Real events happen in people’s lives every day. There is a short moment between the time when a crisis or event occurs and the time when the story of what happened is told. It absolutely matters who is doing the storytelling. Mainstream media lacks real pathways to humanely and civilly engage with impacted and marginalized communities. Pundits and talking heads on prime-time TV who discuss the experiences of people are often non-representative of the communities they’re reporting on and therefore have a limited range of narrative and solutions.
Allowing people who don’t come from specific communities to tell the stories of those communities and pontificate on solutions they assume are best has a far-reaching impact. This has become the norm: pervasive and clearly missed opportunities to intervene, address, and eradicate bias. Time and again, from this place of sidestepping human suffering, negligent policymakers have implemented ineffective policies, stoked and increased interpersonal racism, and wasted valuable taxpayer dollars fomenting unrest.
We are diversifying the faces of people identified as experts and featured on television, radio, and in print media discussing and intervening on important and polarizing issues that impact marginalized communities.
Significantly reducing bias and creating real and lasting transformation in human behavior requires an ideological disruption—an intentional cognitive intervention and shift that crosses the threshold of empathy and understanding to change perception and thereby change interpersonal communication and connection.
The work of Channel Black is crucial to building trust with the new American electorate. To have a fair discussion among more of us, we have to highlight the voices of a diverse, and often under-heard, population. Besieged by a landscape in which “fake news” and “alternative facts” have fomented suspicion and willful ignorance among a large sector of our population, we are aiming to back up our work with thoughtfulness and critical attention to the true forces that keep us divided.
We are also increasing support for building the social, economic, and political power of marginalized communities.
This year we are focusing on Black women leaders, specifically, those who are mothers or who have lost their children to violence. Black women are the highest and most reliable voting bloc in the United States. With the midterm elections approaching, we are preparing a cohort of Black women leaders to intervene on long-standing narratives that impact the earning potential, education, and life spans of Black people from coast to coast.
The 2018 Black Mama’s Storytelling Fellowship
The Black Mama’s Storytelling Fellowship, the 2018 cohort of Channel Black, democratizes the process by which we make meaning of the world we live in—we change the story and the storyteller. Our iterative training program positions Black mothers to shift public narratives by giving them the tools to identify, craft, and share their stories, perspectives, and analysis in their communities, as well as in the media.
This project emerged out of a collaboration between Mia Birdsong and Shanelle Matthews, activists with expertise in communications who work to build empathy for, and power in, Black communities in order to decrease the external and internal discrimination Black people experience.
When it comes to family, a unit by which the health of our nation is understood, unmarried, poor, Black mothers—long labeled “welfare queens”—have been severely and disproportionately demonized, shamed, and attacked. In the American hierarchy of family, her circumstances, choices, and story are cast as moral failings in need of punishment and correction. This program democratizes the voices that shape our understanding of the impacts of bad governance. By creating a program rigorously designed with the histories, experiences, and cultural nuances of Black women in mind, we can prepare a cohort of mothers, citizen voters, and culture shapers to redefine the narrative about America and its most important protagonists.
With an uptick in the police killing of Black people, a resurgence of public racism, and continual undercutting of laws put in place to prevent discrimination, these women know best how to frame stories of justice and the future of America democracy. Through them, we are closing an increasingly widening gap of access to media representation and visibility by celebrating and uplifting the voices of a broad and diverse array of people, activist, and advocates. These voices and experiences are necessary to inspire an unobstructed national dialogue about anti-Blackness, transphobia, and racism, and to ensure a fair and just democracy.
Channel Black was incubated in the Black Lives Matter Global Network with support from the Movement for Black Lives and is now housed at The Rockwood Leadership Institute. The project was conceived of by Shanelle Matthews with support and vital feedback from many people.
Photographer, Sasha Matthews of Green Tangerine Photography