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Elevating the Voices of Black Women through Storytelling

Black women’s stories are often left untold, buried under the systemic misogyny and racism Black women face every day.  The silencing of our voices has a detrimental impact on our health and overall wellbeing. The Next Generation Leadership Institute is shifting the narrative by equipping students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) with the necessary tools to amplify their voices and center our stories. On October 15, 2021, the Institute hosted an hour-long virtual training webinar titled ”Storytelling: Shaping Your Narrative as an RJ Advocate” to guide fellows on how to harness the power of compelling storytelling.

The webinar featured a superstar panel of Black women journalists –  WTOP anchor and reporter Stephanie Gaines-Bryant; The Philadelphia Inquirer journalist Melanie L. Burney; and The AFRO News Washington, D.C. editor Micha Green. The panelists provided fellows with tools and strategies they can use to become spokespersons who inspire change.

Burney shared how important it is to uplift the untold stories of the Black community, specifically those regarding health disparities. When the COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding in the U.S., Black experiences were largely left out of the conversation. Disregarding the lived experiences of Black people during the pandemic had a detrimental impact on the community.

“When the white community has a cold, the Black community has the flu,” said Burney, during her discussion with the group. “The untold story was the impact on the Black community because, whatever happens with anyone else, it is always going to be tenfold with us.”

Fellows were encouraged to recognize the power of telling their own stories and elevating the narratives of Black women.

“We, as women, don’t want to tell our own story,” said Gaines-Bryant. “Your story is just as important as anyone else’s story, and we all have one. It’s also important to speak that story in a loud, strong voice.”

Marcela Howell, In Our Own Voice president and CEO, explains that helping the fellows feel empowered to share their voices not only helps them, it benefits their community. She notes that, in telling their stories, they can impact public policy, too.

“As these fellows speak out on their campuses and in their communities, they’re organizing support for public policies that address their needs,” said Howell. “These Black student activists are demanding that their voices be heard and that leaders implement policies that support Black communities.”

This Summer, In Our Own Voice and more than 30 Black women’s organizations and advocates joined together to create the Black Reproductive Justice Policy Agenda. The agenda offers proactive policy solutions to address issues at the intersections of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and gender identity within the situational impacts of economics, politics and culture that make up the lived experiences of Black women, femmes, girls, and gender-expansive individuals in the U.S. Fellows have been briefed on the policy agenda and encouraged to advocate for its implementation.

“Talking about Black women in particular, I think, is so important because in sharing the narratives of Black women, you’re really sharing an American story that is the real deal,” said Green.

Take a look below to see these inspiring Black women storytellers offer their best advice to our rising RJ leaders.

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