Our Board and staff recently met with Dr. Malia Villegas of the National Congress of American Indians. During our time together, Dr. Villegas discussed the power of narrative. In her extensive work with Indigenous Peoples, she has found that “Storytelling is an essential part of community transformations.” The story that we tell about a place, about a people, about a project, all have the power to either “deepen or constrain [our] impact.”
So what can we do? How can we be sure to honor the people and places with which we work the stories that we tell and the narrative that we weave?
- Collect Data
The most impactful stories have their root in accurate information. Prior to weaving a narrative, do the work to collect and analyze data. Data is the first step and gives a point of reference that can guide your steps further into the heart of the story.
Our grantee partners at the Martin Family Initiative (MFI) are good at letting data begin the story, but not complete it. MFI “seeks to improve elementary and secondary school education outcomes for Aboriginal Canadians through the implementation of specific programs and the application of appropriate research.” They know that 1 in 3 Aboriginal persons has not completed high school. And they understand that only half of Canadians claim any understanding of Aboriginal issues. These data points – and many more – guide the work of MFI. Because of this, they are best able to help the narrative of Aboriginal people in Canada become one of success, resilience and hope.
- Listen Beyond the Data
Research indicates that first generation college students graduate with college degrees at a drastically lower rate than their peers. But theses statistics are not the story.
To go beyond the data, the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program (MFOS) has spent good time listening the first-generation students and understanding the challenges they face throughout their college education. No piece of data can encapsu
late the guilt a first-generation student might feel when leave home to go to school or what it must be like to have no frame of reference when it comes to signing up for classes. By listening to these pieces of information, MFOS has created a program that truly meets the needs of students, rewriting their story and instilling in them that they deserve a college education.
- Recognize the Larger Story
The Marriot Bridges from School to Work program works diligently to place qualified people with disabilities in successful work environments. The national unemployment rate among youth ages 16-24 stands at 16%; factor in disability and young adults are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as their non-disabled peers. Bridges recognizes that people with disabilities only represent a small fraction of the unemployment narrative. The larger story of the problem lies within inaccessible systems that prevent proper accommodations and success in the workplace in addition to unqualified workers. Understanding this has allowed Bridges to engage with both employers and potential employees in a manner that allows everyone to achieve success.
Everyone has a story to tell. As Dr. Villegas teaches us, how we tell it and how we share it will either “deepen or constrain your impact.” What story will you tell?