Shanelle’s an activist, a teacher, and a convener. She has been at the forefront of the most important issues of our time and now she’s training the next generation to lead the charge. In this episode, Shanelle talks about her journey to activism – the morals and awareness of injustice that were learned at an early age and how they still guide her today. We also discuss burnout and handling feedback and how to take care of ourselves.
Shanelle Matthews partners with social justice activists, organizations, and campaigns to inspire action and to build narrative power. She is the communications director for M4BL, the founder of the Radical Communicators Network (Radcomms), faculty at Thew New School, and co-author of Framing New Worlds: Resistance Narratives from 21st Century Social Movements, a forthcoming anthology
LINKS AND RESOURCES
Books and Resources:
Re:Imagining Change by Doyle Canning and Patrick Reinsborough <- link to free pdf of 1st edition. 2nd edition available for purchase.
Brian Crawford 0:03
Welcome to the Create Good podcast. I’m Brian,
Dawn Crawford 0:06
and I’m Dawn.
Brian Crawford 0:08
And we’ve spent the last decade plus working with passionate communicators activist and do-gooders around the country. We also host a conference called Create Good, where we gather folks to share their work, and create a community for people trying to make the world a better place.
Dawn Crawford 0:26
The Create Good podcast is a conversation with changemakers and rabble rousers to find out what makes them tick, and how they create good. Let’s get started.
Brian Crawford 0:38
Hi, everyone, this is Brian from the future here. Just a couple of notes before we get started with this fantastic interview with Shanelle. She lives in New York City, so you’re gonna hear some city noises. And I hope that adds to your listening experience, today. Shanelle talks about some books and resources that have inspired her throughout her career and her journey. Those will be linked in the episode notes so you don’t have to pause and go digging around.
And finally, a little light trigger warning for everyone out there this one little bit of discussion around violence and trauma in this episode. So please take care of yourself if you feel like you need to skip this one. And enjoy.
So I’m so glad to welcome Shanelle to the podcast today. I first met her way back in 2017, which seems impossible. And she was kind enough to speak at Create Good that year. She’s an activist, a communicator, a teacher, and so much more. And one of the most brilliant people I think I’ve ever met, and an all around badass honestly. So, Shanelle. Thank you, and welcome to the podcast.
Shanelle Matthews 1:54
Thank you so much, Brian, for having me today. It’s good to be here.
Brian Crawford 1:57
Let’s start just a little bit about you kind of give people a little overview. What can you start with kind of your name and a little bit of like, what you do where you’re at, and you know what you’re about?
Shanelle Matthews 2:11
Sure, yes, so I My name is Shanelle Matthews, and right now I serve as the Director of Communications for the movement for black lives, which is an ecosystem of 150 organizations working to build shared power for black people. And M4BL, many of your listeners may know, was formed in the wake of the Ferguson uprisings really galvanized after the brutal death of Mike Brown. And it was forged in many ways through collective trauma and rage and power. This ecosystem is full of black led organizations and different other formations nationwide, that organize around a shared purpose to significantly reduce state violence, including police terror, but not limited to it. And we’re trying to amass significant political power to influence national and local agendas in the direction of our vision for black lives, which is a policy platform that comprehensively lays out a framework for a society that values Black Lives, repairs past harms and, and also invests in black communities. So that’s, that’s what I do. In terms of my day to day work is in service of M4BL I’ve been a member of M4BL since 2015. And when I’m when I’m not doing that, but in relationship to it, I helped to grow and nurture a network of communications and social justice communications, strategist and directors and, you know, whatever kind of role people hold. I, the word professional always feels so weird to me. Like I wanted to say social justice communications professional, but no, no, it feels like kind of corporate and weird. So, I mean, it’s not that we’re not professionals, but I know what it means to be professional that feels a little bit like I don’t know, weird. But, but the radical communicators network is a place where we, we tie social justice communicators to political opportunity and action, and, you know, have deep conversations about the role of the field, the role of social justice, communications and world building and movement building, and try to offer different opportunities to grow our skills. You know, we do these monthly rad sessions where we teach what we know we talk about things like fat liberation and relationship to social justice and why we need to have more conversations about fatness and you know, how to build out a theory of change for your organization that’s rooted in in communications theory. And you know, we’re five years old now but we’re so you know, feeling very in our infancy and new and and very much so decentralized. I have committed to keeping it a nimble network that is for the people by the people not tied to any brand. But, you know, hoping that we can. We’re not trying to be, you know, secretive about it. We want to radicalize people. We want people who come into the social justice communications field with an eye for marketing or a background in market based strategies to arrive at a place where they use power based strategies to build social work for social justice. So finally, I teach a class at The New S chool. For the last six years, I’ve been teaching critical theory and social justice with an emphasis on black resistance and black resistance from 1960 to the present. And this fall, I’m super excited to teach a class on resistance narratives in 21st century social movements. I grew up in Los Angeles, but I live in New York now.
It seems like you’ve come through nonprofits through activism, is that would that be a fair thing? Like kind of a feeling like it’s an output? Where did you have were you always interested in kind of the the nonprofit space,
Unknown Speaker 6:05
I was never interested in nonprofits as a place to work. And it just so happens that the work that I do is done inside of a nonprofit structure. And, you know, I think that how I arrived at this work, is, you know, for many of us is a story that is layered. I would say, for me, personally, I had from a young child of internal ethic, that was strong, a desire to see fairness in my home and my community and in the world around me, and really, was grated when things were unfair, or people were being mistreated, including my siblings, and, you know, my classmates and family members. So I think it started there, the desire to want to be a part of something that was meaningful, that led to different kinds of change, though I didn’t really know what that was, at that time, I was a bit of a rebel in high school, and I, my parents loved me very much. And I think on reflecting back now, they didn’t know what to do with a child who had such a demonstrable desire to want to change things, but who was like really unclear about how to do that. So I was a bit of a mess and remained so you know, through my 20s. I went to school in Louisiana, I grew up in Los Angeles, and then a little bit in the Midwest when my mom got remarried in her in the 90s, in the mid 90s. But my my family is has a history and a story that is very clearly a black American story, my great grandmother, Odessa, migrated from Northeast Louisiana to Inglewood, California in the 1940s and 1950s, early 1950s. And so she was part of the Second Great Migration. And subsequently, my family was also part of an incredible experience in Los Angeles from mid 20th century to the, to the 90s. Right, where we saw uprisings in the Watts uprisings. We saw the, you know, introduction of the gangs in Los Angeles, which were in response to white supremacist formations in California, the war on wars on poverty and drugs, and as well as HIV AIDS and the crack epidemic, and that was, you know, all happening in the second half of the 20th century, and black communities were significantly impacted by that, and my family’s included in that. That experience of mass incarceration and overdose and deaths, you know, so I think part of it is also like, my own reckoning with where I come from, and the issues that impacted my family and relationship to what I was feeling passionate about. So when I ended up going to school in Louisiana, and went to LSU, I became an activist on campus. And again, I wasn’t, I knew that I had that kind of internal ethic to want to do something. So I, you know, started an organization co-founded an organization called the conscious black society. So funny to think about now this is 2004.
Unknown Speaker 9:41
And, wow, and, you know, became the vice president of the voices for Planned Parenthood, you know, felt really connected to issues of reproductive health rights and justice at the time of racial justice. And queer liberation as a queer person on campus is one of the only you know out loud queer people on campus like I I arrived at doing social justice work in part because of who I was who I am in the world, because of my internal ethic, but also because of the things that I started to learn and experience in school, and I, you know, I will say, I don’t know that I ever planed to go to college like my, my, my mother went to school, when I was in school, she went back to get her associate’s degree when I was in high school. And then me, I started getting more degrees. And that was really the first kind of person I knew who went to school. So it was a really awesome experience to have. And also, you know, I was rife with guilt, because other people in my family didn’t get the same experience. But it will say, like, you know, organizing in the south in Baton Rouge at LSU really changed my understanding of power of what it meant to radicalize people, to politicize people to make the invisible visible, it was a very interesting experience to be surrounded by Confederate flags on our campus, and to recognize the limitations of our administration on campus. And really my first kind of foray into how to negotiate power for people who were, you know, feeling underrepresented or oppressed. You know, college campuses are good for that. So I went to journalism school, and, you know, also saw limit limitations there. For me, I graduated in 2008, at the height of the recession, and I was working part time at a women’s newspaper that’s actually still around women’s e-news. And it’s still called women’s e-news, which I think is awesome. And waiting tables at night, and that was 2008. I spent a couple years in reality television, which was really rough experience for me, I was incredibly unhappy, and didn’t fit in at all. And then, when I was in 2010, I took my first nonprofit job as the administrative and Development Associate for an organization that used to be called law students for reproductive justice, but it’s now called if when how, and is leading in the fight to ensure that we have equitable, safe access to abortion care, even at this moment, so I’m, I’m glad to be a part of that lineage. And, and then in terms of the nonprofit kind of structure, you know, I mean, these nonprofit institutions are set up really as proxies for the rich to be able to kind of assuage themselves of the guilt that they have for ruining the world. And I’m just, you know, I’m aware that we need these kinds of institutions right now, based on the conditions that we live in to pass through money and to be accountable to the government, and so on and so forth. I believe in the power of organizations, because I believe in the power of organizing, but I think that, you know, nonprofits have limitations. And we also must be mindful that the history of the nonprofit infrastructure is really rested on white, wealthy women looking for something to do with their time, and therefore comes with a kind of sense of benevolence, if you will, and not an inherent sense and kind of power building or justice. And so just to be mindful of how we understand our role in the world, I, I am on purpose and clear that my role is to build narrative power for black social movements. And I happened to do that through a nonprofit infrastructure. But even if I were not inside of a nonprofit, that would still be my job.
Brian Crawford 13:28
I was curious about the this kind of this really ingrained sense of right and wrong and fairness that seems to shape everything. Like when did you think that did that form? Is that early on, that really kind of get solidified in at LSU? Or tell me about that process?
Shanelle Matthews 13:53
That’s a really good question. I would say before going to LSU, I would say it was really I explored it there. Right as like somebody who was perceived as a leader on campus. Although now you know, when I look back, I mean, I didn’t do a lot of self reflection. At that time, I was just pursuing my passions kind of, you know, without, I think what is necessary from a leader, which is the kind of constant self reflection of your own beliefs and behaviors. I think it really happened at at home. You know, it’s hard to, it’s hard to talk about, frankly, but you know, all of us kind of have experiences as children as adolescents going into adulthood with our family members that are that can be highly contentious and fraught you know, either you disagree ideologically or there’s a power imbalance in the home. And you know, I love my parents very much and we and they did their their very best and I’m incredibly grateful and there were power differentials and my home that made it incredibly hard to be a girl child, you know, not feeling like I could speak and be believed, you know, and I will say, my sister and I, my twin sister, and I, you know, we were, we definitely gave our parents, you know, run for their money we didn’t always behave. And so they, you know, even that concept of behaving is one that should be interrogated. But I think for me, it was about where do I get to push back on what I’m seeing as patriarchy in my house as even violence? That is, in some ways masquerading as parenting? Where do I get to say what I believe is right and wrong, or where I feel like I’ve been aggrieved or harmed even in a way that feels like outside of the scope of parenting? And I’ll say, this is not I’m not a parent. So your listeners are like, oh, you know, what do you know, maybe what do you know, but I’m a human, and I was a child and I. So I think, you know, my internal ethic kind of came from those experiences of trying to be my own person inside of a kind of relationship with the power differential that just felt outsized and really hard. And, you know, I’m still working that out, I’m still trying to understand, you know, what was I taught that I want to hold on to what was I taught, that doesn’t serve me any longer, what was I taught that was wrong, that I want to undo, and I’ve more or less have made the decision to not have children. But you know, I do teach a lot of people, students, you know, my staff, and and for BL my mentees, my trainees, you know, so there’s so many of those lessons that I can adapt and take into my, my current work and my current relationships.
Brian Crawford 16:47
All right, so you do a lot of stuff. You have done a lot of stuff. What’s your what’s your favorite thing about the work that you do?
Shanelle Matthews 16:58
Yeah, this is a good question. I, you know, what, I think that I just am starting to arrive at having favorite things, you know, the work is, first it’s, you know, being rooted in your purpose as an individual, I think I’m, I have a young staff now at M4BL and they’re arriving at who they are inside of this social movement ecosystem, right? Like you don’t when you go to kindergarten activist is not one of the professions that is put up on the board to say, like, what do you want to do, right? So as we socialize, little humans into becoming, you know, part of the fabric of society, and we teach them what the possibilities are of who they can be in the world, we don’t often say world builder, right? You know, or organizer, those, that’s something that you have to learn as you start to learn about power and society, and, you know, different dimensions of our identities. And, and so when I think my, my favorite things arrived, when I found my purpose, and in, as I kind of support my staff, I’m realizing that that’s kind of a true human thing, right? Like, it’s very hard to feel like things are your favorite if you’re, you know, struggling with what it is that you do, there’s something very affirming and dignified, and being able to say, you know, hey, I’m, I’m Shanelle Matthews, I study the rhetoric and narrative power building of black social movements in the 20th and 21st. Century, like, that’s a very powerful thing to be able to arrive at. And I would say, like, in my my initial years, that in movement, I didn’t have that level of clarity. And I wasn’t happy, I didn’t find joy in very much of my work, because I felt like, I had to be a generalist. And that was stressful, and I was anxious and awkward. And so now that I’ve kind of gotten to a place where I feel like the foundation of my life’s work is, you know, clear. Not to say it’s like crystal because I think we spend our life figuring out who we are, I hope you know that we never really transcend the possibility of being better or different or learning more. My favorite part of the work is, you know, is figuring out the puzzle of narrative power, you know, this idea that our job is to make what people cannot see visible to them. You know, this week’s episode of This American Life is all about the invisible things that are right in front of us. And I’ll just give a trigger warning for your audience around sexual violence. The idea that we have a global movement to acknowledge and eradicate sexual violence in the MeToo movement is so significant. And also, so many people who experience sexual violence would not consider themselves survivors of rape. And that is a conundrum, right? How do you make a thing that is so clearly there, apparent to the people who are experiencing it. And I thought that was really powerful episode, they also talk about, you know, people who are displaced because of climate change, not believe in climate change. So in that, I think my favorite part of it is like the puzzle that requires us to try over and over again, to make those facts, those ideas so clear to people. And then I get to do it in partnership with people who are interested in other parts of the work, who want to know how to get people to vote, and how to run radical or very leftist or progressive candidates who have the interests of the people in mind, or how to raise the money and resources and build alternative economies that allow us to thrive and people who are interested in the law. And M4BL is a really great place for that. Because we we use a kind of hub and spoke model where we have a central leadership body. But people really do the work in their different tables. And those tables are aligned with different kinds of issue areas and capacities. And so, yeah, it’s really powerful to be one kind of spoke in that powerful hub. And my favorite thing is to, you know, figure that puzzle of narrative power out alongside people who also have a desire for black liberation.
Brian Crawford 21:23
Yeah, so what, what got you into the power of narrative that that specific track in your work?
Shanelle Matthews 21:34
So that yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, I think part of it is that I, I went to journalism school I like that, I always felt like writing was something I’ve wanted to do, you know, in grade school and middle school, high school, I found myself attracted to the English courses to reading to history. And so I remember, like, I entered some writing competitions, and then I pursued a journalism degree, in part because I thought that, you know, that that’s where I saw the intersection of politics, or what I understood is politics and writing. And when I graduated, you know, I went to a fairly traditional program, that it is the time digital media was like on the rise, this is 2000, or the early aughts, 2003, to 2007. I, I realized, you know, then journalism is incredibly powerful. I have such deep respect for journalist, my peers, Aaron Morrison, Jamila King, Kat Stafford, who are, you know, Wesley Morris who are reporting and doing incredible work and shaping how people understand the ideas and the, the people of our time. At the time, I didn’t feel like that was the right work. For me, it felt rushed, I wanted to have more power over what was being said, the ideas that were being shared, and how those ideas were being shaped. If we, if I think about, you know, my family’s experience. In the US, the ways in which narrative and story have shaped the black experience have been profound. You know, when we think about narratives, which are collections of stories that were refined over time to really represent central ideas or beliefs. narratives have been used inside of the US to shape black people’s experiences in incredibly oppressive ways. We felt important for me to have a role in shaping those stories, you know, I wanted to be a part of that the combination of my own experiences of having a background in journalism, which is, you know, very one type of storytelling, and then having that kind of internal ethic kind of combined and merged and my organizing to kind of form the role of movement communicator, right, whatever that meant. That’s what I was going to do was to help to tell the stories of the people who are organizing and the people that were organizing on behalf of, and to shape a vision of society that is rooted in the experiences of the people who are closest to domination and oppression. Because it is through those stories, that we can build a scaffolding for a new way of being a new world. And so I feel very tethered to this idea of narrative and narrative power.
Brian Crawford 24:31
So looking at this like thinking about your work life, if you had a magic wand that you could wave and change something about your work life, what would you change?
Shanelle Matthews 24:41
I think, you know, I probably have more more companions. You know, we have a big team at M4BL but we’re remote 100% remote and even though I really appreciate independence that not having to go into an office provides and I value, being able to make, you know, the privilege of being able to make decisions about my life, like going to the doctor in the middle of the day if I need to. I value that. And I really do believe everybody deserves to be able to have options and make decisions about their work life and their labor. That work for them. I’m really grateful for that. And it’s lonely, you know, I joined a work space because I thought going somewhere once a week would help me meet new people. So I guess I would just, you know, I miss sitting across the table with a group of people and brainstorming and sharing ideas and going back and forth and being sharpened in that way. So I’d say if I had a magic wand, I would, you know, have more companions, work companions, to be able to share ideas and experiences with.
Brian Crawford 25:58
Yeah, yeah, it’s, as this has, everything has ground on has definitely been feeling that loss a little bit more. Yeah. And it’s, as you said, it’s to push each other as far as the work and stuff, but it’s also Yeah, it’s like, having someone to help carry the load, right, someone to commiserate with or, you know, someone who really gets it, right, and it’s not like, kind of turn off your turn off your screen at home, and then you have to sort of deal with it. And you don’t have anyone to process with, you know, that that is, that can be tough.
Shanelle Matthews 26:44
Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, like, labor, and working conditions are changing for everybody. And as we all adjust to a new way of, of being, I just think it requires a little bit of imagination and creativity to figure out how to get what you need at work. And my work and my personal life are deeply intertwined. Which is why, you know, it’s weird, even talking about my job is work, it certainly is work, it is labor, I spend a lot of time laboring over how to, you know, build narrative power for black social movements and the ideas therein, you know, but it is also deeply personal.
Brian Crawford 27:27
So, I feel like we are, I was gonna say, We’re in tough times, I feel like we haven’t left tough times in a minute. So, so it’s easy to kind of feel down. So this next question is kind of the opposite, like, on a positive side, like, what are you looking forward to in the next year?
Shanelle Matthews 27:44
I don’t wait, you know, I don’t think that there’s like, there’s this binary of like, there were good times, and now we’re in bad times, which is weird, because the times are always bad for somebody. And we also have an interesting relationship to memory and nostalgia, you know, remembering the past is better than it actually was. But for me, I think that has, you know, understanding that there is no binary of good times and bad times, I find it a pretty solid equilibrium. Right, and, like, really relishing in joy and really trying to learn from sorrow and, and maybe get something out of that, too, you know, but in terms of what I’m looking forward to, I accumulate, my vacation and try to take it all at once because and your listeners will relate to this, you know, the work of communicators is hard on the nervous system. You know, you’re, I mean, you know, the social movement work itself, it doesn’t really matter what role you play, it can be really hard on the nervous system in order because it’s requires you to be on your toes to be ready, and on, if you will, all the time. So that and you know, just general childhood trauma means that, you know, it’s hard for me to relax, hard for my body to relax, but also adult trauma to you know, it’s not just in your childhood. But um, so in August, I’m going to take three weeks and I have some loose plans right now to be somewhere warm, and with the stack of books that I commit to reading and don’t read every year. So I’m looking forward to that. I look forward to that every year to the like, you know, being able to genuinely relax and delete the email app from my phone and not pay attention to my Slack channels and to have some time for self reflection and self assessment. And, you know, maybe meet some new people eat some good food.
Brian Crawford 29:42
It’s good. Yeah, we gotta take care of ourselves.
Shanelle Matthews 29:46
It’s incredibly important.
Brian Crawford 29:49
Alright, so in your young life, you’ve already done so much. What else do you feel like you need to achieve
Shanelle Matthews 30:03
You know, that’s an interesting phrase around, like, needing to achieve, I think I spent not, I think I know, I spent my 20s In my early 30s panicked that I was insufficient. And that insecurity drove so many of my so many of my behaviors, my thoughts, and it was this idea that I had to achieve certain things by a certain age, it’s, uh, you know, we see these, like 30 under 30 list and these, you know, high profile young people, and I always felt like I had to keep up, you know, to do that. And I think that, you know, I think I feel like I know, that was a setup, you know, that was a very easy container, a sexy thing for people to sell. But I’ve slowed down in these last five years a lot, and have started to be more thoughtful and rigorous about the work that I’m doing. asking more questions, asking for more feedback, plotting and planning a little bit more clearly, like what I want the outcome of the work to be and what people need, you know, how I can be of service to my community. You know, so when I figured out that I really wanted to focus on rhetoric and narrative power, black social movements, I just want to do everything I can to contribute my experiences, to the kind of Corpus or body of work that is in that field. And that means, you know, taking a unique millennial 21st century approach to the work interrogating all of the historical concepts that have come before me and also the smart thinking and contributions of my peers. You know, one, one goal I have, even though I don’t feel like I had to do it, but when I first entered social justice communications work, I was looking for a book a primer to read on like it with case studies and ideas that would help me understand and certainly have come across many useful tools. Like RE:imagining Change by Patrick Reinsborough, and Doyle Canning is a good book, Narrative Power by Ken Plummer, it’s a good book to read Makani Themba. In Praxis Project, racial justice manual, which is put up during the Obama era is excellent. And of course, all the issue areas, stuff that I love to read. But I wanted something that combined that so in 2019, the radical communicators network under the leadership of myself and my co-editor Marzena Zukowska commissioned an anthology that looks at narrative resistance narratives from social movements in the 21st century. So from 2000 to 2020. And we’ll look at you know, everything from anti war on terror narratives. After 911, and up until now to the MeToo movement, the expansion of gender or the usage of pronouns, how we use different tactics like polling and art, to shape perceptions of ideas, will cover Palestine and the solidarity movements. And the hope is that this will be, you know, a co-edited, you know, multi-authored anthology of love letter, if you will, to the field, that, you know, activists and organizers and communicators of all shapes and sizes can use to, you know, guide their work or, and really understand the historical context of narrative and storytelling and the role of building power for people who are typically excluded or left out of society. So that’s one thing and, and it’s been really powerful to support the writers, the authors in this anthology, tease out their ideas, and to also just be in awe in genuine awe of the brilliance of everyday people who are looking to make this world over. So that’s something and then I’d say, the other thing I, I would like to contribute, you know, and I’m willing this into existence, in part, I’ve started to think about what this would look like, is, you know, looking at the rhetoric and narrative power of black social movements, specifically over the last, you know, century and a quarter. You know, what are the ways in how have black organizers, communicators, strategist politicized people, what words have they use? What symbols, you know, how have they use their bodies in direct action to shape what people think? What have been some of the challenges of that and as we continue to evolve and what Cedric Robinson calls the black radical tradition? How do we continue to use narrative and rhetoric to build a society that is celebration and defense of black lives.
Brian Crawford 35:04
So for your the two projects, what are they one of you think they’re gonna be out for people to grab?
Shanelle Matthews 35:11
I mean, we still have some. Yeah, I mean, the the first the anthology is, we’ve got 31 chapters commissioned we, the editing process is time consuming. And, and, and it’s incredibly humbling, you know, like, it’s just teaches you a lot about what you still have to learn. I appreciate it, you know, we’re optimistic that we’ll have a manuscript by the end of next year, first quarter of next year, but it would be a while yet, I mean, would say maybe the end of next year, we could see the anthology would be ideal. And then for the other book, you know, it’s really a longer term project, I have, you know, 11 years experience now to kind of comb through and also a lot of questions to ask and answer. So I would say, five to 10 years. Now, maybe sooner, it just really depends, I that’s something that’s a project that I hope to really take my time with. But I do have some interesting articles coming out this year, that will be a bit of a precursor to that. So I look forward to sharing those with you and your audience.
Brian Crawford 36:16
I’ll put a reminder on my calendar five years from now. I’ll check back Yeah. What are you working on this? What you got? So for everyone listening, just to kind of, would radical communicators be a good place to sort of just sign up keep tabs on all of those happenings? Or how should someone’s like, that sounds amazing. How should they sort of stay in the loop?
Shanelle Matthews 36:43
Yeah, rad, comms network.org. You know, to be 100 about it, you know, we’re we really are welcoming people into the network to learn how to be, you know, in relationship with other communicators to be challenged on your ideas to challenge other people on their ideas, you know, and by challenge, I mean, like, push each other to sharpen our assessments of the solute, the problems that we’re working to solve and to be clear about the solutions and to root those, both of those and the experiences and the needs of oppressed communities. So yeah, they can join the membership there, we really prioritize people who’ve been typically left out of establishment communication spaces, you know, so people of color people with disabilities, undocumented folks, trans people. And then you know, of course, check out the work of the Movement for Black Lives at M4BL.com.
Brian Crawford 37:40
Yeah, my, my whole testimonial here is RadComms is amazing. I remember when Shanelle pitched it. At least for me, I heard her talk about it at the Frank Gathering conference. It’s the first time she’s like, I’m starting this thing. And we’ll see what happens. And I think at the time you were signing people up with slips of paper or something like that there. Yeah, I remember signing the sheet. I think I was like, Alright, let’s do this. Yeah, it’s so it’s been amazing to see it grow and see the connections happen and people meet in real life. I think that just restarted right in San Francisco, I think, is that right? Or was it?
Shanelle Matthews 38:29
Yeah, and yeah, when I, when I actually spoke at Create Good Conference, if it was 2017, that was just a year that we’re at comps was founded in 2016. And we had, like 100, people who joined and I think this is really kind of testimony to how important it is to organize your field or your sector, like we all come into the nonprofit social justice, social movement, space from different places, but like, there’s a synergy around the field of communications, and those people need to be organized too like, we don’t all come in with all the information we need to make, you know, the most justice oriented decisions for the people that we’re working to serve. So, you know, after Trump was elected, I was like, What are we going to do as communicators? What’s our role to ensure he doesn’t get reelected and to also help shape people’s understanding of this particular moment in the next four years? And so RadComms is really birthed as a repository for our grief or our anger or frustration or our desire to want to build, you know, collective community in opposition to, you know, right wing forces to Trumpism to fascism, and ongoing, you know, building of inclusive democracy. So, I think what was really I was struck by is like, how fast the network grew and how much of a desire there was for connectivity and belonging between communicators, not just here in the United States. We had 100 members to begin with, and 320 2017 when we had our first convening. I Um, but now we have 5000 people and they’re in like almost every US state and 20 countries. And to me, it’s not really about quantity, right. It’s really about like the the relationships and the kind of conversations people have. And we try to make this a place where we share information, we don’t hide the ball. If you have polling, drop it, if you have resources, drop them, democratize how we do this worldbuilding work, and really highlight the people who are often invisibleized.
Brian Crawford 40:29
So anyone listening, look it up, sign up, get in, because the question is gonna for nonprofits, but I’d say let’s keep it tight to your sphere, your interest of, you know, being it being an activist, like any of newbies getting into this, what, what advice would you have for them,
Shanelle Matthews 40:47
I would say, you know, I have this Venn diagram in my desk that has three, three different circles. And my mentor gave it to me and was like, you know, as you do your work, look at what your YouTube are attracted to look at what makes you most excited, right? Like, pay attention to the things that get you up every morning to finish doing the work, you know, that you dream about, that you think about the shower, right? Like, and once. So I would say to people, like, pay attention to those things, and put your Venn diagram by your workspace. And you know, as when those things come up, fill that in, so that when you say yes to projects, you know exactly what you’re saying as to you know, you’re saying yes to something that’s going to bring you joy, and that you’re going to be excited to work on and follow through on. The other thing I would say is like, you know, there’s a lot of movement, social movement, culture, just like everywhere else, there’s a set of behaviors and attitudes and personalities. And when I first came in, I was really insecure about not knowing all the things I thought I should know, and it was afraid to speak up, and I, you know, sat in a quiet kind of fear and silence for what felt like years, you know, that might happen to some of you, you might feel like you don’t belong, you don’t fit in, you don’t know what other people know, you don’t have anything to share. And that is, I would say, that’s a natural experience that I don’t I wish it wasn’t like that. But it is. So I would say don’t run away from that, you know, sit in the discomfort. If you feel comfortable speaking, speak up, make your voice heard, make yourself known, you know, but also listen, listen to the people around you learn everything you can, I was pretty arrogant in My early 20s. and felt like I knew all there was to know sometimes I would like, you know, leave places too soon, and not really get all that I could get out of it. So I would say like, you know, have a have a good practice of self assessment. So you know, what you need to learn, and you know, what you want to learn what interests you and, you know, sit with the discomfort of not knowing and then when you become a person who knows more, you know, treat the people that are still learning with a deep sense of respect, and the way that you wanted to be treated.
Brian Crawford 42:54
That’s great. I love that. All right, let’s transition here to we’re gonna talk about feedback. So, for you, how do you personally process criticism or feedback on your work?
Shanelle Matthews 43:08
Yeah, I mean, that that has changed over the years. And my 20s I’m 30. I’ll be 38 this year, by the way, keep saying that. I mean, I could be 30 And you guys could be like, What do you mean, your 20s But yeah, I’m 38 I’m still young, I don’t call myself old, I feel great. I wasn’t good at receiving feedback. I mean, it was, you know, now I’m able to look back and understand that after some deep self assessment, work, growth, work, some pain, some, some honest feedback from people I love and respect that I was really defensive. I used to just be think that, you know, feedback was an attack on who I was. So it took me years of really messing up receiving feedback and not being able to hear it to arrive at a place where like, now I’m clamor for it, you know, as I see it as a way of sharpening myself and being in good and right relationship with other people, when they feel like they can tell me feedback. That’s not just, this is great, or, you know, whatever. But like, hey, this seems not politically aligned with what we’re going for. Or it looks like you left out some ideas here, or this isn’t very strong, you know, I mean, like, those are all things that can feel hard to hear. And certainly, like, who’s giving the feedback matters. I’m like, for example, I’m writing this piece, it’s 4000 words, it’s a lot of ideas. And I’m on my about to be on my sixth version of it. And the fifth version had just as many edits is like the second or third and I was like, oh my god, I’m not making it anywhere. And another is a part of that where it’s like, you know, I’m human I’m like, Oh, man. Oh, man, all these all these red marks like, you know, just the like, look at just when you see it you get like a body response. Like that’s like, oh, you know, that’s like, Oh, I feel bad. You Like, but, but it’s like, you know, with experience, you recognize that this actually is not a reflection of who I am as a person. This is a reflection of, you know, one, there’s a lot of good ideas in here that that the editor remarked on, why am I just paying attention to the bad ones. But the other thing is like this is going to make, if I’m really thinking about if I’m pushing my ego to the side and saying, Look, this isn’t about you Shanelle, like this is actually about crafting an idea and a message that is complex and complicated and mired in a lot of different data for an audience who needs to understand it. And if they understand it, then they can act on it, right. But if they don’t understand it, it becomes much harder to act on. So, you know, the thing I’ve learned over the years is really feedback. And hopefully, it’s given in a graceful and kind way, you know, is, is so useful to the bigger picture of world building. Because if people feel like they can’t tell you things that they feel like you’re gonna bite their head off or respond badly. And by badly I mean, you could like, respond angrily. But you could also cry, which is like, not inherently bad, but it does, you know, puts the situation in a different kind of context and makes it a little bit more challenging, I think, to like, advance the work in that moment. But I’m not convincing anybody not trying to say that people shouldn’t cry, I cry all the time. But I just need, you know, it creates a different circumstance, that, that when you get that feedback, it it, it can has an opportunity to make the world better. And, and that’s how I see it. Yeah,
Brian Crawford 46:35
that’s great. Yeah, I feel like I was the same. I had the same experience. Like, through my 20s. ego got out of the cage, right. And I was kind of an asshole about everything. Like, yeah, it’s I’ve learned to mellow that out. Listen, more, kind of growl less about that. Yeah. So on feedback, how do you like to receive it? What’s like, you know, when you get it? What is something that you feel like you respond best to?
Shanelle Matthews 47:06
I like to be asked first, if I want feedback.
Brian Crawford 47:09
Shanelle Matthews 47:11
You know, can I, I think it’s for me, like, if I’m giving somebody else feedback, I need to like, first assess, like, why I feel like I’m the right person to give this person feedback like that, in and of itself is a good question to ask. And because I also like to be prepared to receive the feedback, you know, because even though I’ve, I’ve learned to how to receive feedback better, I’m still learning intellectually in my brain, I know that the feedback is good. But sometimes, again, your body may like have a reaction that is rooted in your, like lizard brain where you just, you know, yeah, have a response. And then it’s like, we can’t, you know, I don’t know, the body is so powerful, that it’s hard to regulate that if it comes in and you weren’t ready for it, and then what might fuck up your whole day. So like, I just want somebody to ask me, like, you know, hey, can you give me feedback is now a good time like that? Yeah, that would be really great. And, and then, you know, I would just want to make sure that, I think, like, it helps for me to understand, you know, like, the context of this feedback, like, like, if I’m getting feedback from a person who’s not really invested in me, but who’s giving me feedback based on their own kind of perceptions, and their own desires, I think that changes the way that I can be part of that conversation. But if I know that they’re really interested in me, and like my growth and making sure that I’m doing the best work that I can do, then yeah, that that feels different. It feels like okay, cool. Like, this is going to be something that is going to make me sharper, and therefore it will make me a bit be better in service to the communities that I work on behalf of. So those are some things I feel important to me. But you know, I used to be really delicate and precious about my ideas, and I don’t feel that way anymore. So I’m happy to have feedback in a number of different ways. But yeah, those kind of like gives us now a good time. And can I give me feedback, those feel important questions to start with?
Brian Crawford 49:10
Yeah, I think that’s very interesting. Like, sometimes you just showing, like, you just want people to look at your picture and say, Yeah, that looks looks pretty. And then maybe we can talk about it later. Right. You know, I’m not ready to hear about that color blue yet, just yet. Just give me a little kudos that this project got done or it’s on its way. And then yeah, then we can talk about it
Shanelle Matthews 49:37
Yeah, I mean, then we have to, like ask ourselves, you know, like, and I could be like this sometimes, you know, why do I feel the need to like give this person feedback on this color blue when they just sent me this report like, Ah, there you know, I’ve had an experience where it’s like, you deliver something in the only you know, something massive even and the only thing you get is like, why is this like this? Or like, I don’t like this can you do this? So you’re like, but what about everything else? Like? Anything you did like? That would be nice to hear
Brian Crawford 50:10
Alright, so what what style feedback does not work for you?
Shanelle Matthews 50:16
You know, I mean, I don’t think it’s just me maybe, but like, you know, things that feel like, mean spirited or unintentional, like, you know, just hadn’t really thought it through or you didn’t like, look at the thing, you know, and you just jumped to a conclusion or read a headline or something like that. Um, I think it just for me, it’s like a feedback that isn’t grounded in like a spirit of generosity, and, you know, growth and a desire for transformation and something good and more powerful. But, you know, I, everybody gives feedback differently, because we, you know, again, this is not something we’re taught how to get feedback or receive feedback. So like, where do you learn these things? So I have a lot of grace, grace for people who are doing it and maybe do it in a way that feels challenging to me. They don’t know what’s challenging to me, you know, so? Yeah, I mean, I’ll stop there. I don’t I don’t know. I don’t think that long list of things. I just want people to be like, you know, kind about it.
Brian Crawford 51:21
Yeah, I think it’s interesting. It’s, you know, done sort of peeling back the layers on this how, you know, because we’ve over the last 12, this year, it’ll be out 12th year. We’ve had, jeez, over 100 different clients, which means 100, plus different bosses, so to speak. So we’ve seen many different versions, many different iterations of this. Yeah, it’s amazing. Now, sometimes it is unintentional. Sometimes it is working out, you know, it’s their own sort of, they’re working out their own issues through feedback, you know, and it’s like, I don’t know. Yeah, it is fascinating, though, how it’s not taught. And you just have to figure it out as you go, or you never figure it out. And that becomes a problem.
Shanelle Matthews 52:17
Yeah, for sure.
Brian Crawford 52:21
All right, the biggie with burnout. Let’s talk about burnout. Real quick. Let me let me start with before I get into the question, let me ask you one thing, what kind of experiences have you had with burnout? Have you had you? Have you experienced burnout before?
Shanelle Matthews 52:38
Yeah, I mean, I don’t know that I would have called it that before. Um, for me, the way that it manifests is, I start growing resentful of the work, like the work to me is, because it’s my life’s work, because I am passionate about it. I am interested in it. And I’m curious, I think about it all the time. You know, it’s hard to feel like it’s it, it doesn’t feel like a burden. My labor doesn’t feel like a burden, though. I mean, I’m not like, there are things I have to do. Like, as a director of communications, like I have to do a budget, that’s annoying. I don’t like numbers, I have to like, you know, like, accept all these invoice submissions and like, accept or reject vacation requests. Like, that’s not stuff I like, wake up, can’t wait to do things. You know, there’s, there are like, very important administrative tasks that are tedious. And I find to be annoying that I would, you know, that I’m like, not dreaming about but I think the burnout, the idea that like I have grown resentful of my work comes when Yeah, I haven’t taken enough breaks where I feel like I don’t have enough leisure time things, you know, away from my computer with enough time in my own brain without the thoughts and ideas of others, to let my brain really relax and process what I’ve experienced what I’ve learned what I’ve unlearned who I’ve met other people’s ideas, you know, you need time downtime to do that. And, you know, for me, my day starts at 530. Every morning, I’m a very early riser. My best thinking time is the morning, sometimes I also get a workout in the morning, but that’s usually in the afternoon, these days, but you know, they start till 530, and it ends at 530 or six. So the days are long, I’m often working weekends, because I’m working on other projects that require my time outside of my M4BL hours or evenings. You know, so the, like, I think, for me, I’m not imposing a what people would call I think, work life balance kind of framework onto my job, because it simply doesn’t work that way for me, but the burnout can still happen, you know, and I can still be resentful of the fact that I just don’t have any Shanelle time. So, you know, I’ve yeah, I’ve experienced it in my 11 years of doing this work. I think the other thing about it is like, it took me a while to realize what was happening to me because and somebody just gave me this feedback the other day, when I met my mentor last night, when you are the kind of person who can, for whatever reason, handle a significant load of work or responsibility. You tell yourself a story about who you are, right? I’m the person who can handle this, I, you put yourself in a position you grow, you know, you become practice and grow that muscle of being that person who can handle all this stuff. And so then, when you are experiencing burnout, you convince yourself in many ways that that’s just simply a byproduct of being this person who knows how to handle all these things, right, like, and then that can be affirmed by the people around you, you know, like, because I do, you know, communications, part of the work for many of your listeners will know is crisis, right? Like, what happens when there’s a crisis, who who’s contending with it. And so I become the person who, in a crisis, it’s my job to be calm, and to work through ideas and things like that. And so a lot of that I fed myself a story about, you know, well, that’s not burnout, because, like, you know, this is your job. But if you take a step back and kind of look at your life, and like, you know, the hours and you accumulate the time you have that’s not sleeping and not working, and you realize it’s not very much. Yeah, I mean, that definitely changes things a little bit, you know,
Brian Crawford 56:31
that that’s an interesting thought that you start to adopt burnout as your personality, essentially. Yeah, So, once you’ve identified that, what kind of things do you do now to avoid burnout?
Shanelle Matthews 56:52
This is gonna sound ridiculous, but I schedule, everything I schedule, every moment of my day is blocked out on my calendar, because what allows me to forego burnout is by scheduling in my leisure time scheduling in my downtime, so you know, I will look at my calendar every week, the week before, block out my breaks, I actually put my breaks on my calendar, I put my lunch, I put my workout, I put my leisure activities, I put my dinners with friends, so on and so forth. And I systematize everything. So I’m a systems thinker, it helps me structure my life in a useful way. It helps me manage my projects and support my team. So I will look at my year, make my vacations, I will put my brakes on my calendar, my time off my all of that. And then I really tried to, you know, adhere to that, that really helps me to mitigate burnout. Because I have breaks built in, I have time off built in. I know I can know when that’s going to happen. If I don’t do that, then every hour of my day will be scheduled with work. So that’s that’s what works for me. And it seems to be going well.
Brian Crawford 58:05
I think that’s that’s a fantastic tip. It’s one that we use, too. And I think part of our thing, too, is you have to honor that, right? That that workout time is just as important as your, you know, your weekly check in with the team. But when it comes to having meetings and comes to your calendar, because it’s easy, like it doesn’t mean anything if you’re able to override it, right? And be like, Oh, well, I’ll not do that workout today. Because I really need to get something else done. Or someone else wants to meet with me. Yeah, so I Yeah, it doesn’t sound ridiculous to me, because you just described our lives too. like, everything is scheduled. And I don’t see it as you as a bad thing. It’s just this is the framework that drives busyness. Stress sometimes, so we also use it to drive joy and entertainment.
Shanelle Matthews 59:09
Yeah, that’s right. I agree. And, you know, I think people will be like, Oh, you don’t you know that that seems really rigid or that seems, you know, like you, you have to schedule every and I’m like, Well, I have a lot of interests. I have a lot of things that I want to do and people that I want to meet and things I want to experience. And so yeah, you know, time is a construct, and we’ve all decided that we’re going to adhere to it so I’m going to manage it and not let it manage me.
Brian Crawford 59:40
This is kind of a big question here. So you know what keeps you coming back to work doing this work every day?
Shanelle Matthews 59:47
I mean, a lot of what I shared with you about why I how I got here, you know? I mean a few things, you know, like we are all we’re like humans we are kind of purpose driven people, right? Like, we like to figure out what interests us and follow those passions. This just happens. My job is also my passion. And you know, I’m passionate about convening people and sharing ideas and being part of, you know, groups that are looking to make things better for folks. I’m passionate about storytelling and writing and idea generation, I’m passionate about the black experience in America being one that is rife with joy, and pleasure and health and wealth, how are we define that. So I get to, you know, come back to that every day and work alongside people I love and respect to do that. So get to come back to that. My family is still very much one who’s living a very black American experience. My my mom and my stepdad are, you know, working class people who work very long hours for, you know, decent wage, but it should be more, they’ve worked incredibly hard my entire life, and I wish that they could retire now, I wish they could be done with that. And they can’t, you know, so what, what, you know, what, it’s my responsibility and ensuring that future generations can get paid what they’re due for their labor, and also, you know, live a life of leisure at some point in their aid in their old age, you know, I saw and, you know, I’ve just even anecdotally had a cousin who was missing for the last couple of weeks, who suffers with mental health complications, and, you know, I want for people like her to have somewhere to be somewhere to go. So, you know, when I think about what keeps me bringing it back, sometimes I will ask myself, well, what else would I be doing? It to me, it’s like, once I knew the, like, how power was shaped in our society and the challenge and how unfair how unfairly resources are distributed and you know, how much unfairness and theft and oppression there is in the world? I can’t unknow you know, and because I have that internal ethic. I, you know, I think about like, this question often comes up, what would you be doing if you weren’t doing this? And I, you know, I like acupuncture. The first time I got it, I thought, My gosh, like, I wish I could have everybody could experience what I’m experiencing right now. This is so amazing. So I thought maybe it would be an acupuncturist, you know, but I would still be an acupuncturist, within an internal ethic, you know, and a desire to drive social justice or do good in the world. And so, you know, why not continue to do what I’m doing?
Brian Crawford 1:02:37
Yeah. Yeah, it’s essentially like, once you see something you can’t unsee it. Okay. Last section says kind of rapid fire. What’s your favorite word?
Shanelle Matthews 1:02:49
Brian Crawford 1:02:52
What’s your least favorite word?
Shanelle Matthews 1:02:54
Brian Crawford 1:02:57
that’s come up a few times. What’s your personal nonprofit cause or passion?
Shanelle Matthews 1:03:06
My passion is rhetoric and narrative power in the black radical tradition.
Brian Crawford 1:03:13
What nonprofit cause gets too much attention?
Shanelle Matthews 1:03:19
I don’t think any of them get enough attention.
Brian Crawford 1:03:22
What’s your favorite cuss word?
Shanelle Matthews 1:03:24
Brian Crawford 1:03:27
That is also very popular. As you talked about before, what profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Shanelle Matthews 1:03:35
I would like to try to be a pilot. And although I yeah, I’m interested in acupuncture. I know that it requires, you know, like, very serious bedside manner as you put needles into people’s bodies. So the idea like, you know, in my dreams, I’m an acupuncturist, but I don’t know if I want to actually try it.
Brian Crawford 1:03:57
The pilots interesting, what’s what’s driving that if you always wanted to be a pilot to fly? Or is there something else to that?
Shanelle Matthews 1:04:04
Well, I mean, I just I think there’s something really fascinate there’s the level of trust, right, that is required of pilots that you know, people can have of their pilots. There’s, it’s also like the job that you have to get right 100% of the time. You know, sure. That’s true. So there’s a level of rigor to that. But then there’s also this idea of having the power to be above the clouds to fly to like, to sort of look at the world from that level, that height and the magic that must come from that. And you know, it’s a job also that as like, has a manual, like, this is how you fly a plane. There’s no manual for world building and social justice you just like you know, have to figure it out as you go. So there’s something about the structure of that job that seems cool.
Brian Crawford 1:04:55
And what nonprofit professional or maybe organizational communications team would you love to talk to on this podcast?
Shanelle Matthews 1:05:04
Wow, so much cool work happening. I would love to talk to or hear from maybe like the Pop Culture Collaborative is doing really cool work. And the folks over at Narrative Initiative, we’re doing cool work as well. I know that Pop Culture Collaborate really leverages pop culture movies, television, music, video games to spread, you know, inclusive messaging, and I think that’s really smart.
Brian Crawford 1:05:33
That’s really cool. Cool. I have, I have one last challenge for you. The challenge of being brevity, because I feel like this is maybe a whole podcast series in itself. In that is for your for narrative building. What’s the answer? Or how in the hell do we build a narrative platform that can up end our some of our long standing narratives in this country that are problematic? And also compete, defeat, however, you want to put that the right wing narrative machine? And you get in three sentences to answer that…
Shanelle Matthews 1:06:39
There is no one right answer. That’s my answer.
Brian Crawford 1:06:44
That’s yeah. Is that because do you see as the problems too big or too wide, too deep?
Shanelle Matthews 1:06:57
I would say because there’s no single individual, there’s no single problem. There are many problems. So when we think about even how to frame the problem that we’re working to solve, even those of us on the left leftist folks would define those problems differently. And so it requires a lot of collaboration and collectivity to even arrive at defining the problem, not to mention the solutions and the actions people then need to take.
Brian Crawford 1:07:28
Well, on that note, I think we are done today. Thank you so much for coming and being on the podcast. I really appreciate it. And I always love talking with you. I it. I think I’ve said this before, but it makes me very happy and hopeful that you’re in the world and doing this work.
Shanelle Matthews 1:07:54
Oh, thank you, Brian. I feel the same about you and Dawn, and thanks for having me today and to all your listeners for tuning in.
Dawn Crawford 1:08:02
Thank you for listening. If you want to get all the new episodes sent to you as we release them, subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And until then, keep creating good