Communications is essential
Here’s why: People with more power who want to maintain the status quo intentionally weaponize made-up narratives against people with less power. These dangerous and politically motivated narratives paint places and groups of people with a broad-brush stroke. Over the years, these narratives accumulate and begin to mimic culture, which policymakers and the media cherry-pick and exploit to win elections and gain even more power. These narratives are racialized stories that leave people fearful; not to mention, they reinforce ideas that keep rights, resources, and recognition out of reach for most people.
This is important because what we’re told and what we believe about people and places determines how we treat them—and those stories become woven into how we think and how we act. They determine how we vote and how we engage in the systems to which we are all bound.
Social movements and the organizations that strengthen them are working vigorously to deconstruct harmful and politically-motivated narratives. In doing so, we are relocating people’s perception and casting doubt on the dominant culture, changing the way people understand one another and our place in society.
At the center of this fight for justice and equality is a struggle for the redistribution of power from the few to the many. Undergirding that struggle are values that, when put into context and championed, clarify what your demands, the people or persons who can meet them, and by when.
Strategic communications is the connective tissue that bonds your values to your demands; it is a strategy to make your work visible and resonant to others; it is an expression of your individual, project, or organizational goals and vision. Strategic Communications is your approach to influencing your audience to act.
Strategic communications is a process, one that identifies the who, what, when, where, and how of your strategy to get from A to B. This process has several interconnected parts: narrative, story, movement building, culture work, social sciences, etc. For descriptions of each of these parts and insight on how they work together, check out Toward New Gravity, a report by The Narrative Initiative.
I partner with political activists, organizations, and influencers to develop meaningful communications strategies for engagement and growth.
My communications services are customized to fit the needs of organizations, initiatives, campaigns, and individuals of most sizes and budgets. Consider the services below a proposed list, but one that is not exhaustive. We can mix and match—the options are limitless.
Strategic Communications Planning
Content Creation and Planning
strategic communications 101
strategic communications 201
Spokesperson Training for Beginners
Advanced Spokesperson Training
Thought Leadership / public intellectualism
brand development for organizations
brand development for individuals
brand development for campaigns
It’s not unusual to feel confused about where to start with communications planning. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. If you want help ideating on where to start and deciding what strategy is best for you, email me.
Can you help me figure
out what I need?
past and present CLIENTS
SisterSong Women of Color Collective
Social Movements + Innovation @ The New School
Southerners on New ground (SONG)
Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP)
Transgender Law Center
Women’s Foundation of California
Women’s Media Center
choices in childbirth
Conservation Trust of North Carolina
Joshua Venture Fund
Minnesota Council on Foundations
Movement Law Lab
National latina Institute for Reproductive Health
Open Society Foundation
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Communicating for Freedom
a master class in strategic communications
Communicating for Freedom is a six-week course for beginner and immediate-level activists, organizers, and practitioners who are interested in the brass tacks of storytelling, social change communications, and strategy. You need not have any previous experience in social change communications to take the course.
For more than ten years, I’ve helped social justice activists, organizations, and campaigns inspire action through storytelling and communications. From the Sierra Club, to the ACLU, to the Black Lives Matter Global Network, I’ve worked alongside political influencers and changemakers to make sense of today’s most pressing issues and to harness grassroots power for good. From the newsroom to the front lines, I've tested the good and the bad of communications strategies for social change—experimenting, succeeding, failing, and starting over again. Having worked on deeply entrenched issues at the national and local levels—including abortion, welfare, and LGBTQ rights—I know firsthand how crucial it is to tell and present stories with integrity in order to make a meaningful impact.
I’m taking what I’ve learned as a grassroots communications strategist, a rookie teacher at The New School, and a human, and combining it to design a course that is engaging, intellectually challenging, and a good use of time for otherwise busy people.
Once Communicating for Freedom is finished, learners will be invited to join an association of more than 700 social impact communications professionals working across geography and discipline to service social movements, share ideas and resources, and support one another.
Why Communicating for Freedom?
People with more power who want to maintain the status quo weaponize fabricated narratives against people with less power. These dangerous and politically motivated narratives paint places and groups of people with a broad brushstroke to incite fear.
For example, the Trump administration’s current propaganda-fueled campaign against refugee families at the U.S.–Mexico border relies on our proclivity to categorize some people as in and some people as out of the dominant group. By using racialized dog whistles and authoritarian rule, Trump paints all brown Central American families seeking safety and help from us as threats to both American border security and to some people within the borders. His campaign is not only based on patently false information, but it's a durable strategy malleable enough to vilify any group of people, no matter what they look like or where they come from.
Over the years, these othering narratives accumulate and begin to mimic culture, which policymakers and the media cherry-pick and exploit to win elections and gain even more power. This is important, because what we’re told and what we believe about people and places determines how we treat them—and those stories become woven into how we think and how we act. They determine how we vote and how we engage in the systems to which we are all bound. At the end of the day, these narratives and their accompanying policies and cultural touchstones reinforce ideas that keep rights, resources, and recognition out of reach for most people.
Social movements and the organizations, organizers, activists, and practitioners who strengthen them are working vigorously to deconstruct harmful and politically motivated narratives and replace them with truthful, empowered ones. In doing so, we relocate people’s perception and cast doubt on the dominant culture, changing the way people understand one another and our place in society.
At the center of this fight for narrative power is the ever-present struggle for the redistribution of power from the few to the many. Undergirding that struggle are values that, when put into context and championed, clarify our socio-political demands, the people or persons who can meet them, and the amount of time it will take to fulfill them.
That's where Communicating for Freedom comes in. This course focalizes narrative power as a lever of change and hinges on strategic communications to give organizers, activists, and practitioners fundamental communications-related tools to contextualize stories and solutions and develop effective campaigns for a more democratic and inclusive society.
Strategic communications is a process: one that identifies the who, what, when, where, and how of your strategy to get from A to B. This process has several interconnected parts: narrative, story, movement building, culture work, social sciences, etc. For descriptions of each of these parts and insight on how they work together, check out Toward New Gravity, a report by The Narrative Initiative.
Strategic communications is the connective tissue that bonds your values to your demands and vision of the world; it is a strategy to make your work visible and resonant to others; it is an expression of your individual, project, or organizational goals and vision. Strategic Communications is your approach to influencing your audience to act.
After six weeks, learners will have a foundational understanding of strategic communications and the components that make up and actualize this critical field. They will also get practice iterating on communications strategies and receiving feedback from their peers in a judgement-free environment.
I'm also designing this course because I wish I had it when I was new to this field. I remain grateful to the strategists and organizers whose ideas and labor have made it possible for me to earn a living doing what I love. To build on their legacies and iterate on true and tried strategies and practices and continue to be in service of social movements in the United States and elsewhere, today's communications practitioners need a community of practice—and that's what I am providing.
I am finishing my first full year of teaching at The New School, a world-renowned liberal arts college dedicated to academic freedom and intellectual inquiry, in Manhattan. This semester, I taught a foundational course that provides first-year students with an introduction to critical theory and social justice principles with an emphasis on race, class, gender, sexuality, and power.
I am sharpening my abilities as a facilitator and teacher, and being in the classroom with freshman college students helps me design curricula that are rigorous and malleable enough to meet the needs of a range of learners. We don’t all learn the same way, so Communicating for Freedom will use readings, video, music, and discussion modules to ensure everyone feels equally connected to the material.
The syllabus, which will be shared in the spring, covers foundational concepts like values, framing, messaging, strategy, and planning. Upon evaluation, and pending the needs of the cohort and other interested parties, I will design and launch an advanced course.
To ensure efficacy, and because this is a pilot course, I'm capping the class at a reasonable number of learners. This may change for future courses. Learners will be asked to evaluate the course upon completion.
Learners can expect 1–2 hours of reading and homework each week in addition to class time.
Cost and payment
Communicating for Freedom is $900 with the option to pay in full up front or in installments. If paying by installments, payment must be received in full by June 7, 2019. I suggest six payments of $150 paid monthly January through June 2019, and I remain open and flexible to plans that meet the needs of interested parties. No matter how you pay, a non-refundable deposit of $150 is due upon registration. A number of seats and scholarships are reserved for people who want to attend but can’t pay. If you'd like a scholarship, email me directly.
Once you submit your registration form, I will follow up with an email (usually within 2-3 business days) about how to pay for the class using PayPal, Square Cash, Venmo, Apple Pay or Chase Quick Pay.
The first week of class is June 10 and the last week is July 22, with a one-week break in between.
June 10 First week of class
July 1 Midway break / Holiday week
July 22 Last week of class
We’ll meet online with Zoom, using their innovative software to break into small groups, take polls, and see one another across geography. Thirty days before class starts, I'll send a Doodle poll to all enrolled learners to identify the best recurring day and time for classes each week. Class will be two hours each week and include a variety of instruction, discussion, guest lectures, activities, and assignments.
I ask that all enrolled learners attend all classes throughout the course. Life happens, however, so all classes will be recorded. There are no makeup classes for participants who are unable to attend a session. I'll gently follow up with learners who miss two or more classes.
Click here to register for Communicating for Freedom. Registration closes on May 10, 2019, or once enrollment is full. Once registration is closed, additional interested learners will be added to a waitlist and offered a seat in the event of cancellations.
If you need to cancel or switch your registration to a future course, please email me and let me know by May 10, or 30 days prior to the first week of class, so I can offer your seat to someone else. If you notify me by May 10, your registration can be used toward a future course. If you don't notify me by that date, your registration will be non-transferable. Refunds will be issued on a case-by-case basis upon my discretion.
If you have questions about whether or not this is the right course for you, reach out. I’m happy to answer your questions. If you’re a funder who wants to purchase a suite of seats for your grantees or a grantee who thinks a funder might be interested, let me know.
Zora’s: A Brooklyn Salon
A monthly forum to discuss and debate ongoing and emergent issues and ideas that impact Black people–and to delight in our accomplishments
According to the Harlem Renaissance 100: A Community Celebration, a collaborative comprising more than 13 Harlem cultural institutions, 2018–2020 is the official 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance, also known as the New Negro Movement, was a decades-long identify-affirming Black enlightenment chock-full of post-reconstruction innovations in music, playwriting, literature, publishing, dance, and cultural emergence.
Today, Black artists, writers, technologists, musicians, publishers, futurists, and other creative types are abloom in the U.S., and globally. A 21st-century Black arts movement is flourishing concurrently—and in many ways is symbiotic to ongoing local, state, and national organizing movements to end state-sponsored violence and indifference toward Black people. Indeed, some of our most prolific Black work is borne out of times of heightened suffering and resistance. Author and professor Ayana Mathis addresses this paradoxical experience:
“Even as African-American writing currently experiences unprecedented mainstream appeal and critical recognition, the focus on black expression has another, uglier face: a deadly obsession with black bodies. Thus, it is possible for the Sacramento police to murder a black man holding a cell phone in his grandmother’s backyard and for [Colston] Whitehead to win the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award within a year. How are we to reconcile these truths?”
In the spirit of the Black radical tradition, we’re creating a space to gather, break bread, drink spirits (or your favorite non-alcoholic beverage), respond to Mathis’s question, and unravel this Gordian knot.
Zora’s is a monthly sociological forum to discuss and debate ongoing and emergent issues and ideas that impact Black people—and to delight in our accomplishments. Each month, we’ll be joined by a Black practitioner of the arts (widely encompassing art, writing, music, dance, publishing, food, and other creative capacities) who will offer a synopsis of how their work is contributing to Black thought and power building in this era; after that, we will engage in a debate and discussion.
Zora’s offers face-to-face community building and deliberation, a practice in dialectics and vulnerability. This is unlike online networking sites like Twitter and Reddit, which provide unique platforms to exchange ideas and information but eliminate the conditions for accountability and leave people feeling unheard and sometimes bullied.
In contrast, Zora’s offers a platform for discussion and debate in which people who share a vision for the freedom of Black people can disagree with dignity and have a safe space to examine what we do and don’t know about issues that impact our communities.
Zora’s provides a community for curiosity, free of shame and judgment, and for low-stakes, high-impact, meaningful discussion. Zora’s is a space for Black people. We encourage non-Black allies to offer resources and organize similar spaces.
We encourage other Black communities to share in this practice throughout 2019, too. If you’re considering it, email us and we’ll send information on how we organize our series, along with our syllabus of monthly topics, readings, and discussion questions.
We’ll meet in a Black-owned brownstone built in 1911 in the historic Stuyvesant Heights neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, in north-central Brooklyn. Although it’s named after Dutch colonist Peter Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant Heights has been one of the most prominent communities for the city’s Black population since the Harlem Renaissance era, when Black folks moved here in droves.
Our meetings are every third Friday from 6:00 PM–8:30 PM throughout 2019. The address and other logistical details will be provided upon RSVP, which will be limited to the first 20–25 registrants each month due to space limitations.
About the organizer: I’m Shanelle. I'm a practitioner, activist, and teacher of social change communications, and I care about using stories and narratives to shape the world around me. I’m not from Brooklyn. I’m from Black Los Angeles and moved here in January from Oakland. I don’t have the institutional memory, relationships, or exact appreciation for the neighborhood and community that some of my friends and neighbors who grew up here do. I’ve introduced myself to my neighbors, I check on them often, and I am actively looking for opportunities to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood as a humble new resident through activism or policy advocacy. Perhaps, through the creation of this space and the relationships, ideas, and, energies created in it, I will offer something to this community in return for all it has already offered me.
Find a PDF of this document for sharing here.
RSVP: Brooklyn Salon
July 19, 2019 6:00 - 8:30 PM
The address and other logistical details will be provided upon RSVP, which will be limited to the first 20–25 registrants each month due to space limitations.
July Zora’s is a special edition co-hosted by Tender Bois Club, For Women Who Smoke, and Brooklyn Boihood
About our hosts:
Wazi Maret is an independent multi-media artist based in Brooklyn, NY with a focus in music, visual arts and storytelling. Through his work, Wazi explores rituals of healing through music and he encourages the reconnection of mind + body through creative expression. Wazi began singing as a young person in his family church and when he moved to California in 2013, he prioritized growing his skills in song-writing, performance and production. In 2014, he co-founded an all Black, all queer and trans punk band named AFROFONIX. The group debuted as a headliner for the 2015 Night Light: Multimedia Garden Party at SOMArts in San Francisco. AFROFONIX quickly became known throughout the bay’s queer punk scene as a radical soul punk band and they were featured in several events throughout San Francisco and Oakland. In 2018, Wazi co-founded Tender Bois Club just before relocating to Brooklyn, NY. Tender Bois Club (TBC) is a trans-owned music and creative production house that designs streetwear and curates original music and audio productions. Through their creative services and branding, Tender Bois Club does everything with a deep commitment to making the world safer by teaching themselves and other men/masculine people how to practice love, healing and self-expression. Today, Wazi spends his time working on his creative business and building relationships with the vibrant community of artists and Black folks in Brooklyn.
You can find more of Wazi’s work here on his website.
Ryann Holmes has worked and lived in Brooklyn since 2006, and has been creating pathways of creativity, expression, beloved community, and love as wealth. Ryann found joy and magic in being a part of queer, black culture in Brooklyn. So, in 2009, Ryann co-founded the bklyn boihood collective. As of today the collective has grown into a community staple. "bklyn boihood is a collective of queer and trans bois of color who create spaces for our community to bloom." Ryann has also organized music festivals, live shows, conferences, film events, and more for communities of color in Brooklyn. In 2016, Ryann was voted one of Brooklyn Magazine’s top 100 cultural innovators. Ryann's latest ventures include co-founding Lucid Haus, an indie music label based in Brooklyn, featuring artists like Nappy Nina. Ryann was a talent coordinator for films like Stacey Ann Chin's MOTHERSTRUCK; and Mercy Mistress, written by Yin Quan & Executive Produced by Margaret Cho. Ryann is also the music supervisor for 195 Lewis, a boundary-breaking series that explores the lives of queer people of color in Brooklyn, New York.
Cee Smith is an entrepreneur and angel investor whose portfolio includes an array of LGBTQ and women-owned businesses in the sectors of technology, film and entertainment companies, and real estate. Her entrepreneurial journey began after she was let go of her corporate management job because of her “lifestyle.” After that, Cee vowed to work for herself and make a living on her own terms. Before Cee Smith founded Flowergirls Flowershop: For Women Who Smoke (in Washington DC), she rarely saw any positive or beautiful images of black women (and other women of color) consuming cannabis. Flowergirls Flowershop is a black queer woman-owned cannabis company that is passionate about destigmatizing the belief that consuming cannabis should make black women (or other women of color) feel guilty, or ashamed. Flowergirls works to create and share media that will defunct that taboo, as well as create spaces for people to enjoy and learn more about the benefits of cannabis.