Six years ago, I went to a training program that changed the trajectory of my life and career. Now, I am doing the same for others.
Channel Black is a storytelling and media training program that develops the strategy, intervention, and spokesperson skills of social movement leaders. We celebrate and uplift the voices of a broad and diverse array of people, activists, and advocates. These voices and experiences inspire a fair and just democracy, as well as an unobstructed national dialogue about anti-Blackness and anti-Brownness, transphobia, and racism.
Six years ago, I applied for the Women’s Media Center Progressive Women’s Voices training program, the premier media and leadership training program in the country for women, and I was accepted. The program trainer, Christine Jahnke, blew my mind. She knew everything there was to know about building rapport with an audience and delivering a compelling message that changed how people understood hard-to-understand-issues. This is the work I was doing, the work I was committed to. I was smitten and deeply inspired.
It was then that I realized I was sitting on the wrong side of the table. I had been a spokesperson once, but I wasn’t anymore. After that training, in addition to my day-to-day social change communications work, I committed to developing tools and providing training for people who did not otherwise have access to communications and media training: people of color, women, and trans and gender non-conforming people. People with rich experiences and stories that illustrate the systems at play in our society.
Three years later, I wrote the curriculum for, hired a team, and implemented a training program called Channel Black. Channel Black is a storytelling and media training program that develops the strategy, intervention, and spokesperson skills of social movement leaders. We celebrate and uplift the voices of a broad and diverse array of people, activists, and advocates. These voices and experiences inspire a fair and just democracy, as well as an unobstructed national dialogue about anti-Blackness and anti-Brownness, transphobia, and racism.
Channel Black equips our leaders with tools for ethical storytelling and the creation of new narratives. What we’re told and what we believe about people and places determines how we treat them—and those stories, in turn, determine how we think, act, vote, and engage with the systems to which we are all bound. Our goal is to disrupt harmful narratives and equip marginalized people with the tools and support to develop and tell their own stories—and to ultimately have a say in how power and resources in the United States are distributed.
In our first year, we trained eight leaders from the Movement or Black Lives including Executive Editor of OUT magazine, Raquel Willis, and former National Director of BYP100, Charlene Carruthers. In our second year, we took a different approach and turned our attention to Black mothers who are parenting or who have lost their children to violence.
When it comes to family, a unit by which the health of our nation is measured, poor unmarried Black mothers—long labeled “welfare queens”—have been disproportionately demonized, shamed, and attacked. In the American hierarchy of family, a Black mother’s circumstances, choices, and story are cast as moral failings in need of punishment and correction.
This program gives voice to the impacts of bad governance, and how they affect Black women’s lives. By taking into account the histories, experiences, and cultural nuances of Black women, we can prepare a cohort of mothers, citizen voters, and culture shapers to redefine the narrative about America and its most important protagonists.
With an uptick in the police killing of Black people, a resurgence of public racism, and continual undercutting of laws put in place to prevent discrimination, these women know best how to frame stories of justice and the future of democracy. Through them, we are closing an increasingly widening gap of access to media representation and visibility.
The most important thing I’ve learned from organizing and running this program is that the American story is much more authentic when we democratize the story and the storyteller. Significantly reducing bias and creating lasting transformation requires a disruption. Shifting understanding means changing perception, communication, and connection. To be sure, this process of changing our narratives must be accompanied by support for building the social, economic, and political power of marginalized communities organizing.
Thanks in no small part to the Women’s Media Center and Christine for their encouragement, and the talented trainers and coaches in the program, the work of Channel Black is helping to build trust with the new American electorate, which is full of people with important stories to tell.
As for me, my training practice has come full circle. In addition to developing the curriculum for and visioning the third cohort of Channel Black with my new co-director, Mia Birdsong, this May, Christine and I will co-facilitate the Progressive Women’s Voices program together. I also offer public speaking and media coaching to individuals and teams. If you’re interested in hearing more, hit me up!
Channel Black was incubated in the Black Lives Matter Global Network with support from the Movement for Black Lives and is now housed at The Rockwood Leadership Institute. The project was conceived of by Shanelle Matthews with support and vital feedback from many people.