When we set out to produce season three of this podcast, we wanted to document this season of what we called perspective-shifting conversations, to truly align with what it means to move the mission forward in light of the pandemic year we’ve all experienced. We wanted to touch on faith. We wanted to touch on media. We wanted to touch on the economy and the role of philanthropy in building back from a period of such damage from the impact of COVID-19. Right now, we’re seeing members of our own communities acting out, engaging in behaviors that are disheartening, partly as a manifestation of what we have all had to sacrifice to the pandemic, partly in fearful anxiety of sacrifices yet to come.
Moving the Mission Forward
And yet, through it all, we leave this season in a spirit of optimism. It’s the same optimism that comes from having conquered a hard thing, having wrestled with difficult ideas and made it to the other side. We have we have explored such difficult ideas this season and we are buoyed with the energy our guests bring to their own efforts for change.
This week, we share a review of lessons learned from each of these guests as reflected by hosts Carrie Fox and Natalie S. Burke. If you haven’t had the opportunity to listen to these conversations in full, we encourage you to do so, and to share with your communities broadly.
Our deepest thanks to Natalie Burke for her participation this season, leveraging her experience as a leader in public health to guide and frame our discussions in this space. She is a tireless advocate and we are exceptionally lucky to be in her orbit. Please click through to learn more about her and the work of CommonHealth ACTION — this is an organization worth knowing.
To all, thank you for subscribing, downloading, listening, and sharing this show. It is our great honor to produce it and to play even a small part in your podcast universe and we’ll be back next season for more Mission Forward.
Carrie Fox: Well, hi everyone. Natalie and I are back to do a wrap on season three today. If you haven’t had a chance to check out one of the episodes we produced together over the summer, maybe this will be a reminder to go back and listen. I will start by saying this has been one of the most thoughtful set of episodes yet. Full of ideas and concepts to stew on and then act on. Most of all, Natalie, I have just loved sharing the space with you, and I love how much you drew out from our guests in this process.
Natalie S. Burke: Well, it’s been great to have the opportunity to spend time with really smart people. Smart people who are smart in the head, but also smart in the heart. Sometimes those two things don’t go so well together, and I think we found a lot of folks who speak well to that. So I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to get to think with them and spend that time with them and also with you. Because in all of this, I think I’ve learned a lot, and I have been provoked to think about some new and different ways of approaching the work that I do in the world and the way that I even view the work of other people.
Carrie Fox: For those of you who need a quick reminder on our season three theme, we used the summer series to dig in to how COVID-19 changed how we are together. How we are in relationship with one another, how it felt to be returning to work and school only then to have the Delta variant spring up, and have the conversation start all over again. What feels really clear, Natalie, is as we’re sitting here in the end of August coming into the start of a new school year again, that we are still so far from out of the woods on this. We’re starting to see all of the lasting effects that it is having on our mental health, our physical health, and what you know better than any of us here, our public health. Curious what you’re thinking now in this moment where we are.
Natalie S. Burke: I think that we are seeing people act out and engage in behaviors that are disheartening and alarming, partly as a manifestation of what we have all had to sacrifice to some degree during the pandemic. I think also the culture wars that have been stoked for years have certainly bubbled to the surface, and it’s not over yet. At the same time, and I have to every single day remind myself why I remain hopeful, I see these moments of people standing up in the face of great opposition to make decisions and to support policy that will protect and promote and preserve and defend the public’s health. That’s just remarkable because the thing is public health is not just about public health departments. It’s not just about the government. It’s not just about medical or healthcare professionals. Each of us plays a role in the production of the public’s health. I was watching a video of a dad at a community meeting yesterday, and he stepped forward to talk about the things that he thought were important and even about the issue of masking. He, in that moment, was a part of our public health workforce so to speak. He was making the case for those things that will protect the lives, the health and well-being of children, of teachers, of administrators, of the entire community. I continue to maintain hope because in this moment where public health has struggled at the hands of many attacks, I think we are also seeing it has created a visibility and a deep appreciation by people who before didn’t have any idea what public health was.
Carrie Fox: That speaks so much to what we set out to do together in this series. We talked to people who were journalists, we talked to people, certainly we talked to a few who consider themselves in public health, but the majority of people we spoke to do not consider themselves working in public health, but see how their work is connected to the broader public health. So let’s do a rewind here. Let’s play back some of these episodes. First, let’s start from the bottom up. So Alicia Bell, Director of Media 2070, she’s focusing on media reparations, she’s focused on the role that media has played in anti-Black racism and harm. What I loved and what has stuck with me from this conversation that we had with Alicia is she talked about how much media creates culture. That we know it shapes perception, it shapes public opinion, and that if we want to see change tied to our public health, tied to our news system, tied to our society in general, if we want to see large scale culture change, we have to start first by addressing it in the media. That’s something you have talked about so many times over the years, and it really, really came through in this really powerful conversation with Alicia.
Natalie S. Burke: Well, if you think about it, what we did with regard to smoking in this country was so connected and tied to the media. The movement from the early ’70s until now to get people to stop smoking was about advertising campaigns. It was about agreements about the placement of people actually smoking in television and in movies. It was about creating a different narrative about this thing that is smoking. I think the same thing certainly applies to the public’s health and the way that media plays a role in curating perceptions and curating conversations.
Carrie Fox: Right.
Natalie S. Burke: Because a lot of times it’s the article, it’s the sound bite, it’s the clip that someone sees that becomes the impetus for conversation they wouldn’t have had otherwise. That’s a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous responsibility that sits with our media.
Carrie Fox: We’re going to talk about Mia Birdsong in a minute, who’s just amazing, and I loved that episode. But something she talked about was how we show up in community and what Alicia did … The last thing I’ll say on Alicia … Is she talked about how we are in relationship with one another and specifically how we as residents are in relationship with our local media outlets. So that, again, it’s this importance of not telling stories for, but how we are in community with and in relationship with one another. Next going back, Andre Banks. So staying on this relationship with the media, this, I thought was such an interesting conversation because he talked about the challenges and the harms that are showing up in social platforms. That the harms that social platforms have caused in targeting marginalized groups and largely through misinformation. So for those of you who don’t remember Andre Banks, he’s the Founder of AB Partners. He’s one of the founders behind the Win Black Pa’lante campaign, and really talked a lot about how Black and Latinx voters in particular continue to be targeted across the era of mis and disinformation. This one raised some really important conversations between the two of us, as well as broadly with our audience and curious what stuck with you on this one.
Natalie S. Burke: I think this idea of the lens of analysis that we actually bring when we’re thinking about things like social media and the responsibility and the accountability that comes with our participation. That for me is a really important component, and I think to really begin to question our own assumptions about how and why people engage in those platforms, the impact of that, their readiness and what that really means. So I think there is a lot more conversation that we can have about how Black and Latino communities, how people of color in general, are often targeted for disinformation and what we can then do to counteract that with real information.
Carrie Fox: Yeah, yeah. That’s right. And how we hold those platforms, the Facebooks of the world, accountable to the transparency that we as the public should have in terms of how our data is being used and targeted sometimes against us, sometimes to reinforce those harms. Mia Birdsong is … So she was just incredible. This one stuck me on so many levels. I continue to stew on a lot about this one. I’ve got a few thoughts here. Let me ask you first, are you ready to share what your take was on Mia?
Natalie S. Burke: Mind blown, but I’ll let you go first. You go first.
Carrie Fox: Okay. I talked about her as this deep thought provoker. She didn’t just introduce ideas, she really introduced ideas. The one that stuck with me and continues to just … I’m thinking and thinking and thinking on it and don’t want to let it go is this idea of how we create a new kind of White culture. A White culture that really can break the kind of society that we have found ourselves in, but it must start first by having a new kind of White culture that’s introduced. That I thought was so important and powerful and would hope that folks go back and listen to her talk about that, which actually she didn’t introduce until the end, but I thought was so powerful. And then the other piece that we really stuck in on and honed in on, I should say with Mia was the difference between independence and interdependence. Again, it comes back to a lot of these other themes, how we are in relationship with one another, supporting one another, not in it for ourselves mentality, which unfortunately is so connected to America, to American ideals.
Natalie S. Burke: I can tell you that in meeting Mia and spending time with her, I felt like I met my sister from another mister. Like we were having some kind of a Vulcan mind meld as she was speaking because this idea of relationship interdependence and the importance of it is so critical to what we see in society and the lack of interdependence and how it factors into the inequities that we see. I think that for me resonated deeply and was very affirming. I was really happy to hear her say that and to say it the way that she said it. So I think it’s important for people to hear how she talked about it. The other piece about Whiteness and redefining Whiteness, I think is critical because in my conversations with White people who seek to be allies, advocates, activists, however they want to define themselves, but who really want to fight against racism and move towards equity … I asked them to define Whiteness, and 99% of what they say is negative. So if that’s the case and that’s what they believed is true, then there’s a real opportunity there for White people to have that difficult conversation to say, "How do we want to define Whiteness moving forward?"
Carrie Fox: It’s the greatest call to action that came out of the series. Similar theme here, we’ll pull from Mia Birdsong talking about how we show up in community to making links between community and public health. That link reminds me of our conversation with two researchers, two academics, Emily and Todd, and they talked so much … I should say Emily Howell and Todd Newman … But they talked so much about how the pandemic exposed this connection between public health and our individual lives and that our ability to function is actually contingent upon our collective health. I thought there was a good reminder in this conversation about how research is done, how bias enters into who we are seeking information from, who we are setting up as sources and experts, how we are building trust in communities. This idea that the person in the white coat isn’t always going to be the only one that needs to be delivering that message, but it needs to be a community message. So curious on this one. What stuck with you from Emily Howell and Todd Newman?
Natalie S. Burke: I think this idea of, pre-COVID to some degree, a lack of understanding about what is public health, a flawed understanding of what public health is in the midst of a pandemic and the opportunity to shift and change belief and understanding about what the public’s health is and what public health is moving forward. In order to do that, the messenger and the message really matters. If we want people to then engage actively as participants, as decision-makers, as power brokers in this thing where we’re actually producing health, we have to shift and change the way that we’re approaching all of that. They really did leave me stewing on what does that look like moving forward and how we connect public health to other aspects of life that are really important to people so that they understand that it all goes together and you can’t have one without the other.
Carrie Fox: One of those aspects of public health is philanthropy. How dollars are funneled in between organizations and community, the barriers that exist in that process. That was the conversation we had with lara Peng, who is the founder and CEO of JustFund. JustFund has a really unique platform. It’s a nonprofit grantmaking platform that seeks to address and disrupt some of the challenges that we know exist inside philanthropy, which quite honestly go right back to what we talked about with Mia, the Whiteness that’s embedded inside the system of philanthropy, the White supremacist norms that are embedded inside that philanthropy and how communities of color, and often the most underrepresented groups, are excluded from traditional philanthropy. So she’s working to upend that. This I thought was really interesting too. She talked about how there’s this widespread misconception that when you have access to wealth, when you have wealth, you are somehow more knowledgeable about issues on the ground and yet how not true that is. So I’ll pause there. Curious what stuck with you from our conversation with lara.
Natalie S. Burke: It was funny. It was almost like a hum underneath the conversation that really was about ego. It’s a thing, it stands out for me and has to do with the ego of philanthropy. What do we need to do to really be honest about that and to shine a light on it so there’s a level of awareness and accountability. Because philanthropy has too much power to not know and to not see. In order to be successful at doing the work of philanthropy in a way that allows and supports communities to determine their own destiny, it requires a type of humility that is regularly absent from philanthropy.
Carrie Fox: Yeah, that is so true. Yeah. There is so much more that needs to be uncovered and redefined about how we think about philanthropy if we are going to get to the root of those problems. All right, we’ve got two left. Our first two episodes, Tina Rosenberg, and then we’ll go to Linda Villarosa. So Tina, I want to swing back to the role of media because this was certainly a theme we talked about a lot in this season. But this conversation with Tina focused on the possibility of changing the way we report to the world and that the majority of mainstream news coverage has the tendency to focus on problems. There’s a lot of problems, we know, to focus on, but Solutions Journalism Network, which is the organization that Tina runs, they have focused on and are in the process actually of focused on reframing journalism to an asset-based model. If you recall, and the audience recalls, she talked about her work with Trabian Shorters, who really introduced this idea of asset-based framing. This is something that we’ve actually since this episode have built a practice inside Mission Partners to ensure that every member of our team, even at the earliest level of their career and stage, is focused on an asset-based frame. What that means to be able to focus on aspiration first, problems of the system second. So there was a lot that stuck with me about this one. Let me pause and see what stuck with you about it.
Natalie S. Burke: Well, once I got over sort of my fangirl moment, to be able to engage in the conversation, I think to understand the power of language. Because this whole thing about asset-based really has to do with how we choose to use language in the way that we are telling stories and how we then take responsibility for the opportunities that we create with that or the barriers that we create with that. I would like to believe that people can be as compelled to participate with media by things that are asset-based even more so than the way that media has traditionally been. I actually think it can be compelling. I actually think it can be engaging. I actually think it can be uplifting. I actually think it could be solutions focused. Talking to Tina really helped me to have some hope. I think we have to be resocialized. It’s easy to watch a train wreck. It’s easy to turn on the TV and see whose house burned down and to be sort of gobsmacked and awestruck by that. But I don’t know that, that’s making the world a better place necessarily. Wouldn’t it be nice to turn on the TV or to read something that is compelling in a way that shows me how I can show up in society and make a difference?
Carrie Fox: I’m very glad that folks like Tina Rosenberg and Solutions Journalism Network know and are working with the folks like Alicia Bell and Media 2070 because that’s what it’s going to take. We need this collective action and collective impact. All right. Then that brings us to the last recap though, the first episode, and what a powerful first episode it was with Linda Villarosa where I admit this was my fangirl moment. Still one of the most powerful conversations for me. She brought us inside her New York Times Magazine cover story. She brought us inside her own personal experiences growing up in Chicago to show the power of public health on individual lives. There’s a saying that Linda shared inside this conversation that when White folks catch a cold, Black folks get pneumonia. It’s often shared in the context of economic health, but how resonant that was in the time of COVID. How important it is to think about the disparities of how individuals and communities and families have experienced the impact of COVID.
Natalie S. Burke: This is a great time to have a conversation with Linda, given the inequities in exposure to COVID, the inequities in the way people have experienced access to care for COVID, the inequities in the way that Black people have experienced access to vaccination. It runs the gamut. The entire continuum related to COVID has been experienced inequitably by Black people. Not because Black people are broken, and I need to make sure that we’re really clear about that. I think sometimes when we see health inequities, when we see differences in experiences of health, we can default to thinking that there must be something wrong with the person or with the population or the people. But in fact, if the conditions and circumstances don’t support health, well-being, and quality of life, as she talked about with her own story, then what else can we expect to have happen? I think she’s a prime example of the importance of storytelling as a part of public health narrative in a way that is so impactful and engaging, but also so that people can see their own lives in it. That it’s not just about those people, but it’s about all of us.
Carrie Fox: Yeah, I would reinforce that. Just how, no it is not Black people are broken, it is systems created by White people are broken. The most segregated group are White people. They have segregated themselves to create the systems that now have and how much … We uncovered and scratch surfaces on a lot of things in the season … But how much needs to be rebuilt and reset. So here we are. We are at the end. We set out to document the season of what we called perspective shifting conversations. We wanted to touch on faith, we wanted to touch on media, we wanted to touch on the economy, the role of philanthropy. Holy moly Natalie, we took on a lot. These were deep, weighty conversations, and yet somehow through it all, I just enjoyed it so much. I enjoyed this time with you, the time of learning and exploration and growth. We started by saying, now these conversations are the writing on the wall. We, as a society, we never chose to see what was always right in front of us. I appreciate you so much helping us navigate these conversations this season and how much we were able to dig into together.
Natalie S. Burke: Well, first, thank you so much for thinking to include me and bringing me along for the ride. It was a wonderful learning experience, but also just a wonderful experience intellectually and emotionally, and really an opportunity for me to even further refine my lens for how I view the world. That’s really important certainly for the work that I do. You were and have been a phenomenal partner prior to this, but being able to do this in partnership with you is what made it more special for me. By you opening your network and your circle, I got to meet some really great people who I probably might not have encountered for years or if ever. So I express deep appreciation to you and to them for being my teachers. It’s nice to be able to be in a situation where I can listen and learn.
Carrie Fox: Well, much love to you and to all of our guests from the season. Thanks so much for listening today. I hope this prompts you to go back and listen to some of the episodes that we covered, and we’ll see you next time on Mission Forward.
This season, we are taking you on a journey to meet ten people influencing and shaping how we communicate at scale for social change. From advertising executives to coalition directors, news editors, campaign managers, and authors, they're all people who are shaping and challenging the deep power of communication. If you’re working to become a more inclusive and thoughtful communicator, there’s nothing holding you back—except you.
Carrie Fox is the founder and CEO of Mission Partners, a woman-owned strategic communications firm and Certified B Corporation that guides high-potential nonprofits, foundations, and socially responsible corporations in realizing their greatest social impact. Since launching her first firm in 2004, she has guided hundreds of organizations around the world to lead with purpose, fueling organizations and their missions forward in new and more impactful ways.