I’m a storyteller. It’s in my blood. Storytelling was crucial to how my family related with one another. At an early age I set out to hone the skills of a raconteur. This tradition began with my maternal grandfather, a gangster raised on the streets of Manhattan’s Lower West Side and my paternal grandfather, a revolutionary fighter during the struggle for Ireland’s independence. Both prided themselves on their ability to entertain anyone who wanted to hear a well-told story.
Evening discussions at my family dinner table included passionate political conversations. Through these debates my parents instilled in me the importance of challenging the powers that exploit the weak. My parents were intellectually curious people but held strong anti-establishment and anti-academic sentiments. School was considered unimportant and a waste of time. So when coming of age, I was torn about considering higher education. Choosing the least resistant path, I stopped taking high school seriously.
I spent the next few years in the performing arts. I founded and participated in a break dancing company, which frequently staged performances throughout New York. We conceived and choreographed dance pieces depicting narratives of inner-city blight. This playful physical storytelling led me to appreciate the study of acting. I then joined a theatre company that produced several cabaret and Off-Off Broadway productions.
During my years as an actor, I supported myself by working as a construction laborer. I soon became proficient at carpentry, and began acquiring construction management skills. Over the next ten years I held positions such as construction foreman, site supervisor, project manager, construction consultant and proprietor of a general contracting partnership. I learned a great deal about the importance of oral and written communication, ethics, analytic and strategic thinking, business acumen and problem solving.
Although I was proud of my accomplishments in construction, I had further aspirations and craved intellectual stimulation of a kind that construction could not fulfill. I decided to reinvent myself as a solo world traveler. I was looking for exposure to other cultures and religions, to gain a deeper understanding of international affairs, and global economic imbalances. These travels changed my naiveté about the world into a mature awareness. Over the next ten years, I visited over fifty countries with the goal of spending a month or more per country in places such as Haiti, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, El Salvador, Cambodia, Jordan, Azerbaijan and Cuba. Traveling on a strict budget, I lived among some of the poorest people. Hearing stories from Ugandan priests, Nicaraguan rebels, Tanzanian fishermen, Peruvian traditional dancers, Moldovan college students, and Papua New Guinean tribal leaders, I became motivated by people facing great hardships who nevertheless were positive forces for change. Wanting to be a contributor to society, I realized I needed skills to do so. This meant breaking my family’s anti-academic legacy.
I went back to school and become a first generation college graduate, holding an undergraduate and graduate degree. I fully enjoyed the experience and gained a deep respect for the written word and was taught the ability to develop well-supported arguments. Gaps of knowledge from my prior self-learning were filled but more importantly I learned to think rather than just retain facts. Although I was always passionate about storytelling, it was in college where I realized that journalism suited me best. I could not have reached this conclusion any sooner. It has taken me years to develop the essential integrity I needed to pursue the truth.
The connecting themes of all these experiences now define me as someone who appreciates hearing and retelling powerful stories, a storyteller.
Matthew lives in Queens, NY with his wife Elisa and works as a videographer and photographer. He is currently writing a travel memoir told in the form of a radio story.