by Joey Phoenix
Images by EmVision Productions
What do you have to look forward to? What allows you to stay hopeful when the world is turned upside down?
In May of this year, minority-led EmVision Productions released a limited series of videos called #StayHopeful. The series features eight people: an artist-entrepreneur, a student government candidate, an activist-entrepreneur, an author, a hip hop artist, a restauranteur, an ER Doctor, and a sixth grade artist, each reflecting on themselves and their futures in light of COVID-19.
“I look forward to going back to a ‘new normal’ in which we have redefined who is of value, what is of value, and who we prioritize,” said interviewee Lina Cañon, an MBA student and Co-founder of The Nur Collective in one of EmVision’s #StayHopeful videos.
Cofounders Dr. Tariana V. Little and Jonas Meyer pioneered the #StayHopeful project as a response to the general ennui of the first few months of this year when everything was so uncertain. And while no one knew what was happening next, sitting back and doing nothing didn’t seem like the right decision either.
And it’s not that things have started to really look up since then. With the civil unrest against systemic oppression and white supremacy happening nationally over the past week, no one is saying that ignoring the issues happening right now is going to make anything better, but while people are working to stay safe and stand against injustice, it’s also important for them to have a future worth looking forward to.
“We were feeling kind of hopeless and news coverage tends to be very sensational, very negative,” said Tariana. “So we decided that since we have the platform through our storytelling to be able to shift the narrative and just offer something different, that we should do something.”
The idea was that they would reach out to people within their networks who could represent a diversity of interests and backgrounds, from entrepreneurs to students to frontline workers, and gain some insight as to what their experiences have been through all of this.
“It was like a mini-counseling session,” said Jonas, with a laugh.
One interviewee, Cecilia Lizotte of Suya Joint Restaurant in Boston, spoke about how because people couldn’t come into her restaurant, she asked herself, how she could deliver food to people who need it? And this question helped create a business model that has kept her restaurant afloat.
Or consider Jadirah Ortiz, a student at Bunker Hill Community College, who took it upon herself to recognize that this is a time when students really need support, and the best thing for her to do was step up and run for student government, knowing that representative leadership is one of the things that can make a difference in communities.
“These everyday people are doing amazing things that we feel can inspire other people and give them something to look forward to in the midst of uncertainty,” Tariana said.
Social Impact Storytelling
Since its beginning, EmVision Productions has operated on the ethos of social impact storytelling, which essentially means capturing narratives of real people with real stories who are closest to the matter at hand in a way that will convey impact.
“We believe in storytelling, because we know that narratives compel people and impact people differently than data. We can present them the data on what people are doing and what they are feeling, but it’s a different thing entirely to have someone tell you their experience. It’s a very human connection,” Tariana said.
But when telling stories of individuals, there is only so much that storytellers can plan for, and while they could decide who would be a part of the project, they didn’t fully know what the interviewees would have to say. Some of their perspectives turned out to be surprising.
Sixth grade artist and aspiring puppeteer Sebastián Minaya-Ubiera, the son of Amplify Latinx Executive Director and activist Rosaria Ubiera-Minaya, has one of those perspectives that the adult world doesn’t often bother itself with. Youth voices are some of the most honest and powerful, and interviewing him offered the EmVision team a glimpse into what this whole experience has been like for him too.
“He makes puppets. And he uses toilet paper for that,” Tariana described. “Going to the grocery store and not being able to have actual toilet paper as a resource for his creativity was hard for him too. We as adults think of it as a logistical thing, that we humans need toilet paper. But it just hit him in a different way.”
Digital storytelling through film, images, and writing have been the tools that have connected communities through quarantine, and these eight films by EmVision offer a window into the lives of people who are doing what they can to stay hopeful. When there’s no chance for physical connection, emotional connection is what people have to hold on to, and well told stories can play a huge role in that effort.
“We’re social beings. We are storytellers, we hug each other, we embrace, both physically and emotionally, and when we can’t have that physical connection, the digital world allows us to have that human closeness that we’re lacking in the real world.”
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Black Visions Collective: https://secure.everyaction.com/4omQDAR0oUiUagTu0EG-Ig2
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Unicorn Riot: https://unicornriot.ninja/five-years-of-unicorn-riot/