Who is YOUR Hero? CultureSHIFT Regional Academy & the Power of the Story

Published on October 10, 2014 | Written by
Image shown by Line Break Media from Nicky Case

Image shown by Line Break Media from Nicky Case

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Center for Media Justice’s regional workshop on using arts and storytelling as strategy in communicating your work. Organized in collaboration with the Organizing Apprenticeship Project, and co-facilitated by Eleanore Wesserle from Line Break Media, the academy had a strong local focus that kept the tools and strategies relevant to the work being done in the Twin Cities. As one of two full-time communication staff members at Youthprise, telling stories and supporting other people in telling stories is a big part of the work that I do. In fact, “Storyteller” is a part of my job title. But what does it mean to truly incorporate storytelling as a strategy? And what is the difference between stories and messaging? More importantly for Youthprise, how does this relate to promoting youth voice?

Ricardo Levins Morales, local artist/activist, kicked off the academy with a discussion on the importance of arts and storytelling in movement building. He explained that storytelling is at the heart of social justice and social change – it is not just a tactic or a tool. Storytelling is more impactful than messaging – that working with communities to tell their truths is the best renewable resource we have. Messaging, while at times an effective tactic, can leave out the human connection. When we focus on messaging the questions become: who are you messaging to, and, perhaps more importantly, who is doing the messaging?

Eleonore Wesserle then presented on the Center for Story-based Strategy’s elements of a story. What makes a story a story? She explained that effective stories often have the following components:

  • Conflict
  • Characters
  • Imagery
  • Foreshadowing

She described the different characters: heroes, victims and villains. Who is the hero in your story? For us it is the young people we work with, community members, grantees, funders and partners. At Youthprise we think of stories as an integral part of our work. From the stories of our grantees to the stories of young

The Minneapolis Regional Academy (courtesy of Center for Media Justice)

The Minneapolis Regional Academy (courtesy of Center for Media Justice)

people in our communities to the stories of our partners – these narratives help to illustrate what is happening in Minnesota now and they help to illuminate the work that still needs to be done. One key theme that emerged throughout the academy was the question of who is telling these stories?

At Youthprise we model youth/adult partnerships throughout all of the work we do – this is especially true for our communications work. From newsflashes to blog posts to social media updates – young people contribute to the strategy and implementation of our storytelling on a daily basis. We don’t just tell the stories of young people, we support them in telling their own stories and deciding how and when those should be used. At the close of the academy, Steven Renderos from the Center for Media Justice described the power of stories:

“They are more than just content, more than just extracting stories. We work to transform marginalized communities into change agents.”

This is the kind of storytelling we can get behind at Youthprise.

– Lizzy Shramko, Storyteller & Online Community Builder

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