“The stories we tell, and the stories we hear, are like the threads of a tapestry. Made with care, the fabric can connect people from different places and different experiences, united by their shared humanity.”

Building a movement for health justice requires that we change hearts and minds – and that we get beyond the daily grind to chart a path forward that centers the people most harmed by an unjust health system. In this plenary session, Gena Madow, senior director of communications at Community Catalyst, welcomed four visionaries and movement leaders to the virtual stage to answer the key question: What does narrative power mean to you

Key quotes and highlights include: 

  • “Most people have a deep psychological need to see themselves as good, and that informs how they see the world.” Robert Pérez, founder + chief exploration officer of Wonder Strategies for Good, sheds light on the ways the heart and mind work and the ways allied movements have adopted person-centered storytelling to accomplish policy wins. “Our opponents are really good at triggering the downstairs brain; they often flood it with negative emotions like anger.” 
  • “We love to lead with problems, but you have to lead with values.” Anika Fassia, co-executive director of We Make the Future, speaks on the intersection of both race and class, and the importance of naming a villain. “We have to name who is doing these things. We can’t protest at structural racism’s house.” 
  • “The power of the narrative is who gets to frame that story, and who gets to put that narrative out for public consumption.” Omisade Burney Scott, creator/chief curator of the Black Girl’s Guide to Surviving Menopause, speaks about the importance of how we frame stories and how stories can be on-ramps to deeper, more complicated conversations about harmful systems. “Your framing is how you make sense of complex issues.” 
  • “Narrative power is your ability to transfer that emotional experience.” LaTroya Hester, co-founder of CommsNoire, speaks about empowering communities to be media literate and the need for organizations to actively invest in their storytellers. “Be aware that people consume messages and stories passively – we need to empower them to ask questions.” 

Learn More: 

  • Human decision-making is influenced by how people are heartwired. The Heartwired approach is designed to help you put this deeper understanding to work in your efforts to create social change. 
  • Our opposition regularly uses racial fear as a tool to exploit economic anxieties and turn people against one another, even when their economic interests are aligned, and turn them against the pursuit of a systems that work for all. In doing so, they regularly scapegoat communities of color for problems that have been created by self-interested politicians and their greedy corporate donors. The Race Class Narrative messaging architecture fights back at these attacks to build cross-racial solidarity and support for issues. 
  • Healing is hard work. It’s not always fun or glamorous. Having kindred people who can navigate with you helps the journey. The Black Girl’s Guide to Surviving Menopause is space is for non-binary, Black women and femmes who want to live fully and in all ways.  
  • You should be empowered to use your own voice to advocate for our own community. Comms Noire is a free community of Black health communications and social marketing professionals dedicated to creating messages that impact culture for good.  

This is part of a six-part series capturing plenary discussions from Community Catalyst’s 2023 annual convening, Building Power for Health Justice. Our focus on power is a recognition of the need for us to leverage and build power together to create a health system rooted in race equity and health justice, and a society where health is a right for all.   

We all have a story to share. Take action by sharing yours here