2017 Restorative Narrative Fellows
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Six media practitioners spent 2017 telling restorative narratives — stories that show how people and communities are making a meaningful progression from a place of despair to a place of resilience. Their projects focused on some of society’s most pressing issues — including gun violence, mental health, and immigration — in large cities and small towns around the U.S. and in Mexico.
Their work was featured in public radio, magazines, newspapers, video, documentary photography, and on stage, and show what’s possible when media practitioners tell stories through a restorative lens.
The cohort was selected from among 113 applicants worldwide.
Read on to find out more about the fellows and their projects.
Liana Aghajanian is an independent journalist whose work explores the issues, people, and places that often remain hidden on the fringes of society. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Newsweek, Foreign Policy and Al Jazeera America. She has reported from the UK, Germany, Mongolia and extensively in Armenia. Her reporting has received support from a number of fellowships and grants, including the Metlife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship, the Hrant Dink Foundation’s Turkey-Armenia Journalism Fellowship, and the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins University. In 2015, she was awarded the second Write A House permanent writing residency and currently writes and lives in Detroit.
Project Description: For over a century, Native American bones and other sacred, cultural artifacts have been dug up, stolen and sold, some of them ending up in museums or research institutes, where scientists sought to study them without input or permission from the communities they came from. When the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act was passed in 1990, it aimed to ease the lasting impact of that legacy, required federal agencies and institutions to return items back to tribes that are culturally affiliated with them. But the process has been slow, and over 100,000 artifacts and human bones still remain in the care of museums and universities. The relationship between Native American tribes and scientists — many of whom opposed the Act — have been dominated by mistrust and legal battles.
But recently, that relationship has begun to change, with members of tribes and individuals in the scientific community working together in unprecedented and unexpected ways to heal these rifts as well as the generational trauma brought on by this long era of mistreatment and disenfranchisement of the indigenous people of America. In turn, tribes are increasingly receiving the opportunity to finally bury their ancestors in symbolic acts of healing across the country. In a longform reported magazine article, this project will explore the emerging reconciliatory collaboration with Native American tribes and scientists, how indigenous communities are reclaiming the bones of their ancestors, the way researchers are using technology and alternative approaches to compassionately study artifacts, and the challenges that remain in healing the trauma brought on by these “bones of contention.”
In her own words: In both my personal life as an immigrant and refugee, and professional life as a journalist, rebuilding and resiliency have always been a constant presence. These experiences have made me strongly believe in the power of restorative narratives and the impact they have on communities; they show the complexity of the world in unexpected and compassionate ways, and I am grateful to ivoh for championing and validating their existence.
Dr. Alice Driver is a bilingual photojournalist who splits her time between Mexico City, her home state of Arkansas, and Washington, D.C. She is the author of “More or Less Dead: Feminicide, Haunting, and the Ethics of Representation in Mexico” (University of Arizona 2015), a book which she completed as part of her postdoctoral fellowship at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City. Driver’s writing and documentary photography covering human rights, activism, and social movements have been featured in The New York Times, Oxford American, National Geographic, The World Policy Journal, The Guardian, The Texas Observer, Al Jazeera English, Pacific Standard, and Ms. Magazine.
Project description: Alice will look at how women and transgender migrants crossing Mexico challenge perceptions of gender roles as they chart unexplored territory. She will produce a longform digital package that combines video, photography, and writing. This project fits the restorative narrative because the migrant story has been told a million ways, but it often focuses either solely on men or, if women are the subject, the focus is on rape and sexual violence. She will start her journey in Mexico near the Guatemala border by visiting migrant shelters in Tapachula and Tenosique and then work her way north, ending in Juárez.
In her own words: At a time when the United States has embraced particularly hateful, vitriolic rhetoric against immigrants with a particular focus on Mexico, I feel that it is essential for me to use my photography and bilingual writing skills to tell narratives that highlight the strength, resilience and humanity of immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. I am particularly interested in telling the stories of women, children, and transgender migrants, because so much of the work done on the border focuses on the male dominated “Drug War” narrative. The Restorative Narrative Fellowship offers support for the kind of committed, longform writing that I believe has the potential to make a human impact.
Ally Karsyn is the founder, producer and host of Ode, a live storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy. Each event is recorded for broadcast on Siouxland Public Media, the NPR member station in Sioux City, Iowa, where she is the arts producer and afternoon host. Karsyn is a former features reporter and columnist for the Sioux City Journal. She received the 2016 Genevieve Mauck Stoufer Outstanding Young Iowa Journalists Award and the 2016 Jay P. Wagner Prize for Young Journalists from the Iowa Newspaper Association.
Project Description: Ode is set in a mid-sized Midwestern city that’s better known for its meatpacking plants than a vibrant creative community, and yet, this theatre-meets-therapy type of journalistic entertainment has thrived here. From the beginning, Ally has told prospective storytellers that they don’t need to be professional writers, performers or public speakers to participate. She’s seeking to further develop this series with strong, first-person stories, giving special attention to a June event, which is themed “Stigmas: An ode to the power of opening up.” She’ll work with six storytellers, seeking diverse voices that represent immigrants, minorities and anyone touched by mental illness, as well as voices of those who have made alternative life choices like being a stay-at-home father or remaining childfree by choice.
In her own words: I’m proud of the people who put themselves in a vulnerable position and step on stage to tell intimate stories about their lives. They’re going out on a limb, but I’ve seen crowd members walk up to them after the show with “me too” moments, making it worth the risk. Getting a better grasp on telling restorative narratives is vital to the continuance and success of Ode. Everyone has a story. Some just need more help being told. To that end, I must be able to guide potential storytellers in a direction that honors their story in a meaningful way when they can’t find the words to put on a page. With training from the ivoh fellowship, I want to empower more people in my community to own their struggles and perceived flaws from a place of authenticity, hope and strength. Because I believe the most important story is the one you tell yourself.
Jaeah Lee is a freelance journalist in San Francisco. She is a 2017 investigative reporting fellow at the Fund for Investigative Journalism and Schuster Institute at Brandeis University, working on a story about human rights in detention. Previously she was a staff reporter at Mother Jones, covering law enforcement after Ferguson. Her work has been featured in VICE News, Pop Up Magazine, The Atlantic, Guardian, and others. In 2015, she was part of a team at Mother Jones that won an Online Journalism Award for a series on the cost of gun violence in America.
Project description, in her own words: I’m writing about an African American mother whose son was killed in a police shooting. While covering one fatal police shooting after another in the wake of Ferguson — and the protests and investigations and publicly scrutiny that followed — my thoughts inevitably turned to those who suffered the deepest loss. What was justice for the families whose spouse, sibling, or child died at the hands of police? What happened to them once the news cameras moved on? In the course of reporting this story I have found both grief and resilience, heartbreak and hope — the kind of spirit found across the restorative narratives supported by the ivoh fellowship. And much like other restorative narratives, the arc of this mother’s story does not end in a neat conclusion. Her story offers an opportunity to explore the raw human dimensions of death and police brutality. ivoh’s Restorative Narrative Fellowship will help me make sense of these dimensions and relay them to readers with depth and nuance.
Jed Lipinski covers public health and criminal justice for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times and has written for BuzzFeed, Politico, Slate, Salon, The Wall Street Journal, Vice and other outlets. His writing has won awards from the Associated Press and the New Orleans Press Club. In 2016, he was awarded a fellowship by the National Press Foundation for his coverage of the opioid epidemic in Louisiana.
Project description: In 1999, at the dawn of the opioid epidemic, St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana had one of the highest rates of drug overdose of any parish or county in the United States. Authorities attributed dozens of those deaths to a single pain clinic in New Orleans, run by a 35-year-old pediatrician whose office was open 24-hours-a-day. Horrified by the death toll in their community, dozens of St. Bernard Parish residents and members of local enforcement, led by a local pharmacist whose son was killed in drug-related incident, banded together to shut the clinic down. In the process, the group paved the way for important legislation that may have saved hundreds of lives in Louisiana over the past decade. They also set a precedent for how to investigate illicit pain clinics and doctors who double as drug dealers.
Hurricane Katrina devastated St. Bernard Parish in 2005, and residents have continued to struggle with addiction and mental health issues in unusually high numbers. A glaring lack of mental health resources in the area ensures that many of them do not receive the care they need. But the community’s early exposure to opioid deaths, and its proactive response to them, has left residents with a grassroots support structure and a sense of resilience that many other places hit hard by the epidemic lack.
In his own words: I had not heard the term Restorative Narrative before I applied for this fellowship. But when I read ivoh’s description of the genre, I immediately realized that I’ve spent my journalism career admiring and trying to write restorative narratives. In fact, the allure of restorative narratives is what drew me to New Orleans in 2013. In a city that has endured multiple natural and man-made disasters over the last 10 years, I suspected I would find people persevering and even thriving in the worst of circumstances. That has proven true. Telling their stories has strengthened my faith in human beings’ ability to grow stronger through adversity. I think the fellowship’s understanding of what restorative narrative means will improve the way I tell these stories in the future.
Anna Claire Vollers is an investigative reporter for Alabama Media Group, covering human and civil rights, education and social justice issues. Her work appears online at AL.com, the state’s largest news website, and in print in The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and Mobile’s Press-Register. Before turning to reporting in 2013, she worked as a regional magazine editor and features writer. She has collaborated with the Center for Investigative Reporting on Alabama’s lack of religious daycare regulation, and her reporting on rural maternity care was featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” She has won statewide awards for her features and news writing. Anna Claire lives in Huntsville, Ala. with her husband and their three young sons.
Project description: Sand Mountain is a fascinating place, covering a three-county swath of northeast Alabama that includes cloistered mountain communities, manufacturing towns hit hard by outsourcing, and the largest concentrated population of Latinos in the state. This is Trump country, but it’s also much more. News coverage of Sand Mountain tends to dip into spectacle: a haven for snake-handling churches, Sacred Harp singing, and a drug trade that’s earned it the nickname “Meth Mountain.” But the restorative narrative genre encourages us to look past lazy labels and report earnestly on strengths as well as weaknesses, on hard truths, hope and possibilities.
Anna’s multimedia project will paint a portrait of a region too long defined by its challenges rather than by its resilience. Through stories, photos, video and social media, she will spotlight a more hopeful Sand Mountain, with particular focus on health, the economy, and on remarkable individuals making a difference. She wants this project to speak universally about the kinds of people and communities that are found throughout Appalachia and the Deep South.
In her own words: Now more than ever, Americans need to better understand one another. I felt a thrill of excitement the first time I read about ivoh and its mission. This, I thought, is the kind of journalism that could help us calm a national atmosphere of divisiveness and distrust. There are good people out there, passionate about improving their tiny corners of the world. They need a spotlight. … It can be hard to carve out time for mentorship and professional development in a fast-paced profession that relies on lean newsrooms. As an ivoh fellow, I want to stretch as a journalist, broaden my knowledge and connect with fellow media practitioners. Most of all, I want to tell stories that celebrate and drive positive change.