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Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

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Remembering how Raul Ramirez used storytelling as a force for good

Remembering how Raul Ramirez used storytelling as a force for good

Raul Ramirez, reporting from a Honduran refugee camp, circa 1984. The children had fled mass murders in a Salvadoran village. Raul not only wrote their stories, he helped guarantee their safety by helping them return home. (Photo courtesy Adam Kufeld.)

 

The University of California at Berkley has published a thoughtful story about the late Raul Ramirez, a longtime journalist and former executive director of news and public affairs at KQED Public Radio.

Ramirez, who passed away from cancer last November, was a member of the ivoh community and took part in ivoh’s Voices & Values of Journalism series.

In the UC Berkley story, which was published in the Fall 2014 issue of California Magazine, Patricia Yollin pays tribute to Ramirez and the ways in which he used storytelling as a force for good. Quoting Ramirez himself, Yollin said he refused to be a “stenographer to the powerful.” 

“Right from the start, he was determined to shake up the world through journalism—by doing it and teaching it,” Yollin writes. “He was a disruptive journalist long before the term was coined. But was he a radical? Yes, if you look at an early meaning of the word. He went to the roots, to the origins of whatever he cared about. He challenged assumptions and hated dogma.”

She goes on to talk about an essay that Ramirez wrote years ago for ivoh and then later adapted.

“Four days before he died, Raul was still intent on telling stories. He was expanding an essay he’d written years before [for ivoh], so that it could be read at a Nov. 19 Society of Professional Journalists event where he’d be receiving a major award. He was lying in a hospital bed in his living room and could barely talk. I was sitting on the couch and straining to hear. Still, we quibbled over the tiniest changes until both of us were happy.

“The essay was especially important to him because it announced the Raul Ramirez Fund for Diversity in Journalism at San Francisco State. In the piece, Raul recalled a ‘fiercely taciturn school crossing guard’ he’d interviewed for one of his high school journalism classes. The man was transformed when students gathered around and asked him questions.

“‘The crossing guard finally had his voice. And I had found mine,’ Raul wrote. ‘I was hooked on this power of journalism to give someone a voice.” Years later, he realized the power of words was not his to give. ‘The power, I came to understand, was in the stories that people chose to share,’ he wrote. ‘I was merely a conduit for the dissemination of those stories.'”

Yollins’ full essay is well worth the read.