Q&A with Associate Editor of Community Narratives, Dio Roberson

Dio Roberson on stage at the 2023 Back Pocket Media Story Fest

"Soon it was clear that the most important elements of that work – relationship building, deep listening, supporting and encouraging folks to tell their stories and the commitment to preserve the strength of the storyteller’s own voice – comprise a really solid approach to pretty much every kind of narrative support."

Can you tell us what Resolve’s Community Narrative work entails?
Community Narratives work entails making a connection with a community member – through in-person engagement or referral –  who has a story to tell, and then guiding that community member all the way through composing a first-person narrative of their own, from outlining to editing and ultimately to pitching and placing with one of Resolve’s 29 newsroom partners.

How did this work come about?
As I remember, I was working with Gene and the collab on the With Love project. I served as a reporter and editor to folks who needed help composing a goodbye message to their lost loved one. Soon it was clear that the most important elements of that work – relationship building, deep listening, supporting and encouraging folks to tell their stories and the commitment to preserve the strength of the storyteller’s own voice – comprise a really solid approach to pretty much every kind of narrative support. From there, Resolve created a role for me that centered all that same kind of work, listening and providing editorial and moral support and amplification for people telling their own stories.

What’s your favorite part about working with the community to amplify their voices?
I think my favorite part has to be watching people discover the strength of their own voices. I’ve seen people read back their own words in wonder, like, “I wrote this? I said that?” Seeing someone realize the power in their words for the first time – especially since so many of my Community Narratives relationships begin with convincing folks that they can write in the first place – is an utterly incredible experience.

What’s the biggest challenge?
So far, the biggest challenge I’ve identified is pacing; most of the people who write with me are working, running households, or otherwise very busy folks and it can be a challenge to maintain the momentum of the work in between the demands of everyday life. At the same time, I understand that a fast-paced process and a hefty time commitment could be prohibitive for some. I aim to strike a balance between keeping the work moving and respecting our community members’ time so the pace is ultimately set by the writers themselves. 

How do you imagine or hope the Community Narrative work will expand in the next 3-5 years?
At the center of my wildest dreams sits Narrative Toolkit, which would be a program of workshops and resource guides to help community members develop the skills to compose and edit their own stories to newsroom standard. Adjacently, I’d love to see a representative of Community Narratives in every neighborhood in Philadelphia, freely accessible to the residents of that neighborhood, to help shepherd op-eds or to provide hands-on Narrative Toolkit support. The vision is that a person should be able to walk into any community hub (e.g. libraries, community rec centers, neighborhood schools, etc.) in, say, Strawberry Mansion and ask for their Community Narratives reporter. “I have a first-person story I’d like to write, and I need some support to get it polished and published.” And someone will come from the back room somewhere, “Come right this way!” they’ll say. Someday…

What would you say to people who may be listening and are on the fence about sharing their story?
I would say, very often, sharing our stories is a really effective way of touching one another across the barriers that separate us all. Speaking your truth could potentially liberate a stranger, or build a bridge between people and experiences that didn’t exist before. It’s pretty powerful stuff, but ultimately, it has to serve you to share. Narrative empowerment starts with the understanding that your stories are your own, your lived experience is your expertise, and you don’t owe anyone these stories at your own expense. In good faith, I can’t tell anyone that they absolutely must share, but I don’t know a single person in this city who doesn’t have a story to tell, and every one of them is very, very important.

If people are interested in working with you to publish their own op-ed, or if they want to learn more about Community Narrative work in general, how should they get in touch? 
I absolutely want to hear from you! Email me at narratives@resolvephilly.org. We’ll set up some time to talk!