Storytelling for Social Justice

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Prianka Misra ’16

Prianka Misra ’16 was born in Castro Valley, California and lived there until she arrived at Princeton, where she majored in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. In addition to dancing, acting, and writing at Princeton, Prianka cultivated her interest in education policy in developing contexts by writing both her Junior Papers and her Senior Thesis on education policy in Ghana and South Africa. In this blog post she writes about her Fellowship experience at Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools, a nonprofit that serves students and communities in the eclectic city where she once went to school herself.

 

My role at GO Public Schools, an education advocacy nonprofit in Oakland, CA, has been largely two-pronged: I support our Senior Director of Development with grant writing and other fundraising projects, and I support our Director of Communications with blogs, website management, social media posts, emails to our network, and more.

Needless to say, my average day involves a lot of writing. Yet counter to my experience at Princeton, where my short-term assignments and tasks would dictate the message I aimed to send — be it through an article for the Daily Princetonian, an essay for a class in the Woodrow Wilson School, or a play for Princeton South Asian Theatrics — my experience of “telling the story of GO Public Schools” has been entirely different.

Prianka_Misra_Photo
Prianka (far right) with her colleague Daisy Padilla (operations coordinator at GO) and Cesar Escalante, a volunteer. They were at a field walk for school board elections, prepping to go door to door informing voters in Oakland, CA about school board elections.

This is because my writing at GO serves a much larger, community-driven purpose. We support an organization that aims to empower students, families, educators, and community members in Oakland to engage with the education ecosystem, develop their own leadership skills, and drive the systems-level changes they want to see. Therefore, it is critical that we establish a sense of trust among those we seek to serve.

As such, I am witnessing firsthand the humility, empathy, and listening skills that writers in the nonprofit sector must possess- be they gifted grantwriters or social media mavens or other experts in the field. Particularly in the education sector, where families, students, and educators are impacted by local policies in very real and direct ways, it is important for us as storytellers to step back and understand what aspects of these happenings the community wants to highlight. Certain questions are indispensable to our integrity as storytellers: what concerns do communities really have? What is their perspective on the progress or lack of progress that they see in a given industry? Are we portraying their efforts and the surrounding cultural and social context in the way that they view it? Staying true to the voices we aim to elevate is one of the most powerful ways to build their trust.

Finally, I have also noticed the various ways that writing and storytelling, when executed effectively, can catalyze an individual to make their own impact. Whether it’s by asking a community member to write a blog post from their perspective about new leadership in a school district, helping a family member share views on a political candidate in the form of an open letter, or even providing evocative talking points to a community member who did not have any information about school board elections – it’s been clear during my time at GO that the simple act of getting words on a page can be an act of building agency among individuals who have historically felt a different way.

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