Climate Fiction Creative Manager and Network Weaver at Fix, Grist's Climate Solutions Lab
How long have you been a journalist? Fun fact. I’m not a journalist, but I’m a storyteller and worked in development writing appeals that centered people instead of statistics. In 2009 when I started out as a fundraiser most appeals were written to show impact and in my opinion were dry. I love people, and at the time I was reading this blog called Humans of New York, which featured true stories from random New Yorkers. It was so personal, and real, and I really felt that fundraising appeals needed to move in this direction. So I became a strong advocate for human centric story driven appeals that had some statistics embedded in the story, but the goal for me was not about impact. It was about making an emotional connection. I wanted the reader to make a donation based on what they felt after reading the story. Chasing stories and finding community are two things I’ve been after for a while and at Fix, Grist’s solutions lab those two things came together for me.
What is your beat/focus? Climate Fiction
How did you get started in journalism? I led a collective visioning session exercise at the beginning of the pandemic, and the goal was to chart the next 180 years of climate progress, and focus on achieving a clean, green, and just future by 2200. Together, we visualized a complete societal transformation: a dissolution of political parties and borders. Reparations. The return of land to Indigenous and Black stewardship. Restorative justice replacing prisons. Rights granted to the Earth and non-human kin. Food sovereignty and heirloom seeds triumphing over monoculture farming. An economy built on ecological restoration, mutual aid, and caregiving. The pursuit of reciprocal relationships in all our systems and designs. Out of our visions grew the idea for a climate-fiction initiative, to lift up more voices in the climate narrative and to breathe life into the ideas we heard. Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors launched in 2021. It received 1,100 submissions.
Have you been published anywhere? Solarpunk Magazine, Clarkesworld: Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine and Fix, Grist's Solutions Lab
What is your favorite piece you've written and why? I haven’t written a ton that is published. When I wrote, much of it was for the fundraising appeals for the various non-profits I worked at. I’m 44, so when I started writing appeals and raising money, we did so the old school way, by writing letters. At one point my appeals were going to 70,000 people a quarter. I transitioned that organization away from impact appeals to human centered story driven appeals and we brought in around $40,000 new dollars for folk with HIV / AIDS or at risk of getting the disease. These pieces where we centered the folk who needed the care and services we provided touched people on an emotional level, and I’m still proud of these stories. Some of these are easily the best writing I’ve ever done. They brought the voiceless and marginalized into the light.
How did you hear about Uproot? I work at Grist so I’ve known of Uproot. Love the mission, and love that there is this community, but I never joined because I’m not a journalist and I assumed it was only for journalists. I talked to Lucia about Imagine 2200 and the work I do, and she said why don’t I join Uproot. So I did.
What's a piece of advice you would give your younger self? Hold to your convictions around DEIJ and draw from your experiences as a Black man to help people understand why language is so central to DEIJ. Let me explain. Since I started working in the non-profit sector I’ve been on a DEIJ Committee of some sort. That’s 13 years now, and much of the work has been around language. When I worked in the health advocacy sector I was on the health equity team, which was essentially a DEIJ team. The big challenge for me at the time was around the word, health disparities. The word was used to describe why mainly Black and brown folk had disparate health outcomes in relation to white people. Yet, the disparity wasn’t because Black and brown folk were genetically less healthy. The word health disparities allowed for conservative and liberal people to talk about a disparity in a community, and identify multiple causes for the disparity, but one cause that was significant that no one was talking about was systemic racism. I pushed for us to say systemic racism was one of the main reasons we have health disparities. Politics at the agency, however, got in the way. A decision was made not to tie health disparities to systemic racism because it might make funders and some politicians feel uncomfortable about our organization and not fund us or target us in the political arena. This issue was huge for me, and I wish I advocated in a more forceful way for this change. Staged a sit it. Brought it up every week at our all staff meeting and generally just advocated in every way I could. A few years after I left the agency, the staff advocated for being more clear about the role racism plays in the health system. I was glad to hear it. Fighting for what is right even if it puts you on the outs is always the way to go in my opinion.
Where do you live? I live in a small railroad town of 6,000 called Ayer, MA. It’s squished between all the towns that the city folk come out to in the fall to pick apples at the orchards.
What are you listening to? Tobe Nwigwe!!! He’s a beast of a rapper from Houston, Texas, that is just different. He reminds me of late 80’s and 90’s rap. It’s high energy, and makes you want to bounce, but hard in a floor stomping way. Plus the visuals he and his wife bring are so rich with Black and African culture. It’s a throw your fist in the air vibe for sure.
What is your favorite podcast? It’s easily Real Dictators by Noiser. And y’all can judge me for it. I’ve listened to every episode. Either while gardening, doing the dishes, or walking the dog. And sometimes in the shower too. The stories are told in an exciting way, but you also learn a ton of stuff you never knew about these figures. Bet you didn’t know Stalin used to rob Czarist train cars, and use the money to fund the communist revolution.
What’s a piece of reporting or writing advice that’s helped you in your work? Writing always comes out better when you share your work multiple times with the people in your community you trust, and get what your style is. We all know this, but at times we forget or don’t build into the process of having an outside set of eyes on your work. And an editor is great, but as a Black man I feel like it’s also important to get my people to look at a piece before it’s published.