Gary Stephenson, a Jamaican farmer-vendor with no storytelling experience, was named the Best Storyteller in Jamaica at the second annual “What’s Your Story, Jamaica?” competition. Stephenson took home the $375,000 first prize for his story, “Lockdown During COVID,” which describes being threatened by residents in an inner-city neighborhood after a woman falsely accused him of attempting to abduct her. Stephenson’s story was selected from about 200 entries to the 2023 competition, many more entries than in 2022.
Wendy Stephens, the second-place winner, received a prize of $225,000 with her story about how her extended family grew rapidly when she experienced a surprising bond with the family of her long-lost daughter and with the family of her newly discovered granddaughter. The $150,000 third prize went to Curly Roberts for her story, “My Race,” a story about participating in a 400-meter school race without doing the training for it.
The rules for the “What’s Your Story, Jamaica?” are quite simple: people submit a sox-minute videotape of themselves telling a true story about something that happened to them. The winners receive their prize cheques from Debra Ehrhardt, a Jamaican actress, storyteller, and producer based in the United States, and Dr. Basil Kong, president of the Heart Institute of the Caribbean Foundation.
According to Ehrhardt, this second year of the competition distributed almost $1 million in prize money. The awards show is filmed, and several Jamaican organizations use the tape to raise money in the United States for their schools in Jamaica. The competition’s first staging was sponsored by Dr. Kong, but the 2023 prize money was provided by Jamaican organizations, individual Jamaicans in the US, and Americans who had seen the first contest.
Ehrhardt is the author of five plays that comprise many true stories. Describing her philosophy of storytelling, Ehrhardt said that sharing stories can promote understanding between people regardless of their differences and serves as the basis for building stronger communities. People have been telling stories forever, she said, because they “help us to understand ourselves and others and also remind us that we are not alone in the world.”