Narrative Matters: Our History, Our Future

A letter from Chief Strategic Officer Barbara Ferrer

Narratives matter. Our stories describe our past, our experiences in the present, and our hopes for our future. We carry the authentic history of our families, our cultures and ourselves within our stories. These narratives are how we make sense of our world and we expect that these stories will form the basis of how others understand us.

Unfortunately, too often the narratives advanced by the dominant culture distort, minimize, and/or silence the real life experiences of individuals or communities of a different race or ethnicity. These distortions are hurtful, and often used to support structural racism and acts of discrimination that have a devastating impact on communities of color and the country as a whole.

For our work at the Kellogg Foundation, we are focused on understanding our collective history and doing genuine truth telling about our history to work on changing the narrative.

Barbara Ferrer

At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we strive to partner with others to build racial equity and dismantle a system rooted in a belief in a hierarchy of human value. Our vision is one of a nation that marshals its resources so that all children thrive, and our goal is to ensure the optimal development of all children. We emphasize the word “all,” because too often children of color lack access to the resources that support their development, including opportunities to gain a quality education, live in healthy and safe communities and grow up in families that are financially secure. The resulting inequities in health, education and sustainable income outcomes are rationalized through false narratives; stories are told that blame children of color for failing schools, that malign black mothers for experiencing infant mortality rates that are two to four times higher than death rates for white babies and that promote racial profiling as the best way to protect neighborhoods.

At the foundation, we honor the authentic narratives of all peoples in order to close the opportunity gap that affects the lives of far too many children. Authentic narratives capture the complexity of humankind, allowing us to better understand each other and to hear the truth about our collective experiences. These authentic narratives illustrate how racism is a chronic stressor that has a detrimental impact on health outcomes, and how racism protects a set of structures and experiences that limit access for people of color to opportunities and resources.

Truth Telling and Understanding The Lived Experience

The Kellogg Foundation firmly believes that all people have the inherent capacity to best articulate their own challenges and identify those opportunities that need to be embraced to support the well-being of children. This ‘knowing’ results from their “lived experiences” and the opportunity to reflect and tell their stories. We hear stories that capture both the experiences of those who every day reap the benefits of white privilege and of those who every day face limitations and barriers to opportunities because of the structurally imposed hierarchy of human value. As our Vice President for Policy and Senior Advisor, Dr. Gail Christopher would say, we must listen carefully in order to better understand how we are all hurt by the experience of racism—how racism makes us all feel and/or act less than human. As we begin to understand our collective history and support genuine truth telling about our histories, we change the narrative. And it is precisely this narrative change work that raises the possibility of re-connecting with our common humanity and uniting for change.

Through meaningful truth telling and sharing our stories, we fracture false narratives and begin to understand the impact that a hierarchy of human value has had on our ability to know and genuinely understand one another. Truth telling bears witness to the powerful experiences of Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, Afro-Caribbean individuals, Asian Americans and Arab Americans. The stories of immigrants who have been here for multiple generations and from those just arriving teach us about our fundamental connections to each other across geographies and ethnicities.

Rooted in deepening our understanding of the strength in our diversity, is the possibility of changing hearts and minds and uniting to dismantle a belief in a hierarchy of human value.