Mar 27, 2024 7 min read

From Story to Narrative to Action

Image of a pregnant woman of color.

A Peak Into My Process

Some of you may wonder where I get ideas for this newsletter. They typically come from a confluence of ideas swirling in my head, that bring to mind a topic to talk about or share. I'll let you in on my somewhat random thought process for this newsletter.

  • Many of us recently watched the Oscars. Maybe you're like me and tried to watch as many of the nominated films as you could.
  • Looking back over past newsletters reminded me that we've said a lot about stories. Still, there is so much more to say and you may still have questions, like...
  • How do you move from storytelling to narrative to action?
  • In a few weeks, April 11-17 we the U.S. will recognize Black Maternal Health Week. It is an opportunity to bring attention and action to improving Black maternal health. In my state of South Carolina and across the country, Black maternal health is a crisis we should all care about. So, I'll center our attention there for today's newsletter.
  • In this season of watching, celebrating, and recognizing films, we'll take a look at the film Aftershock, which has some great lessons for us all.

Aftershock, A Case Study

-First, About the Film

When a Black mother dies, there is a ripple effect. - Aftershock

Following the preventable deaths of their loved ones due to childbirth complications, two families galvanized activists, birth workers, and physicians to reckon with one of the most pressing American crises of our time – the US maternal health crisis.

In October 2019, 30-year-old Shamony Gibson tragically died 13 days following the birth of her son. Two months later, we began filming Shamony's surviving mother, Shawnee Benton Gibson, and bereaved partner, Omari Maynard, as they began to process what happened and figure out their new normal.

In April 2020, 26-year-old Amber Rose Isaac died due to an emergency c-section. Within weeks of Amber's death, Omari reaches out to Amber's surviving partner, Bruce McIntyre, and a lifelong bond is formed. Together, Omari and Bruce begin the fight for justice for their partners with their families and community by their side while caring for their children as newly single parents.

Through the film, we witness these two families become ardent activists in the maternal health space, seeking justice through legislation, medical accountability, community, and the power of art. Their work introduces us to a myriad of people, including a growing brotherhood of surviving Black fathers, along with the work of midwives and physicians on the ground fighting for institutional reform. Through their collective journeys, we find ourselves on the front lines of a growing birth justice movement that is demanding systemic change within our medical system and government.

-A Little About Stories, Narratives, and Shifting Culture

Here are a few great references for you, if you want to dig deeper:

I especially loved this article A Conversation About Cultural Strategy by Jeff Chang, Liz Manne, and Erin Potts including these quotes:

Stories and narratives change how people perceive themselves and their role in the world. 
When activated and brought together by the new ideas and the common spaces of stories and narratives, people have the power to come together to change cultural norms, policies, and systems through their life choices, including, though not exclusively, as voters and consumers.

In that article, the authors also provide definitions of story, narrative and culture, but I love a simple metaphor that they provided. They suggest if we think of a single story as one star, then narratives are constellations, and culture is like the galaxy. 

We all know that narratives can be used intentionally and strategically. They can be combined with other cultural change techniques to shift behavior and beliefs. In Narrative Strategy: The Basics the authors tell us that:

Narratives are most effective at making change when they: 1) intersect with the audiences’ pre-existing narratives 2) create a basis for stories that can be authentically told by the people seeking change - the storytellers; and 3) narrate a future that the audience yearns for and wants to live in.

However, we all know existing narratives can be very sticky and difficult to change. Professor Michael D. Slater, a pioneer in the study of narrative persuasion, has found that,

 Narrative overrides our natural tendency to challenge information we don’t agree with …When you have a strong narrative that’s really absorbing, it tends to suppress counter-arguing. It’s hard to suspend disbelief and counter-argue at the same time.

We can easily identify areas where this is true and while it helps understand how positive change works, it also helps understand how false narratives can become so powerful and sticky.

It is challenging and takes a lot of skill to bring all this together. As we'll see below, it takes a lot more than making and sharing a great story. Let's get back to our film, Aftershock, and see what we can learn from how one group tackled this challenge of moving from story to narrative to action.

-Back to Aftershock, What are Our Takeaways?

An Absorbing Story and Narrative

What this film, Aftershock, does so well is sharing very personal and intimate stories and connecting those to a broader cultural issue. It is absorbing. You understand and grieve with the families who have lost loved ones and children who have lost their mothers. Yet, the film also weaves that loss into a path forward for these families, for society, and communities across the country. They give us hope for a way forward. In the film, you also see the successful birth experience of a third mother, partner, and child and understand some things that made their choices and experiences different. We can witness and appreciate what helped make their birth experience a positive one. Also, in the film you are already swept into the world of activism around this issue and are given powerful calls to action to join, donate, share the message, and speak up. Documentary filmmaking, when done well, is a powerful medium for weaving individual stories together into a broader cultural narrative, and this is done exceptionally well in this film.

Atypical Point of View  

One of my favorite aspects of this film is that most of the story is told from the point of view of the men who have lost their partners and are struggling to find their way forward as single fathers. We learn how they choose to make sense of their needless personal loss through activism and advocacy. It is a surprising and powerful shift in the narrative to think not only about the mothers and their experiences but also about those who are left behind, whose loss and grief are so overwhelming and so unnecessary. It shakes us out of our complacency and disrupts any current narratives we already have. It forces us to wake up, listen up, and consider this issue anew.

The personal perspectives you take in telling the story and weaving the broader narrative are critical. Taking an atypical, but still authentic, point of view can help your audience break through and shift their existing mental models. 

It Takes More

This film is also being promoted through screenings that facilitate broader discussion. Associated with the film are powerful calls to action that individuals and groups can consider. To have the best chance to reach its full impact, Aftershock is being promoted by an agency, Picture Motion. They term themselves as an “impact agency” and state clearly that they believe that,

Stories can change the world.

They consider themselves as, 

The leading social impact agency developing award-winning advocacy and marketing campaigns for an array of media and entertainment including films, television, books, stage-plays, music, podcasts, and more.

In their work, they put together a robust impact strategy related to this film, reaching into medical centers within communities, serving as continuing education for healthcare workers, and working to drive change in the broader culture. 

Picture Motion reminds us that telling a great story and weaving that into a narrative is not enough. That is essential, but moving from story to narrative to action also requires engagement, calls to action, partners, and supporting materials.

And It Requires Action

So, please join me in solidarity for next month's upcoming Black Maternal Health Week, and watch Aftershock. Share it with your friends, post on your social channels, even discuss it with doctors or nurses you know.

I hope this case study offers some ideas to help you get better at moving from story to narrative to action in your own social justice work.

We're At It Again - Another Book Giveaway Alert!

Image of my neighborhood Little Free Library full of State of Inclusion Bookstore books.

At The Inclusive Community, we believe books are powerful learning tools that can help us on our journey toward equity and inclusion. 

To thank you for being a subscriber and to help grow new subscribers, we're running another book giveaway promotion. Anyone who is signed up for our newsletter on or before March 31, 2024, will be entered for a chance to win.  A winner will be randomly selected from all subscribers and will win one book of their choice from our State of Inclusion bookshop.

We also want to welcome our subscribers who have joined as part of this promotion!

GOOD NEWS! As current subscribers you are entered for a chance to win. 

Our guests and so many others freely share their wisdom with us. So, we want to keep our content free as well. If you would like help offset production costs and continue this work, we've recently added a Support Us page. We're happy that you found us, grateful that you read this newsletter and listen to the State of Inclusion podcast, and we would be thankful for your support.

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Thank you for being part of The Inclusive Community and for your personal commitment to equity and inclusion.

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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