On December 5th 2016, CFR’s Executive Director Michele Cortese spoke on “The Power of Narrative,” to an audience of more than 100 first generation college students and young professionals serving as their mentors. The event was sponsored by America Needs You (ANY), an organization that seeks to insure that these student “fellows” not only graduate, but do so with sufficient skills and career networks to help them succeed in the long term. Michele spoke to the fact that as college students, many in the audience are trying to decide what the narrative of their own lives will be–she also encouraged them to be curious about the prevailing values and narratives of the careers they might choose, as well as the way all forms of media shape our ‘stories’ of ourselves and our world.
At CFR, our advocacy focuses on shifting the narrative that too often narrowly defines and demonizes our families–when children enter foster care, the prevailing story about their parents is that they are, at best, incompetent and selfish–at worst, that they are brutal and cruel. And media tends to focus on the most horrific cases, though these amount to a very small percentage of the families impacted by child welfare–in fact, most parents we serve are charged with ‘neglect’–domestic violence, homelessness, addiction or mental health challenges, made worse by poverty. Our job is to fill out and enhance the story of their lives, and help the City, the Courts and the larger world recognize them as loving, resilient mothers and fathers, who usually overcome great odds to raise their children safely.
ANY’s Chief Operating Officer, Marianna Tu, was in the audience and had this to say: “Michele was candid and compelling. I loved how she used the CFR story to also share best practices in knowing your audience and taking control of a narrative. The room was rapt and our visiting academic partners raved about her. The way she presented was also a real time example of the practices she shared–for example, drawing in the audience with the video and then once they were fully bought in sharing the more complicated stories with parents that might have initially inspired less sympathy from the group. Our Fellows and Mentor Coaches really responded to her thoughts on the concept of who gets the benefit of the doubt. It’s something we talk about in Unwritten Rules of the Workplace and Managing Conflict, and it resonated with our diverse audience. Everyone learned a lot, and Michele actually had to spend a good deal of time trying to explain the point of view [of the City] to the audience, who after watching the video were completely bought into CFR’s work and concerned about the current state of affairs for families in crisis.”