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Crossing the Divide

Follow along on Instagram at @narrative4movingstories Photo: @xthedivide

We had a chance to sit down with WGBH’s Rachel Rohr and Hillary Wells about a new partnership between WGBH, the Ground Truth Project, and Narrative 4. Rachel and Hillary are part of Crossing the Divide, an ambitious three-month long, cross-country journey to investigate and report on what it means to “cross the divide.” The team, a diverse group of recent college graduates, will visit local universities and high schools at each stop to witness story exchanges that will inform their reporting. The project launched on August 28th and continues through mid-November.

The Crossing the Divide project will work with Narrative 4 specifically for storytelling exchanges with students in the five partner high schools: High School of Commerce in Springfield, Massachusetts; Floyd Central High School in Floyd County, Kentucky; St. Louis Park High School in St. Louis Park, Minnesota; Two Eagle River School in Pablo, Montana; and Fremont High School in Oakland, California.

We’ll let Rachel Rohr (RR) and Hillary Wells (HW) tell you the rest about their experiences with Narrative 4, what it felt like for them to participate in a story exchange in preparation for this programming, and what they look forward to:

Interview with Rachel Rohr:

If you could pin-point one moment that was “transformative for you” during your personal experience with a story exchange what was it? 

I think there were a couple for me. First, it was hearing my partner’s story. It felt like a gift to hear such a personal and important story from someone I had never met before. It felt like getting to know someone very quickly, and suddenly having the kind of trust and rapport that you have with someone you’ve known for a long time. The second was getting to hear everyone tell their partners’ stories. I was surprised by how everyone really owned their partner’s story, and convincingly told it as if it was their own. And the stories were so good, and each one unique.

What did you learn from the story exchange experience? 

I knew the story exchange would activate my deep listening and empathy, but actually going through it made me realize how true that will be for the students. We’ve been talking all along about how these are key skills for journalism, and I think students who love this experience will be intrigued by a career that’s all about people telling you their stories, and then sharing them. I think journalists would do well to follow the Narrative 4 rules of no interruptions and no judgement.

How did your experience with this story exchange inform the greater Crossing the Divides project? 

I’m very excited that our reporting fellows will be doing a story exchange with each other, before embarking on this cross-country reporting road trip. It’s the ultimate ice-breaker, and will help them form a bond and a relationship that I think will serve them well as they work as a team for nearly three months. I know they’re going to be so deeply appreciative of the stories that high school students share with them in each of the five high schools we’ll be working with across the country. And I hope this will be just the beginning for the teachers and students who are involved.

Interview with Hillary Wells:

What are you most excited about for the project moving forward? 

I’m most excited about the opportunity to hear from people around the country. People like me, people not at all like me, and everyone in between. I know these stories are going to fundamentally impact the way that I see the world, and I think it will have a similar, profound impact on people who follow our journey.

At a time of deep uncertainly and unrest in our country, WGBH and the GroundTruth Project share Narrative 4’s commitment to confront and address critical divides in communities, academic institutions, and homes across the country (and perhaps eventually, across the world).

I am excited by what I know the staff from each organization, and the reporting fellows, will learn from each other over the course of this journey, but even more so by what we will all learn from the stories we will be privileged to hear through community listening events and the high school story exchanges along the way.

Stories told and retold that tug at the heart, stories that draw us into unexplored and perhaps neglected parts of our being, stories that awaken us, stories that pull us off center… stories, that if honored, create a powerful and enduring web of connections with promise to cross, mend, and eliminate divides. Those following Crossing the Divide will not only be able to read and listen to the published articles, videos, podcasts and social media posts rooted in these authentic stories and experiences, but will also be able to follow the behind-the-scenes journey of the fellows as they grapple with empathy, a foundational of quality journalism, and the very premise of Narrative 4.

Our hope is that the nation will benefit from the reporting of our diverse cadre of emerging journalist, supported and mentored by some of the most prominent and respected journalists in the field. Our additional hope is that high school students who are now openly expressing a hunger for truth and transparency in media, and who will be eligible to vote in the next election, will feel heard and served through an engaging, exciting, and unconventional form of media and news literacy, and be compelled and intrigued by their potential to make a difference.

The Crossing the Divide Project launched August 28, 2017. 

Tomorrow's leaders must learn empathy today.

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