Making Reparations a Reality: Blazing a Trail to Racial Repair with Trevor Smith – Transcript
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Guided by their wisdom, we persevered and through that struggle we, the collective we.
Up from the ground repaired and transformed the world. [00:01:00] There are no utopias, but damn it feels good to be black here. Well, well, well, it seems we finally found our way
Kirk: and welcome back. You found us for another episode of, let’s Hear It, and we did something different today. Yes, we did. We started, we started with a cutout, a narrative North Star from Trevor Smith.
Who you’re about to hear from today, who concluded his interview with Eric with that beautiful reflection on what a world after reparations is gonna look like. Eric, it was so good. We had to pull it right up front, make it the lead off for this podcast. Tell us what’s ahead. This was an incredible conversation.
All right, so
Eric: I had a conversation with Trevor Smith, who’s the director of Narrative Change at Liberation Ventures, which is an organization working to build a multiracial democracy that works for all of us. By making racial repair a reality in the United States. And I ran into Trevor at the Frank Conference in Florida earlier this year, and he just, he blew me away with [00:02:00] hi.
He’s, he’s just, I just love his energy. I loved talking to him. I loved learning from him. I would say reparations is a challenging conversation for some people. I don’t think it should be, but it is. And. And we live in a world of realism in which I, I open up the newspaper and, and I, I can’t believe I’m, I’m living in the 2020s, right, and not in the 1920s.
And so therefore, when you’re having a conversation like this, you are, you are. Really flying into the wind a little bit, but Trevor does it with such a good heart and an incredible sense of optimism and enthusiasm and care and love, and that’s why I love this
Kirk: conversation. It’s incredible. So this is Trevor Smith.
He’s the director of Narrative Change at Liberation Ventures. You can find Trevor at his own firstname.lastname@example.org. If you still do Twitter, you can find him at. TM Smith 1211, and you can also find him on LinkedIn. But this was an incredible discussion. It’s so gracious, so [00:03:00] thoughtful, and frankly, Eric.
Really exciting. Really exciting with the work that’s being done here. I agree. My listen to Trevor and Eric and we’ll come back.
Eric: Welcome to, let’s Hear It. My guest today is Trevor Smith, the Director of Narrative Change at Liberation Ventures, an organization that’s working to build a multiracial democracy that works for all of us by making racial repair a reality in the United States.
Trevor’s also the author of the CK Newsletter, reparations Daily ish, which you can find at reparations daily dot sub stack.com. Trevor, thank you so much for coming on. Let’s hear it. I’m, I just can’t wait for this conversation.
Trevor Smith: Thanks for having me, and I’m excited about it too.
Eric: You’ve had a, a, a real interesting variety of jobs before, before you before you come here, you’ve worked at the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Serna Foundation, and the consulting firm m and r.
Among others. What was it about that work that led you to this place at Liberation Ventures?
Trevor Smith: So my undergrad degree was [00:04:00] in journalism, and one of the biggest pieces of feedback that I got when I was in school was that my pieces were too opinionated. And so that actually pushed me toward advocacy. So when I graduated and was looking for a job, I was into housing, I was looking for a job, and m and r was one of the first places that I heard back from.
And, you know, as a new. Graduate, you kind of take what’s on the table. But it was a really, I mean, I really can’t complain about that being a, a job that was on the table at the time. It was really a crash course into strategic communications for advocacy. My first week dreaded week, Donald Trump got elected.
And so I really got thrown into the fire because you know, as I know you, your listeners know, the first couple months, first couple weeks of the Trump administration, he was doing these refugee bans, these Muslim bans, these travel bans. And so one of our clients was Lutheran I Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.
And so, and they were the second largest refugee resettlement agency in the country where they still are. So I really got thrown into the thick of [00:05:00] things and really developed, I think this. Skillset that’s rooted in strategic communications, but also deeply rooted in kind of policy and advocacy, and becoming very knowledgeable about a topic.
Had an interest in economic policy, which led me to the center on budget and policy priorities, and when I was at the center on budget. That’s where I I had already started to do some thinking and some reading around the racial wealth gap, but I was exposed and introduced to Dr. Sandy Deity and Dr.
Derek Hamilton and their work around the racial wealth gap. And so they name amongst other policy proposals, reparations as keyway to close the black white wealth gap. So at the Center on Budget is where I really got to dive into. Research around the racial wealth gap and then research around reparations.
And I didn’t know it at the time, but I think what I was yearning for at the center on budget was this field, this space that I’m now in, that we call narrative change. I, I think I needed more skills than my journalism degree allowed. I came to New York for grad school. I, I went to nyu, got my[00:06:00] master’s in public administration from nyu and was working at the A c U of New York at the same time.
Amazing experience to do at the exact to do, at the same time, to be kind of in grad school, but then also at a legal policy advocacy organization. And it was my first time not working at the national level. So now I’m working at the city level, at the state level. So I was being, I was able to apply what I was learning in school at the A C L U.
And after grad school I was, I’d always had an interest in interest in philanthropy. And the Cerna Foundation was a job that opened at the time when I was in grad school. So I started there the first week of the pandemic. And you know, we saw in real time narratives changing around the economy. So like in one, one day, one breath folks are low wage workers or low skilled workers, and then in the next breath, they’re essential workers.
And so my boss at the time, Michaela Davis, she tasked me with looking at what an economic narrative change grant making strategy could be. And that [00:07:00] really is where I deepened my knowledge around narrative change. And that’s what’s led me to Liberation Ventures. And
Eric: let’s just talk about what’s, what’s going on there.
Tell me about Liberation Ventures. It’s, it’s really interesting work and, and I would love to hear more
Trevor Smith: about it. Yes. So Liberation Ventures, we’re about three years old. We’re fiscally sponsored by PolicyLink, so we’re within kind of a, a larger, well-known policy and advocacy organization. But our mission statement is to fuel the black LED movement for racial repair.
And so we really see ourselves as, Field catalysts, field builders, supporting and growing. The movement that’s always been here, but that has been significantly under resourced for reparations. So reparations for black people in the United States. And so our work falls into three buckets, moving resources, moving relationships, and moving narratives all toward the North Star of Federal comprehensive reparations.
And when we talk about reparations, we both mean. Financial and non-financial aspects. So in terms of me moving resources, we raise and re-grant dollars. [00:08:00] We’ve committed 2 million to date to 31 brilliant organizations who are mostly at the grassroots level doing different types of advocacy across the country.
We see ourselves also as like connective tissue builders and conveners. And so that is really the relationship part of our work. And so we try to make connections across the movement, across the field within our grantee, within our grant portfolio. And just really try to form stronger relationships throughout the movement.
And then narratives, which is where my work falls under. And the goal that I propose on the narrative side as a field builder should be to facilitate the growth of narrative power throughout the reparations movement. And we define narrative power as the ability to tell stories that shift mental models, cultural mindsets, and ultimately culture.
So we’re really oriented around well, the narrative work is really oriented around building narrative power. And we have two. Prongs, two approaches for how we’re trying to build this power building narrative infrastructure and what we call narrative weaving. And so we started on the infrastructure side, and so last August we launched our first narrative program called the [00:09:00] Reparations Narrative Lab.
About nine months into it, we’re almost at the end of phase one, but we have been convening 13 organizations across the racial justice and reparations movement. To do sense making to ask ourselves what are the narratives that we’re up against as a movement? What do we wanna see out in the world? We’ve done focus groups, we’ve commissioned audience research, and now we’re in the content and frame testing part of the lab.
So we’re really trying to take a comprehensive approach to understand how can we shift mindset shift perceptions to grow support for reparations.
Eric: Well, you know, it’s funny cuz everyone wants to be shopping on the narrative aisle. Yeah. You know, like, gimme some of that narrative. We talk about it all the time on the show.
And, and I mean, you, you, you talk about shifting mindsets, but can, can you break it down a little? Can you go deep? Go as deep as you care to go about how you create narrative. How you know when it’s. Taking how, what you do, how do you adjust as you go. Everyone is trying to figure this out. And what I’ve seen of what you’ve written as [00:10:00] good a handle on it as anybody’s I’d
Trevor Smith: like to get.
I really appreciate that. I really appreciate that. And it, it is hard for sure. And I think what I’ve seen is that there is no one, one size fit all, especially when you look at how narratives have shifted around certain other topics like smoking or around marriage equality. But I think. What I’ve learned and what I often talk about and what I often get reminded about from some of my mentors, some of my elders, is the importance of movements.
And so I, I often return to this definition by Manuel Pastor and Rhonda Ortiz around movements, which they define as sustained groupings that develop a frame or narrative based on shared values. That maintain a link with a real and broad base in the community and that build for a long-term transformation and power.
And so I really think that narratives are shifted most successfully when there are strong, resilient movements. And so what I feel really blessed about [00:11:00] is to be situated within the reparations movement, which is already this. Broad, transformative, large topic and thinking about all of the different stories that we can collect, and then all of the different organizations that we can convene to, to build narrative power around.
And so where we started was a glossary. We kind of scanned the field and see, saw how folks were, were thinking about these concepts. And so again, you know, narrative power is what we’re oriented around. And so we really thought, okay, so well, how do we build power? If, if narrative power is the ability to tell stories that shift mental models and cultural mindsets, how do we do this?
And so our thesis is that if we can build. Narrative infrastructure, and by infrastructure, I think the best, the best definition that I’ve seen comes from the Othering and Belonging Institute on this, but it’s very long. So we’ve condensed it into this definition which we define. We define narrative infrastructure as the network of relationships and [00:12:00] organizational systems needed to create dominant narratives.
So thinking about infrastructure as the bridges and the streets that. Connect narratives and, and, and bring them together. So our attempt at this, our first attempt is through this lab. So we, we brought a pretty diverse group of folks together. Folks at the national level at Kohl of change, human rights watch, folks at the local level, like the Grassroots Reparations Project, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and artists and writers and strategists.
We brought them together to really. Start to try to make a cohesive framework or what we’re now calling a schema and what we’re calling the narrative house, which we hope can be a tool for future content creation, future organizing, and future strategy. So, That’s how we’re starting off. And we hope that this narrative house is something that can actually be used over and over again.
So anywhere from like an organizer, like literally printing it out and taking it with them to an organizing [00:13:00] meeting to a writer’s room, which we, we held last week. We did like a, a mini writer’s room where we had content creators come into the lab. They looked at the narrative house and they explore the different areas of which.
Of how they could tell a story about reparations that aligned with their platform and what their audience might want to know. So we hope that the framework can be used in different ways, and I think that essentially how we build narrative power is through organizing and through alignment. But how we build alignment is the tougher, that’s the toughest question.
How do we build alignment? How do we build collaboration? It’s the question of the core, I think of narrative.
Eric: You mentioned marriage equality and I think you meant and, and smoking. I think if, if I’m not mistaken. Yeah. Those were successful efforts to change narratives and then people’s behavior, I think as a result of those narratives.
Are there other. Movements that you are using as your models, the things that help you help guide you as [00:14:00] you’ve been doing this work?
Trevor Smith: Yeah, I mean, so it’s funny because I often get asked to do maybe like narrative one oh ones, and I think folks most often want to hear what I’ve learned from marriage equality and like how I’m applying that to reparations.
But I think, which, you know, there’s obviously things that I have learned. But I think there’s closer you the civil rights movement. I think there’s a lot to learn from there. But then more broadly than that, just the black radical tradition. And I think that there’s, there is a academic and philosophic understanding of narrative and theory around narrative.
And so, you know, I admit that, and I am one to read a lot, so I have read a lot of the academic thinking, but I think at the core of it I think black people in the United States arguably have known the power of narrative, the power of story, the power of words. Since black people were brought here from teaching [00:15:00] themselves how to read and write at the risk of death because they knew the power and knowledge, and the power in words, and the power in knowing those things to be able to speak to each other, to build community, to build relationships, to build power.
So what we’ve done, one of our, one of our third session in the reparations narrative lab was just the, the title of it was, what are the stories of our movement? Just looking backwards and asking ourselves, well, what is, what is, what are the stories along the way on the black radical tradition? And so we’re making, and we piece together a timeline of different eras since 1619 and discuss what was happening politically, culturally, economically at this time where the Black Liberation Movement was thrusted forward.
And can we. Harness that, or can we recreate that in this moment that we’re in right now? So, you know, we looked at the eighties and saw the progress that was made in the eighties and everything that was going around that, at that, at that time, you know, there’s one year that, [00:16:00] that pop culturally was just a, a, a breakout year for black folks, 1989, where Michael Jackson had the number one hit, prince had the number two hit.
Jesse Jackson is like running for president and is just bursting onto the scene. And so, We looked at that era and then we looked now and then we, we tried to push ourselves to think about, well what, what is this moment now calling for? Where are we right now and where can we be thrusted forward? So I think there’s often this urge to look at things like marriage equality or looking at things like smoking, but on something like reparations, which is so racially focused, so racially heavy, I think, you know, the best thing would be to look at things internally and then obviously we look at.
South Africa, we look at Germany and Holocaust reparations as well. And those also provide very, very good approaches and, and roadmaps and thinking for us. So it’s really exciting to be pulling from like the, the breadth of the narrative change field, the breadth of the reparations field, and trying to kind of bring [00:17:00] it into, into one.
Eric: after the break, we’re gonna talk a lot more about reparations. We’ll come back with Trevor Smith in just a moment. You’re listening to, let’s Hear It, a podcast about foundation and nonprofit communications hosted by Kirk Brown and Eric Brown. Let’s hear. It is sponsored by the Communications Network, which connects, gathers, and informs the field of leaders working in communications for good.
Because foundations and nonprofits that communicate well are stronger, smarter, and vastly more effective. You can find, let’s hear it online at, let’s email@example.com or on Twitter at Let’s Hear at Cast. Thanks for listening. And now back to the show. And we’re back with Trevor Smith, the Director of Narrative Change at Liberation Ventures, and we’re gonna talk about.
Reparations for one thing. I have to really recommend to folks who are interested in this issue, who are interested in understanding how narrative drives movements. To subscribe to Trevor’s Substack Newsletter Reparations [00:18:00] daily ish. You do an amazing job for starters of just collecting all of the information that’s out there, but you also put your point of view on it.
Maybe this is. The thing that you were meant to do at a journalism school because you’re, I think you’re a wonderful educator. Can you talk just a little bit about that work itself? Cuz, cuz it’s so good and it’s, I think, such a great model for people out there who are, are trying to communicate about the various components of their work to a broad audience.
Trevor Smith: so I mean, this is funny. It’s funny you bring this up because I think, and, and how we talked a little bit about M n R earlier, because really where I got this idea was, was Bert at m n r in a lot of ways. And so a lot of account coordinators, associates, comms associates across our social justice field, do this every morning.
They wake up and they have to compile clips for either their clients or if they’re at a. Like when I was at the Center on Budget, if they’re inside a large [00:19:00] organization, they compile clips for their internal team and they send it out every morning. And so one day, two years ago, you know, I, I was reading reparations news almost every morning when I was at Serna and I just said, you know, it’d be really cool if someone just compiled these.
And just sent them out for folks who were in the movement or folks who were interested to get these daily clips every day for free. So that’s really how the idea was born. And then as I started to get more and more people following, I was like, well, I can’t. I can’t, I can’t just send links to folks inboxes.
I gotta have a little bit, something more than that. Let me, let me give some of my opinions, some of my thoughts about some of these articles or about what’s going on just more broadly. And so now it’s developed into that. So where now every time I try to put out addition, so it’s definitely now daily ish.
When I first started, I knew. I wouldn’t be able to do it daily, but now that I’m kind of adding my own thoughts about it I’m taking a little bit more time in[00:20:00] thinking deeply about what I write. And that is, that is run up a little bit with how frequent I can put out the, the clips. And so what I’m hoping to do next year is almost divide the two and let folks self-select.
So you’ll be able to self-select if you want, these just like ongoing articles on a daily or weekly basis. And then you’ll also be able to self-select if you want my opinions on reparations or my opinions on race. Well, I have
Eric: to say that for folks who are listening out there, Trevor’s newsletter is like an object lesson and how to add context to the news and what’s going on.
Cuz he just does a great job of synthesizing. So you, you do a great job of synthesizing and I really appreciate that. I learned, I’ve learned a lot. So let’s get into the conversation around. Around building a, a, a new narrative, I guess you could call it a new narrative around, around reparations.
Mm-hmm. A it, it, maybe it’s my own perceptions, but I, I’m [00:21:00] seeing more stories in the paper. I live in San Francisco where there is a, a really robust and interesting conversation around reparations. I mean, here’s this, this the stupid question. Is this taking hold finally, after. All this time. And, and can you talk about why you, if it is, why you think that’s happening?
Trevor Smith: it is taking hold after all this time and I think it’s really, it’s, I try to be very enthusiastic in my answer there because I think it’s really important for folks to know that this is really, really being grappled with, like, this isn’t just an activity that folks are moving through. You know, there are obviously dollars moving into organizations that we have.
A clear kind of through line to see. But then what it’s also been beautiful to see is just the ways in which folks are really grappling with this issue in a really deeply research, deeply academic. I think that there’s this thought that there isn’t an [00:22:00] intellectualism to the reparations conversation, but from what I’ve seen, everyone from the academy to the grassroots approaches this.
Topic in a really intellectual way. And yes, so, so there’s that evidence. And then there’s also just like you said, read through my newsletter. You’ll just see from over the past two years, I’ve probably compiled. Close to a thousand, if not over a thousand articles on this topic from across the globe. I started to do it just in the United States and now I’ve expanded it to be globally.
So this is really a global conversation. So some of the major things that have, that are going on are, yes, in California, there’s a California reparations task force that has been doing work over the past two years. And this summer they’re actually released recommendations on how, how they think the state should move forward.
And it’s groundbreaking. It’s the first state to ever do it. New Jersey. I’m in New York, so our neighbors in New Jersey, they were the first state to propose a bill. So there is New Jersey, actually Propo had a bill on the table before California, but California passed it first. And so New Jersey, they are the, [00:23:00] they are the second state that could potentially pass a reparations commission.
At the state level and then what we’re seeing across cities and localities is a lot, a lot, a lot of movement. From Boston to Evanston. I think Evanston is probably the most prominent city where they are actually giving out reparations and they’ve started with housing. So this is really real.
And you know, universities are grappling with it. Harvard University released a report a few years ago. Georgetown University had a whole commission dedicated to it, and we’ve seen institutions apologize for slavery. News institutions apologize for their role in slavery. And so I think what we’re seeing as the dust has settled since 2020.
The murder of George Floyd, the racial uprisings, the word reckoning, was thrown around a lot in 2020. You know, I disagreed with it. I don’t think we’ve ever had a, a national reckoning, but I think what we’re seeing in the reparations conversation is pushing us the closest we’ve ever been, probably since [00:24:00] emancipation.
That might be too, that might be a stretch, but the closest we’ve ever been in the past 50 years for sure. On a real racial record.
Eric: Well, one of the things that you’ve been quite clear about is that, that this is about repair. You know, repair is the root word for. For reparations and, and that this is a about trying to bring together communities.
Not trying to divvy up sides or to, to pick winners and losers. Obviously it’s, we’re dressing the various things that have occurred throughout our history and I was reading a hyper-local news story in the San Francisco Public Press hyper-local outlet here about what happened in the Western edition, the the Fillmore District of San Francisco that was raised for so-called urban renewal and the effect that that’s had on people and that is at the.
The core of the conversation in San Francisco and as in Evanston, same. There are similar dynamics at play, which is [00:25:00] what has hap what has happened to people’s lives, and how do we help repair that? The things that we were responsible for, we as a community or as a culture or as a city or whatever. And then what do we do about that?
Yeah. And we all have to take a, a apart, I believe in, in trying to restore and repair. The harm that has, right. Has that was, that was inflicted. You know, it’s not like I wanna talk about it in the past and I was talking about it in the passive voice, the harm that people did. Yeah. I’m to, to, to black people and other people of color that that needs to be repaired.
Trevor Smith: Right. I’m really glad. Yes, I’m glad that we’re here right now because I think what we’ve been doing in the lab, what we’ve seen is that we need a transformative narrative on reparations. You know, right now, I think not. I think, I know a lot of folks see reparations strictly through the financial lens.
They kind of see it as a period instead of a comma. They don’t think about it as a process. And so what we’re really trying to do is expand the thinking about reparations and to see it more as a process. [00:26:00] So I want to talk a little bit about some of what we’re calling narrative areas of opportunity that kind of sit within our narrative.
Schema and we define narrative areas of opportunity as strategic areas for a narrative to break through and catalyze a movement. And we can think about these as like storytelling areas. I’ll name a couple that I think really speak to where we are in the conversation and where I think we, we should be going to your point.
So the first one that’s just kind of just like the over or the underlying theme. The overarching theme in all of our conversations in the lab is what we’re calling world Destroying, world making, and we’re thinking about that as a framing that offers reparations. As a transformative process that not only creates a, a pro-black world, but also tears down all oppressive black systems.
You know, we’re also thinking about a narrative area of opportunity that we’re calling reparations, unlocking democracy, and we’re thinking about that as a framing that offers reparations as a missing element in the vision of creating a [00:27:00] functioning and inclusive democracy. And the last two I’ll mention, I think really speak to, I think some of the main questions that we often get around reparation.
So one we’re calling radical solidarity, and we’re offering that as a framing that connects the dots on the interconnected nature of the project of Black liberation and other communities and other transformative social movements. So, for example, our December session we had someone from the indigenous led land back movement come and someone from the Japanese American redress movement come in and have a conversation about, you know, well, what are the stories that said at the intersection of our movement.
And I think particularly for indigenous communities, the conversation around land comes up a lot, right? So if there’s an indigenous call for land back, and then there’s also a black LED call for land reparations, both of which I think have merit. How do we grapple with that? And what I’ve seen in.
Posing that conversation, posing that question to black and indigenous people, is that both are possible. And [00:28:00] so black and indigenous folks actually think about this transformative world where both of these things are possible. And so I think we should be kind of. Driving toward telling these interconnected stories because what we know our opposition will do is try to pit us against each other, not only just black and indigenous communities, any communities of color with any other community, community of color.
So we know that that’s coming. And then the last thing I’ll name is, or the last area of opportunity that we’re coming up with is what we’re calling becoming reparation right now. If you were to enter the reparations conversation, you could enter it through or you’ll likely enter it through. Identity then.
So you’re very quickly enter it and come to the com. Come to the question who should get reparation? And you know that question. While I do think it’s one that we should explore in the broader just like list of policy conversations that would go into the implementation part, what it often leads to is what we’re kind of calling toxic separatism, which seeks [00:29:00] to pit.
Black immigrants or any immigrant community against the black American community here. And so what we’re offering with becoming reparation is another identity lens of which to come into. And so if you identify, if you self-identify as a reparation, that means you cannot be anti-immigrant. That means you cannot be anti G B T Q.
You have to be for this transformative call for reparation. And so it is it, reparation as a term is something that. Has been used throughout the movement by our elders. And what we’re really just trying to do is like construct it into a larger part of our conversation, a larger part of our language.
In the same way that when someone says, I’m an abolitionist, you kind of know what they stand for, you know, where their politics are. Or someone says, I’m a feminist. You know what their politics are right now. When you say reparation is, I don’t know if there’s a clear vision of what that means, but what we’ll hope to do is construct that identity.
Eric: I, I went right to abolitionists and, [00:30:00] and feminist in my own mind, like, oh, okay. I understand how that, how that now fits. Just in the couple of minutes that we have left and we could have this conversation for a really long time, and I cannot wait to take your course when you teach it. What do you think the future looks like?
Where, where are we going and can you paint that picture of, of a successful, I don’t know, journey?
Trevor Smith: Yes. So we have a narrative North Star that is part of our narrative house, and we define our North Star as an articulation of the vision of the world after a reparations process. So I have a draft of it.
I’d love to read it. I, it might change slightly, but it, it’ll get to the point. Go for it. Cool. It’s true in this new world. Black lives not only matter, they are also embraced, welcomed, cherished, celebrated, and deeply loved. It’s peaceful here. Black people can inhale deeply and exhale freely. When we wake in the morning, money is not on our mind.
Surprise, [00:31:00] stranger things have happened. No one just has one home. Because we formed homes in our relationships within each other. There’s a selflessness in the air. Gifting is the standard. Selling is the oddity. For some reason, everything tastes sweeter. Black dance song and art are cherished and admired.
In a way it feels like we pushed a rest and reset button. Black Minds, hearts and souls have been restored. We finally figured out how to equitably distribute the abundance of resources we’ve always had. We didn’t just tell the truth. We chose to hold it close forever. Land has been returned. Leaves and trees still fall, but no one claims them as their own.
Caring is neither womanly or manly. We’ve abandoned that concept. We care for all at all times. Anti-blackness does not exist here. Truly. Imagine that we’ve concluded it’s much easier to love than to hate. Yes, we are rich with black joy here. [00:32:00] Stranger things have happened. Of course, there was struggle, tension, and conflict along the way.
Our elders and ancestors told us as much. Guided by their wisdom. We persevered and through that struggle, we, the collective we up from the ground repaired and transformed the world. There are no utopias, but damn it feels good to be black here. Well, well, well, it seems we finally, finally found our way.
Eric: Well, I, I can’t think of a better way to end that convers our conversation. I really appreciate your work and thank you so much for sharing it with us, Trevor Smith. Thank you.
Trevor Smith: Thank you.
Kirk: And we’re back. So you’ve done it again, Eric, you brought another. Former recovering journalist onto our podcast and had them tell us about all the great work that they do. And I have to say, I, I have a special place in my heart for these former journalists and the, [00:33:00] and the, the rigor they bring to the work because that, for all the things you discussed, for me, one of the big top lines was just how thoughtful and how thoroughly Trevor is thinking about this work.
And I felt that journalist training through all of it, you’re, you’re not
Eric: a. Fellow, a recovering former journalist type. I’m
Kirk: not, I’m just a, I’m just a fan from afar. So I think we need to rename our podcast along the lines of his of his newsletter, because he does reparations daily ish is what he is writing.
I think we should do, let’s hear it, quarterly ish or something like that.
Eric: No, no, no, no. We did take June off as, by the way, did the New York Mets apparently? Yeah, we are back here in July. Oh, and before we get into this, I, I I hope this is okay for me to throw this in, but our tuneful composer of our theme music, John l he, he has an album out ah, and It’s a really, really wonderful album. It’s called Past Imperfect, [00:34:00] and our theme song is the first cut on the album, a studio produced version of, let’s Hear It.
And it is like, do, do, do, do. Dom, dom. And then he scats. And, and so I, I really encourage folks. To, to go to john ali.com, J O H N a, double L double e.com. Download past Imperfect, or Get it on Spotify, wherever you get your music. But John Ali, big, huge. Really fun. Great album. 17 songs on the album. Oh,
Kirk: that’s awesome.
Well, we’ll put the, we’ll put the link, we’ll put the link to the album and then, and the notes for this show.
Sorry to interrupt.
Eric: A really important conversation. No, that’s, that’s great. Or a, a, a cheap plug for my, my pal John. So, I like
Kirk: Trevor’s Group Liberation Ventures. This notion of feeling of black led movement for racial repair.
Focusing on federal legislation and the reparative frameworks that I built, financial and non-financial components. And that was another theme for me in this conversation was how thoughtfully Trevor and that group are connecting. Narrative change [00:35:00] work with real policy outcomes. And that starts get, that starts getting expressed back to us in all the stories, all the work we’re seeing done with the reparations work.
And I feel like this is one of those organizations that’s really pushing the vanguard of what this looks like. This notion of how we direct narrative change into some real concrete policy, action, and policy transformation. That, that according to the conversation you both had is happening all over the place.
I mean, different states, different cities. It’s, it’s really impressive. The,
Eric: the root of re reparations is repair. This is about repairing damage. You’d have to not be looking to see how much damage racism has, and slavery and power forever, many hundreds of years of history has done to people and repairing that damage is important.
And how can you have a whole society. If you have systematically damaged people. So I, I think that that understanding about repair is really important. People get very, very sidetracked about [00:36:00] what repair looks like or how you do it or that kind of thing. But this, this notion that we must repair, I think is, is front and center.
And that’s, that’s really the most important thing. And, and you say all there are. Indeed a wide variety of activities going on right now. These, these are legislatures that are looking into this. These are various selected officials who are working on this issue, and the city of San Francisco, I think famously right now has just released a almost 400 page report that dedicates, I mean chapters to how mass incarceration or discriminatory housing policies and.
You know, unequal access to education has made it difficult or even impossible for black San Franciscans to lead the lives that their neighbors lead. And what are you gonna do about that? If the answer is you throw up your hands like, oh, sorry, sucks to be you. They’re like, that’s unacceptable. And so the city of San Francisco is looking at how do we repair [00:37:00] and it will be important to, to take this in really, and to, to.
Figure how to put as many of these recommendations in place as possible. And some of them will cost money and that’s fair and it should happen. So there are, this is not pie in the sky stuff. This is real stuff that real folks are, are spending a lot of time thinking about and trying to. To be fair and to be honest about what has happened and what are we gonna do with that.
Kirk: repair is immediate. It needs to be done. Now. These issues are current. They’re part of our lives each day. They’re highly difficult to work through in this complicated landscape we’re in. And you see the rigor that’s being brought to that task by Liberation Ventures and Trevor’s colleagues to leverage what in another world, we’d say communications, but to leverage communications to actually advance and move this forward.
So, In February, Trevor did an interview with Lauren. Paul and Lauren wrote it up very beautifully on, on her medium channel. But this great little [00:38:00] nugget narratives move people and people move policy and this narrative change work that’s being done. And then, so this, this, this work that Liberation Ventures is doing to define what narrative is, I, I just, I love this work.
It’s a collection of stories we tell each other, rooted in shared values and common themes that uphold a particular frame or worldview. So narrative power is the ability to tell stories that shift the mental models and cultural mindsets that define our cultural norms. And so we’re getting into this very.
Applied sensibility for what this work is and how powerful it can be, and to see a city like San Francisco take that up then and turn it into this, you know, multi hundred page thorough analysis on a particular topic. And to see that springing as sort of the welling up of this kind of thoughtfulness and this kind of work.
I love these illustrations of sort of the first thought of how we collect our thinking around narrative and how that advances to the real applied outcomes that you see in the, in the space. It’s really impressive work. Yeah. Well,
Eric: I mean, [00:39:00] I think we, we’ve talked a lot, we talk about narrative every, almost every time.
And I think Trevor is doing it and, and his, his colleagues are doing it as well as I’ve seen, and particularly you are trying to change, you’re trying to move whatever ocean liners of, of how we think about certain issues. And, and I think he’s doing it as. As well as any, and you know, in sense the proof is in the pudding because the work that if you, if you go to reparations daily ish and sign up for his newsletter, he catalogs the stories that we are seeing in the paper about the question of reparations in which he, his colleagues in a field are reframing this conversation and the, there’s a story almost every day.
In, in the paper and you, you see this work everywhere. It is beginning [00:40:00] to, it’s, it’s beginning to cohere, it’s beginning to sink in. And that’s not by accident. Mm-hmm. And for anybody out there who, who is interested in doing narrative work in your field, I think you do very, very well to learn from Trevor and his colleagues about how they are building a new narrative around thinking about racial repair.
In our country. And it’s, it’s, it’s amazing. It’s really amazing. And
Kirk: seeing the context that a really thoughtful, gifted writer can provide for that, those stories that are happening, it’s just a game changer in terms of how you can view the media landscape and what a great place for a journalist who’s a little bit too opinionated to land up, right?
Creating this reparations Daish newsletter so that people can, can understand the context behind some of these stories. And you know, I love this comment. In progressive advocacy spaces, we too often rely on statements instead of relying on story data doesn’t move people’s stories due. So, you know, again, the work Trevor is doing, he’s [00:41:00] breaking down the aspects of how you do this work in applied way.
And, and so he, you know, he talks about, well, these are the elements of typical advocacy campaigns. You’ll have an air game, that’s your strategic communications. You’ll have an inside game that’s your public policy and advocacy work. You’ll have the ground game that’s building all that grassroots support.
We’re introducing the heart game. And, and man, I love it. It’s great. You know, so the cultural narrative strategies and stories have a character, they evoke emotions, they tell about events with happy and unhappy endings. And then I love this sensibility. We think of narrative as the average of the stories.
Like, like, like it’s the sum. And again, this, this breaking this down, taking this concept, this highfalutin narrative concept and saying, you know, actually this is really what it is. This is what it means. And then seeing how it flows through into the work and how it actually changes policy outcomes. It’s, it’s almost like there’s something to this communication stuff, isn’t there?
It’s almost like, it’s almost like there’s
Eric: something behind this. I’ve said it a million times. No kid climbs up onto their parents’ lap and says, mommy, daddy, tell me some statistics [00:42:00] you, yeah. Storytelling is the thing that, that we kept us from being eaten by the saber tooth tiger. And it is funny, I was, I was I just saw Jacob Harold, who we had on not too long ago, and talking about his book, the Toolbox at the Commonwealth Club here in San Francisco, and he talks about his nine tools and the first one is storytelling.
Now, I don’t know if he made storytelling first for a reason or not, but it is, and I, I kind of get that because I, I, if you’re going to then start to use your data or you’re going to start to use mathematical modeling or game theory or any of the other things that he does in that, in that book, You have, you have to land it in something, you have to ground it in something, and you have to ground it in a sense of understandings and values.
And I think that’s what storytelling does for us. And I, I think that Trevor uses it as well as any I’ve seen. But I also think that these are the, we are trying to change the, the, the shape of our brains and Traian shorters. Has we, we talked to him about that is as you tell these stories and as you create [00:43:00] these narratives, you’re changing the shapes of people’s brains.
Mm-hmm. And therefore they’re able to, will it, they’re able to take in information in different ways. They see it in a different way in their mind as they hear it. They don’t re, they don’t reflect or respond in, in the ways that they might have in, in the past. And they’re now open to different things.
That’s, that’s very scientific stuff. And is way above my, I’m like a weird sky. I don’t understand it, but I get it intrinsically. I understand what, what the effect is. And I, when we used to have Andy Goodman come in to whatever foundation I was consulting for, working at, and, and have him lead his storytelling session mm-hmm.
And what he has implored. Every organization to do is to start every single meeting with a story. Hmm mm-hmm. And, and I’ve seen organizations that do that. Hmm. And you know, you have like the accountant who’s in a meeting, he starts with a story. I’m like, oh my God, this organization now understands storytelling.
And I’m not saying that it’s the only thing you do, [00:44:00] but it is in a very important way to begin to shape the environment in which you’re working. Yeah. A
Kirk: story can be the energy that animates everything that you do, you know? Trevor talks about the reparations narrative lab, and he talks about the infrastructure that they’re working to create around this narrative change project.
And I would love to hear your reflections on this part of it because he kind of just quickly went through it, this notion of movement and it’s, you know, to shift narrative. You need a movement and, you know, with the reparations narrative lab the. That they’re, they’re convening 13 experts, 13 organizations to kind of do this very careful work to understand you know, what, what’s the current landscape in terms of a public opinion focus group research, and then how you turn that into actionable frames, which by the way, he mentioned testing those frames.
And I feel like that’s a key element that too often gets lost as we do the friend end work. Develop all this data and then we never do the market test piece. So to see, okay, now what do we make of the data? Are we ac actually [00:45:00] interpreting it correctly? But the process of building movements and actually assembling relationships with a diverse set of organizations, which, you know, for liberation ventures, it sounds like they’re being very intentional about collecting what we would call maybe unlikely allies or, or not the usual suspects that you would consider, you know, to be part of these conversations typically.
But that work of just. Explicitly building movement and doing the work to invite people in and have a broader set of folks be part of this discussion. I feel like that’s way more difficult than Trevor made it sound, you know? Cause he’s just presenting it as something they’re just doing. And it’s one of those things where I’m like, yeah, we’re all, we’re all seeing this beautiful meal you’ve assembled, but you’re actually.
You’re actually doing some very high level work to even make something like that, a viable
Eric: concept. I agree. And again, this is another one of those things that if you are working on narrative, if you’re doing narrative work and your funder, for example, you need to fund the infrastructure to do it, you have to fund the research, you have to fund the testing, you have to fund the training, and then you [00:46:00] have to fund the training, and then you have to fund the training.
And then when you’re done with that, the training, cuz you do a training and then it, it goes away, it goes outta your brain. You have to continue to use it. And so by putting together a, a network, Of, of experts and practitioners and researchers and everybody else to continually ask and answer questions about, is this working?
Is this, how do I know and, and how do I use it? That’s, that’s time and that’s effort. It takes work. But I also think that you, without that, you’re just tossing stuff up into the air and hoping for the best. And that’s not a very good strategy. So the, there are just object lessons up and down the work here about how do you create a narrative, how do you build it, how do you strengthen it, how do you train for it, how do you implement it?
And, and la you know, lather, rinse, and repeat.
Kirk: Well, it and clearly, Li [00:47:00] Liberation Ventures is receiving support, financial support to do this work, which is such an important part of this, right? That, that they’ve got allies, they’ve got supporters in philanthropy, I would imagine other places who, who have been able to be brought along in this conversation to understand how important this bedrock work really is.
And. I’m sure you’ve seen it. I’ve seen it over the course of my career. Finding support for this part of the work can often be the most difficult part of the process. Like once, once, you know Trevor is referring to the thousand articles that have been written on reparations globally over the last couple years and Right.
And once you start seeing this stuff and the news cycle, well now it’s maybe a little bit different because people are running into it so they can say, oh, you’re bringing something really real and tangibly here, but this. But this deep inside baseball behind the scenes work to understand what we’re doing, assemble the networks that it takes to move things forward is so important.
And you see Trevor’s rigor and his grace in his capacity to just draw on so many other resources in his own to shape his own thinking. So he mentions the other and Belonging Institute, you know, talking about infrastructure as a network of organizations [00:48:00] and systems needed to create dominant narratives.
Right? And so Trevor is Trevor’s drawing in all of this thinking and, and then, you know, I have to say, I believe this is the first time we’ve heard the phrase narrative house. Narrative house on our podcast. Maybe so. Oh man. I loved it. So, so he’s like, so we’re trying to build this narrative house, the key stories that we’re drawing on, and as he talks about that, he’s saying, yeah, we’re pulling for marriage equality, smoking the black radical tradition, civil rights.
But, but I love this reflection. He was like, you know, black people have known the power of story from the very beginning teaching themselves to read when they were first, you know, brought here and, and I, again, just the depth of reflection that’s behind what Trevor’s working on here with his colleagues is really inspiring to hear about.
Eric: Yeah, I, I, you don’t gotta tell me, you don’t have to sell me on this Kirk. I mean, it, it really is great and I, I, I very much encourage folks out there to sign up for his CK Reparations daily ish. And to like watch a [00:49:00] genius in action. Yeah. But also to get involved in that work. I think that his work is some of the essential work in our culture.
We are riven, we absolutely need to heal, we must repair, and y the only way to do it is by taking on some of these extremely, I would say, kinda essential moments of our. Culture and society head on because until we do that, we’re just gonna be pretending that we’re better than we are, which, and we’re not.
And so it’s like, like, so there’s there, there’s theoretical benefit for anybody to follow Trevor and, and to read him into care. And then there’s practical benefit to engage in his work in a more deep way. And I think every organization can participate in helping to repair in one way or the other. And that’s, What we will have to do in order to thrive in the future.
Cuz right now open a newspaper, we’re not doing well. Well,
Kirk: and and you see how powerful these words are in [00:50:00] building movements. So repair. What a powerful world. So Trevor finishes this conversation with you describing this sort of narrative set of. Frameworks they’re working with, right? So there’s the world destroying, world making, there’s reparations and lock with democracy, but then there’s radical solidarity and cutting reparations, and this acknowledgement that this is work that touches black communities, but all, all sorts of communities in terms of bringing folks together around this vision of what a, what a world after apprais could look like.
So I love that part of it too. How this work is drawing Liberation Ventures and others that are, are really behind it into alignment, into conversations with folks that identify maybe differently with, you know, different segments of our society. But that can come together around this notion of coming reparations and, and how this, I I love this phrase, toxic separatism.
You know that we, we don’t have to be right. We don’t have to be in this world of toxic separatism that puts, say, immigrants against [00:51:00] the black community here or anything like that. We can actually create solidarity across all of these identities, across all these movements, and that just, again, just feels like such a thoughtful and important reflection about the work that they’re doing.
Totally agree. So Trevor concludes with his narrative North Star. Again, I think this might be the first time we’ve heard the phrase narrative North Star, but man, maybe not. Maybe not. Maybe not. Who can remember? Who can remember? That’s right. But that was beautiful and, and he, and he confessed. It’s like, this might be changing, but I don’t know if, if that’s version two or 3.0.
It’s a pretty good version I thought in terms of what we heard from him. I totally
Trevor: agree. So that was good.
Eric: It was great. I, I, you know, I, I love Trevor. I I love talking about this work. It’s, it was that was really, really fun and I hope people get a lot out of it cuz. His work is, is so important,
So find trevorSmith@trevorsmith.com. He’s the Director of Narrative Change at Liberation Ventures. Please subscribe to his newsletter reparations daily ish and and follow it or read all of his work. It’s just awesome and Trevor. [00:52:00] Thank you, thank you, thank you. And congratulations for all you’ve accomplished so far, and with your work.
It’s really awesome to see how it’s evolving. Eric, well done. That was awesome. That was fun.
Trevor: See you next time. Okay,
Kirk: everybody. That’s it for this episode. Please let us know if you have any thoughts about what you heard today or people we should have on this show, and that definitely includes yourself.
And we’d like to thank John Ali, the tuneful and inspiring composer of our theme music. Our
Eric: sponsors, the Communications Network and the Lumina Foundation, and please
Kirk: check out Lumina’s terrific podcast, today’s students tomorrow’s talent, and you can find firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric: Certainly thank today’s guest, and of course, all of you,
Kirk: and most importantly, Thank you, Mr.
Eric: Oh, no, no, no, no. Thank you Mr.
Kirk: Brown. Okay, everybody, till next
Eric: time, let’s hear it.[00:53:00]
John Allee’s studio-produced version of Let’s Hear It Plays:
Listen up now here this, listen up. Now here. This what you got to say. Don’t fear it.
Say it any way.
Listen up now. Hear the listen up. Now hear the talking to the crowd
and it say it right out loud. Let’s hear it. Your point of you is
how you use it Pick up your cue and let’s. Get to it.
Can’t find the words, and [00:54:00] we’ll work through it.
Have a chat about that. You the fact that’s, hear what you’re at. Let’s get
hear this. Listen up, hear this. There’s so much. To say let’s cheer notions to convey. Let’s hear.[00:55:00]
Your point of view is how you,
and let’s get a.
I can’t find the words then we’ll work through it.
Yes, we’ll have chat.
Let’s listen up. Now hear this. Listen up now here. There’s so much to say. Let’s cheer notions to convey. Let’s hear
Got some gospel to relay. Let Hear It!