let's love our community graffiti on park underpass
By Debra Mason

Journalists, in their role as storytellers, can sometimes become emotionally hardened from crafting stories about social injustice, breach of trust, fear, and violence. Life’s daily kindnesses and community triumphs aren’t always easy tales to find.

But a Fetzer Institute partnership with the nonprofit Images and Voices of Hope—ivoh—helps storytellers learn how reflective practices can support their work and how a restorative narrative approach can tell deeper stories of people and communities in ways that connect with their strength, empathy, and resiliency. As ivoh puts it, "Restorative Narrative captures the realities of those working to reclaim or rebuild their lives. It highlights strengths, potential, healing and growth, instead of underscoring what is broken as conventional news does." The partnership supports what ivoh calls “stories with soul” in four US cities: Atlantic City, Chicago, Flint, and New Orleans.

At its 20th Annual Summit earlier this summer, ivoh hosted its 2019 Fellows who, along with about 70 other attendees, immersed themselves in reflective practices and learning about restorative narrative in order to tell stories of compassion and bridge-building across differences.

The summit helped provide an essential recalibration of sorts for the journalists, documentary filmmakers, photographers, performance artists, poets, educators and community activists in attendance. In short, it reminded them why they create restorative narratives in the first place.

Among the 2019 fellows’ projects, stories with soul are in abundance. The fellows, who shared their projects with other summit attendees, include:

  • Tonika Johnson, a visual artist/photographer from Chicago’s South Side Englewood neighborhood, whose Folded Map project visually investigates disparities among Chicago residents, while bringing them together in conversation.
  • Jess Clark, a staff reporter for WWNO in New Orleans, who in partnership with fellow Eve Abrams, is working on ways to train and mentor a group of young people from George Washington Carver High School to create audio stories of people who have been lost to violence—not the stories of their deaths, but of their lived lives and their spirits.
  • Lynda Cohen tells stories absent from the local news outlets in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where she runs the hyperlocal BreakingAC. Her project is a three-part series about several people touched by violence and how they grow and move beyond tragedy.
  • Jiquanda Johnson is co-founder of Brown Impact Media Group and publisher and editor of FlintBeat.com, a news website focused only on Flint, Michigan. Her project looks at Flint’s forgotten Latinx community via multimedia stories of leaders who are making a difference.  
  • Martha Irvine, a national writer and visual journalist for The Associated Press, is detailing the lives of young adults and teens, as well as neighborhoods in South Side Chicago that were decimated by the 2008 housing crisis.
  • Thomas Walsh is a radio producer and audio engineer in New Orleans. He is the project manager of the Listening Post Collective, a community journalism and engagement project that creates and expands conversations about civic issues. The Listening Post bridges the gap between media outlets and local communities so that underserved and under-represented communities can have more ownership over their stories.

Three new coaches helping to nurture the fellows joined longtime coach Jacqui Banaszynski at the summit as well. Kathie Klarreich, Lori Shontz and Barry Yeoman have each modeled restorative narratives in their own work as journalists and teachers.

As anticipated, the fellows and other retreat attendees left ivoh’s 2019 Annual Summit with insights and motivation to tell deeper stories of the people within their communities, in order to share a resilience to thrive. We invite you to restore your sense of hope by visiting their story bank.