Firstly I am taking the inspiration of having witnessed the incredible work that the other fellows are doing and their drive to making our world a better place and secondly the empowerment I received from the fellowship in supporting and validating my work.– Evaluation Feedback
Over the last two years, we have been building a political community of media activists and organizers through the MediaJustice Network Fellowship (MJNF). This September, we gathered to celebrate the work of fellows, the contribution of mentors, and the emerging community being built through the fellowship. We threw confetti, inspired and listened to one another as we strengthened the collective visioning and strategic thinking that this Fellowship is all about. As our Executive Director, Steven Renderos said at our recent September MJNF convening, “For us, the work of working with people of color to engage with other marginalized communities to own and control our own stories has been a core to our work throughout our entire history. We felt it’s been our responsibility to step into a space to bring new people in – and this program, the MediaJustice Network Fellowship, is a way we get to do that.”
The MediaJustice Network Fellowship is an 8-month political education and skill-building intensive that builds the leadership of the next generation of media and digital justice organizers, educators, and rabble-rousers. The fellowship comes out of the MediaJustice Leadership Institute, a key, legacy program of the MediaJustice Network that brought together grassroots movement leaders from all over the country to build a stronger movement together. As Network Strategies Director, Teresa Basilio stated at the September MJNF convening, “The point of the network was to coalesce the growing movement of media justice so that we could be stronger together. We had to be advocating as a collective.” In July 2022, we held the graduation of our first cohort of MediaJustice Network Fellows. It was a virtual extravaganza celebrating the fierce work of fellows and incredible support of mentors. This past September, we celebrated the 2nd cohort of the fellowship – with lots of love and confetti!
While relationships and community were built in our virtual time together, our most recent convening included our graduating fellows, alumni from our first cohort, MediaJustice staff, keynote speaker Makani Themba, and graduation party DJ Adair and was the first opportunity we’ve had to be gathered to celebrate in person.
The theme of this year’s fellowship was racialized disinformation. Disinformation is false information deliberately and often covertly spread in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth. Racialized disinformation uniquely targets and disproportionately impacts communities of color. This year’s fellows were nominated by MediaJustice Network organizations such as the STOP LAPD Spying Coalition, HEARD, [people. power. media.], 18MR, Highlander Research and Education Center, Alternate Roots, Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, and SONG. Notably, this year’s cohort was the first time we had an international presence; 3 fellows, nominated by Highlander Research and Education Center, were involved in the Campaign Against Racism through global movement leader, EqualHealth. The analysis from the global south from fellows Peruth Nabirye, Nyasha Grace, and Anne Marie Collins, was a radicalizing presence, as issues of U.S. exceptionalism, imperialism, and colonization were present from day one while discussing oppression and political economy in relation to the global media and technology landscape.
Fellows went through a rigorous set of three online political education intensives, engaging in workshops including Demystifying Info Disorder + Understanding and Overcoming Political Manipulation with consultant and trainer, Sabrina Joy Stevens, Narrative Power Mapping with justice communications experts, ReFrame, and Intro to Research Justice with UCLA Labor Center Director, Saba Waheed. In addition, they worked to apply these learnings through the conception and implementation of a project rooted in their community. Each fellow had access to peer support and mentor support through pod formations that met throughout the fellowship.
We kicked off the weekend with an alumni panel that featured Andrea Pierre, station manager at KRSM Radio, Aen Navidad of Forward Together, community organizer S. Posey of Imagining Freedom and policy specialist and activist Michaé De La Cuadra of Budget2SaveLives and Consulting QTs.
Panelists spoke of how they shared knowledge gained in the fellowship with their communities. Andrea shared information related to disinformation, misinformation and access to broadband with youth in Minneapolis public schools. Andrea also co-produced a podcast called Power Perspectives tackling issues related to art, culture, and life in Minneapolis. Posey spoke about how Imagining Freedom, a project she co-founded to support young local activists and to build intergenerational relationships through storytelling, came out of her time in the fellowship. She shared how MediaJustice’s framework on power was used to spark many conversations with young people towards understanding our material conditions and ask questions such as “How do we build a world of abundance without exploitation?” Hearing from alumni about the work they did during the fellowship and after was inspiring both to staff and the current cohort of fellows. Lineage, in terms of the media justice movement, was a key undercurrent to the gathering and the alumni panel exemplified that.
“How do we build a world of abundance without exploitation?”– Posey
The panel was followed by two days of presentations and discussion regarding this year’s fellows’ projects. The quality and depth of analysis across projects was truly incredible as were the conversations that emerged in light of them. Fellows projects ranged from unearthing discourse that is not present in mainstream media – such as stories of Black disabled folks harmed by the state and stories about the socioeconomic impact of debt on African countries. Projects revealed and examined racialized disinformation perpetuated by bad actors ranging from right-wing Hindu nationalists to the LAPD. The case studies and research fellows conducted on the role of media as a tool of political manipulation and oppression were embedded in strategies to combat the harms of this racialized disinformation through community education and engagement.
On our final day together, we were honored to have social justice innovator and pioneer in the field of change communications and narrative strategy, Makani Themba, as our keynote speaker. Makani spoke of the difference between narrative and narrative power – or “how our stories disappear vs what we need to do to tend to them, and root them for future generations.” She spoke of story-tending as institutional memory and as cultural presence. These ideas resonated with work fellows are leading in their communities. Three fellows worked on curriculum as a form of narrative strategy and cultural organizing in their local communities. These communities included displaced migrant communities in Barcelona, massage workers in Queens, and 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation Southeast Asians in Philadelphia. As one fellow commented,“It was extremely special to hear about the different ways people are organizing around their specific material conditions in different conditions, in different cities, countries, amongst different communities. I learned so much from everyone.”
Makani spoke of the difference between narrative and narrative power – or “how our stories disappear vs what we need to do to tend to them, and root them for future generations.” She spoke of story-tending as institutional memory and as cultural presence.
The September MJNF convening was not only the culmination of so much hard work that fellows executed, rooted in a liberatory vision – it was a celebration of community.
We know leadership development and community building are key components of intersectional movement building and we are proud to be in community with these fierce change makers for years to come. We believe in the innate ability of each of us to build and lead movements for justice with support, training, relationship building and accountability. It is our commitment and joy to build the MediaJustice movement; to support individuals in understanding their role in the project of collective liberation, to invest in their growth through providing an opportunity to learn by doing in a safe space, and to build the capacity of grassroots communities to advance community-based solutions to media and tech inequities.