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Posts Tagged ‘Stigma’

*This was first published on the blog for Exhale*

At the age of 19, Shaka Senghor shot and killed a man. “But,” he says, “that wasn’t the end of my story, it was just the beginning.” He spent two decades in prison for murder, nearly half of which were in solitary confinement. He is just one of the 90 percent of people in prison who will eventually return home to their communities.
 
 
Senghor’s opportunities and life after prison are deeply impacted by the way our culture chooses to embrace or marginalize people whose behavior is judged as wrong. In his recent TED talk, Senghor describes his hope that our nation can “embrace a more empathetic approach to incarceration” instead of just locking people up and throwing away the key. Anyone, he believes, can be transformed if we create space for that to happen.
 
 
Humans have a remarkable capacity for empathy.
 
 
And yet, when Zerlina Maxwell, a political analyst and media pundit, revealed on national television that she is a survivor of sexual assault, she was publicly attacked and criticized. As most survivors know, despite the fact that rape is the crime, it is the victims who are often blamed for what happened to them. “You were drinking, what did you expect?” were the first words Maxwell heard after she told someone she had been raped. The more people she told, the more questions she got about what it was she did wrong to warrant this man’s bad behavior.
 
 
As anyone who has shared a stigmatized story knows, it’s common to be on the receiving end of blame, shame, pity and attack. Yet, because the voices and experiences of people who live with stigma are critical to changing the way our culture addresses our most pressing social issues — from mass incarceration to sexual assault — advocates must prioritize supporting those on the leading edge of culture change, the people who publicly share their personal stories.
 
 
Ethical storysharing is a model that ensures a storyteller’s needs and leadership are supported and her rights respected throughout a storytelling process, especially one designed to make a public impact. Approaching storytelling through the eyes of the storyteller opens doors for meaningful connections and engagement across differences with audiences.
 
 
Last year, Exhale put our ethical storysharing model to the test. We supported five leaders who traveled the nation to share their personal abortion stories, reaching over 350 audience members at 19 colleges, universities, churches and community organizations in 5 states. Independently evaluated by Learning for Action, results from the survey’s showed an increase in empathy for women who have had abortions:
 
 
• 88 percent of audiences felt more prepared to hear diverse and complex experiences with abortion after the workshop.
 
• 83 percent of audience members felt a connection to the women who shared their experiences with abortion.
 
• 88 percent of audience members heard a new perspective about women’s experiences with abortions.
 
• 97 percent believed that the workshop was respectful of diverse experiences.
 
Something else happened, too. Comments from audience members showed that many of the people who normally feel excluded from conversations about abortion felt welcomed to participate:
 
 
• “It made me feel at ease to learn that men have a role and a place in all of this that is respected and appreciated.”
 
• “I am personally pro-life and often feel shut out or judged because of my opinion. However, I could one day be in the same position and respect everyone regardless of political stance.”
 
• “I was surprised by the speakers’ compassion, empathy and sensitivity to those who oppose them.”
 
 
We discovered that the secret sauce to generating empathy wasn’t just in the stories that the women told, but in their unique ability to role model empathy before an audience. When the storytellers faced judgment, instead of defensiveness they offered their understanding. By treating others the way they would like to be treated — respectfully and with empathy — they showed that talking about abortion, even with strangers who share different values and beliefs, doesn’t have to be a divisive act. In fact, abortion can be the subject that brings people together.
 
 
This is the true purpose of why we share our stories: to create human bonds powerful enough to change the world as we know it. Personal stories alone can’t humanize taboo topics, but empathetic leaders can.
 
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* This post first appeared on Huffington Post – Media*

We don’t always want to be known for the most vulnerable or emotional story of our lives. New York Times best-selling author of How to Be Black, Baratunde Thurston, once asked his live audience not to tweet or record his telling of a personal story at a public venue because he’s “not interested in that story blowing up and getting lots of YouTube hits. I’m not interested in being KNOWN for it…the idea of people streaming and live-tweeting and uploading this personal, intimate tale felt like a violation.”

After she wrote about her abortion experience in the The Texas Observer, Carolyn Jones was shocked to watch it “spread faster than a Texas wildfire” across the internet. She wrote later that sometimes she wakes “up in a cold sweat, shocked at what I’ve done. Not at having the abortion — I’m at peace with the choice we made — but at having written about the most private and painful of traumas.”

In many cases, the internet has helped people who once felt alone find others who understand what they’re going through, whether its an abortion experience, divorce or death. Yet, the intricacies of what’s private and what’s public are getting harder to navigate. Those who seek connection and self-expression online to mitigate their feelings of isolation, or to challenge myths and stereotypes about sensitive experiences, can find a number of difficulties, including the unexpected emotional impact of strangers curating and sharing their stories.

Does viral, vulnerable personal content challenge cultural stigmas or does it exploit it? (more…)

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*This post first appeared on the blog for MAG-Net.org, the Media Action Grassroots Network, a project of the Center for Media Justice.

After an abortion, women who want to connect personally with others who share their experience face incredible social and political challenges, such as stigma, judgment and manipulation. They risk losing their job or straining relationships with friends and family.

Yet, the desire to share stories and feel connected to others who understand is so strong that a woman will take great risks with the hope that her voice will be heard and that she will no longer feel alone.

At the recent National Conference on Media Reform, Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice spoke in a workshop on how to use mobile phones for social change. She shared with us that technology is so much more than a tool for organizing or politics.  When a woman living as an inmate in a federal prison pays $7.00 every time she calls home to hear her daughter’s voice; or an African immigrant in New York pays $5 for a phone card he’s promised will give him twenty minutes with his family back home, only to have his time cut short after 5 minutes, technology becomes a matter of human dignity. Malkia reminded all of us attending the workshop that we love technology because “we love to connect.” We call, text, tweet, and email not because we love our gadgets, but because our gadgets help us meet a deep, human need for personal connection.

Exhale, an organization created by and for women who have had abortions, uses technology to facilitate connection and communication between women who have had abortions; and to shape public conversations about our personal experiences with abortion. Our pro-voice programs offer women who have had abortions the opportunity to speak for themselves – to tell their own stories, in their own words and in the forums of their choice – and feel heard with dignity and respect. (more…)

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Exhale has learned a lot about storytelling around abortion and we have had the chance to work with some fantastic mentors and experts on the topic of stories.  We’ve all gotten together to offer a panel at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas next March. It’s the place to be! (more…)

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I was honored to be invited by the Development Executives Roundtable to share Exhale’s experiences with major donor fundraising on April 20, 2010.

In this edited video, I share the challenges that Exhale faces and what it looks like when we do major donor fundraising right.

I was honored to receive the following feedback:

“I hope you could feel the energy and admiration in the room yesterday, as I did, as you described the work you do with EXHALE.  Many of those who attended yesterday were from small organizations, and you were an especially uplifting and encouraging force for them.  But you were for me, too.  Especially when I heard that Rush Limbaugh ranted against you!  One attendee told me how much it meant to her to finally hear from someone who works and raises money in very challenging circumstances and for a very challenging mission.  And who is succeeding. You are an inspiration.” – Marjorie Winkler, ACFRE
Fundraising Consulting & Interim Management
  

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*This post was first published on the Huffington Post.

Dr. Bennet I. Omalu published an article in the journal Neurosurgery in July 2005 that described the new brain disease he found in a dead former NFL player, Mike Webster. Webster, a former Steelers Hall of Famer, died at age 50 after years of increasing dementia-like behaviors. Dr. Omalu told GQ magazine in “This is Your Brain on Football” (October 2009) that he expected the NFL to respond to his research by taking action to protect its players. He believed that the NFL would welcome “scientific evidence that the kind of repeated blows to the head sustained in football could cause severe, debilitating brain damage. He thought they could use the research to try and fix the problem.”

Instead of seeing this research as an important tool to protect and promote the health and longevity of its players, the NFL denied the findings, defended itself, and attacked Dr. Omalu. Four years later, despite the deaths of more players, despite more findings, more research, and more scientists who back up Dr. Omalu’s claims, the NFL continues its Deny-Defend-Attack strategy.

“I was naïve,” Dr. Omalu now says, to think the NFL would embrace his findings.

(more…)

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*I first published this piece on Beth Kanter’s blog.

“Many times a call has ended without me being able to give a caller something she really wanted. So many of our callers would ask for a resource where they could connect with other women who have experienced abortion, and I had to respond by saying this kind of resource wasn’t available, but it would be great if it was. Regardless of how successful this call was, I always hung up feeling things were incomplete.”
– Danielle Thomas, Exhale Talkline Counselor & Pro-Voice Ambassador

Exhale, an award-winning pro-voice organization based in Oakland, California, provides a one-of-a-kind service for women and men with personal experiences of abortion: our national, multi-lingual post-abortion talkline. Operating for eight years, Exhale’s talkline provides women and men what they are unable to find in their everyday lives: support and respect for their unique abortion experience.

Our callers desire something beyond a comforting place to call. They want to talk with others like themselves, others who have personal experiences with abortion. At first, what they asked for were in-person support groups, and over time, the request turned into something else. Many callers said, “I went online to find others to talk to, but everything I found was really religious or political. Do you know of anything else? Does Exhale offer something?” At the time, we didn’t, and volunteers like Danielle often hung up the phone wishing they could offer more.

Last year, we made a change, and now Exhale counselors answer our talkline callers by saying, “Yes. We do offer something. We built an online community just for you.” Danielle says, “As soon as I let a caller know about the community and how she can access it, the tone of conversation changes immediately. What was once a downbeat way to end a call has become a way to further support a woman during a difficult time.”

(more…)

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