Empowering People of Color’s Voices Through the Narrative Justice Project

“I usually don’t try to speak because I don’t want to make people uncomfortable, but I realize that is not always the best thing.” — Narrative Justice Project participant

Too often, mainstream media silence marginalized voices and experiences through stereotypical representations of people of color (POC). The recent rise of racialized news coverage in the United States exacerbates the problem, where POC feel disempowered to share their stories. POC and other marginalized people are in need of communication tools to help encourage the use of their voices.

In a recent critical study, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Journalism Assistant Professor Rachel Grant and Wakeman Agency CEO Vanessa Wakeman focused on how public interest communication campaigns may be able to provide these tools. These campaigns, centered on universal public good, are a means to engage citizens to enhance social well-being.

The National Justice Project (NJP), of which Grant is research director, is a public interest campaign focused on challenging stereotypes and biases in popular media representations. This community-based initiative trains POC to employ “counter-narratives,” or stories from marginalized people that counter mainstream, stereotypical stories, to shine light on their lived experiences, emphasize embedded racism, and dismantle power structures that silence POC voices. The goal of the Project is to empower POC to connect with media professionals to tell their stories.

The Narrative Justice Project was conceived of and managed by the Wakeman Agency, a New York-based social change agency, to critically analyze this training. Using focus groups with the NJP participants, the authors examined the elements of the NJP and participant discussions about the training.

Analysis revealed that the NJP did facilitate opportunities for more diverse voices to be represented in mass communications through skills training in communication and activism. The NJP provided tools for POC to understand their own counter-narratives, communicate with media professionals, and advocate for themselves in society. Participants were taught how to draw attention to issues and techniques for media interviews, emphasizing “voice” as a channel for resistance and advocacy. Participants expressed a desire for transparency in media and a shift in focus from racialized stories to lived oppressive experiences.

“We all have thoughts about things we want to say, but now it is easier for them to say because there’s a framework. They are a bit more mindful of how to structure it.” – Narrative Justice Project participant

This study reveals how the NJP, and other public interest communication campaigns, can empower marginalized voices using counter-narratives to diversify representations of POC in media. This not only emboldens access to mass media for POC, but also works to disrupt the cycle of stereotypical messages, humanize and validate POC experiences, and elevate marginalized voices to mainstream media. The authors note that future research should also examine other social and political areas, like women’s rights, immigration, and LBGBTQ rights, to understand intersections of marginalized identities.

The original article, “‘City by City:’ Reclaiming People of Color Voices Through the Narrative Justice Project,” was published in Human Communication Research on March 3, 2023.

 Authors: Rachel Grant, Vanessa Wakeman

 This summary was written by M. Devyn Mullis, Ph.D.


Posted: October 4, 2023
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