be allowed to tell.

So, I create the space. I listen and I encourage. And I give them the prompts and tools that they utilize to get to their stories.

MICHAEL (to camera): Ha, The Story Bag, a bag full of miscellaneous objects. For instance, you pull something out of the bag and I tell them, “You have to tell the story regarding the thing that you pull out of the bag and the thing that you pull out of the bag can be anything that you want it to be.”

I got all kinds of wacky things in here. I got rats and a winged cow. I got to remember get a new one of these. A bookworm.  My three-eyed alien. A noisemaker. Little Buddha with a telephone and a cup of coffee.

But, then, there’s this one. So, this was my very first session at one of the prisons. I had seven guys in the class. The last guy to come in was this brother who was buff. He had a very stern look on his face. And everybody’s doing the story bag and folks are laughing and applauding and he’s just sitting there… (Michael makes gruff face.)

When it was his turn, he pulls this out. This is the story he tells:

I called my wife. My son answered the phone. I say, “Go get your Mama.”

He says, “She in bed with another man, Daddy.”

“How you know there’s a man in there?”

I heard him in it. I look up through the door. I saw his bare feet crossed, his ugly feet. They ugly, Daddy.”

“Well, go get your Mama.”

 A few minutes later… “Hey, Baby.”

“Don’t ‘Hey-Baby’ me. Who that man in the house?”

“Well, Baby, now I’m able to send you money to the prison.”


“And I’m able to keep the house and send the kids to school…”


“Well, listen, this is the man help me doing that.”

“Well, why barefoot? Put some socks on his feet. He might catch cold.”

And then he laughs. He laughs this big laugh and the whole room falls out because we didn’t see it coming. We didn’t see it coming. So, the Story Bag allows them to free their minds.

I love the prison work because I bring something to these guys that can have an effect on various aspects of their lives – how they communicate with their families, how they communicate with the parole board.

I empower these guys, bring them something that will help them in their lives whether in prison or out. As one of my friends said jokingly, “Michael, you were made to go to prison.”

And I was.

It was in ’93. I believe a friend of mine she contacted me and said, “I’ve got a thousand dollars left over for this grant to do a workshop at a Boys and Girls Club in Long Beach. Do you want it? Every class you tell a story, you get a book.”

And I used the grant money to buy these books. There are bookstores that give me books or give me discounts. There are library friends’ groups that know what I do that give me books. And, so, I give away books. I give away books. I give. I give away a couple of thousand dollars’ worth of books every year.

MICHAEL (telling to students): That night getting drunk he thought, “How can they treat me like this? They’re slave owners, too!” All of a sudden, his rant was intruded upon by a very faint sound.

ERIC CYRS (Professional Storyteller): For me, storytelling is about transcendence. If you go to the depth of storytelling, it’s about transcending who you are in one moment to become more in the next. I mean, we use stories to sell products. We use stories to change direction of the way people think politically. We are story creatures. Our brains are wired for story.

MICHAEL (to camera): Stories are a way to broaden your horizon. You can see through someone else’s eyes into another culture. You can see the differences in the culture, and you can see the similarities. And it’s an amazing thing that can happen.

ERIC CYRS (Professional Storyteller): Stories open us up in ways that nothing else will.

MICHAEL: I hope you enjoyed this segment from Belonging in the USA; The Story of Michael D. McCarty. and I hope you’ll got to the RaceBridges site and check out some more of the stories that I’ve done there. And, at the end of this film, you’ll see the information where you can sign up to find out where my documentary and other Legacy films will be shown. And that’s the end of that.