SHIFTING THE NARRATIVES ABOUT OUR SONS AND BROTHERS

When W.K. Kellogg Foundation Vice President Gail Christopher presented a vision for a narrative change strategy to challenge racial hierarchy, Executives’ Alliance members sensed an emerging philanthropic field. “Unlike other main issue areas like education and justice where there has been a longstanding collaborative funding practice, narrative was a very nascent but growing space,” explained Alexis McGill Johnson, Lead Consultant for the EA’s Narrative Change Collective Action Table (CAT) and Executive Director of Perception Institute. At the time several EA members were already funding core components of narrative change, but because of the newness of the field, they lacked the necessary bandwidth and framework to connect these components into broader strategies.

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With these needs in mind, Johnson designed Narrative University, a months-long learning community for funders that provided members of the Narrative Change CAT the opportunity to hear from narrative practitioners and experts in the field. Participating EA members included the NBPA Foundation, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Open Society Foundations, The California Endowment, Consumer Health Foundation, California Wellness Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Casey Family Programs, and The Annie E. Casey Foundation. From these joint learning sessions, Johnson and the CAT built the needed framework for understanding narrative change strategy, now summarized in a guide for grantmakers and practitioners entitled “His Story: Shifting the Narrative for Boys and Men of Color.”

“Narrative is important because it’s the fundamental story of who we are and why we are, and it will be impossible to find solutions without placing problems in their historical context,” said Norris West, Director of Strategic Communications at The Annie E. Casey Foundation and member of the Narrative Change CAT. West contended that mentions of the term “implicit bias” during the 2016 presidential elections indicate an emerging and unprecedented national acknowledgement of the importance of narrative. This, he said, highlights the potential of shifts in storytelling to dramatically impact the lives of boys and men and color. He noted that major social movements in the United States—such as the Civil Rights movement—have historically been accompanied by changes in dominant narratives, concluding, “Narrative change is necessary to achieve policy change.”

LESSONS LEARNED

  1. Creating narrative change is not the same as communications capacity. True narrative change requires the development of an echo chamber to drive narrative.
  2. Philanthropy should target its efforts not just at the general public, but at key decision makers that affect boys and men of color (education, justice systems, etc.)

RESOURCES

The Narrative Change framework is summarized into a forthcoming guide for grantmakers and practitioners called “His Story: Shifting the Narrative for Boys and Men of Color”