Crisis happens in people’s lives every day. There is a brief moment between when it hits and when the story of what happened gets told. Storytelling is not neutral; it absolutely matters who is doing it. The 24-hour news cycle thrives on gross generalizations and sensationalism. Mainstream media lacks awareness and on how to humanely engaging with impacted and marginalized communities.
So-called pundits on prime-time TV seldom represent the communities they’re reporting on—thus, the narratives and solutions they offer are limited and sometimes even antagonistic.
Allowing such people to pontificate on solutions has become the norm. And it has an impact. It ensures that we miss opportunities to intervene, address, and eradicate bias. It ensures that we miss opportunities for much-needed empathy, which allows us to clearly see our shared and specific struggles. Time and again, from this place of sidestepping human suffering, policymakers have implemented ineffective policies and stoked and increased interpersonal racism. The accepted narratives remain unchallenged, and we find ourselves no closer to a solution.
This is why we must diversify the faces of our experts and those who are routinely featured on television and radio, and in print media. Those discussing and intervening on important, polarizing issues that impact marginalized communities must engage with actual solutions, from a human-centered place.
Significantly reducing bias and creating lasting transformation requires a disruption. Shifting understanding means changing perception, communication, and connection. This process of changing our narratives must be accompanied by support for building the social, economic, and political power of marginalized communities.
The 2018 Black Mama’s Storytelling Fellowship
Channel Black is a diverse multiracial collective that supports many groups and populations across the U.S. 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. 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 cohort of Channel Black is The Black Mama’s Storytelling Fellowship. 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.
The Black Mama’s Storytelling Fellowship 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, and in the media.
Together, we are democratizing the process by which we make meaning of our world: We are changing the story and the storyteller.
When it comes to family, a unit by which the health of our nation is measured, poor unmarried Black mothers—long labeled “welfare queens”—have been disproportionately demonized, shamed, and attacked. In the American hierarchy of family, a Black mother’s circumstances, choices, and story are cast as moral failings in need of punishment and correction.
This program gives voice to the impacts of bad governance, and how they impact Black women’s lives. By taking into account the histories, experiences, and cultural nuances of Black women, 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 democracy. Through them, we are closing an increasingly widening gap of access to media representation and visibility.
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