Today, emergent networks and movements like Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives are creating new ways of organizing, ones that focus less on top-down hierarchical organizational structures and more on decentralized collaboration among various actors, united around a common vision and frame. Due to their flexible and nimble nature, these movements are often fast-moving, requiring anyone who is involved in communications work to be equally as nimble. In this environment, it can be challenging for even seasoned communicators to keep up.

At ReFrame, we prioritize working with organizations that are part of powerful movements, like the Movement for Black Lives. We aim to increase the overall communications capacity and praxis of the broader movement, by supporting critical organizations and individuals. In 2016, we partnered with BYP100, a national organization of Black millennials that was founded in 2013 in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin.

When BYP100’s communications coordinator L’lerrét Jazelle Ailith began the ReFrame mentorship, she had just taken on the brand new communications role with the organization. In just three years, the organization had grown in both infrastructure and capacity. BYP100 plays a critical role in the nascent Movement for Black Lives Through all of this rapid growth, the organization made it a priority to build out its communications capacity, with the goal of allowing it to execute more intentional communications strategies. 

According to Shanelle Matthews, the communications director of the Black Lives Matter network and Ailith’s mentor during ReFrame, innovative communications strategy is necessary in order to realize the social, economic, and political power of Black people. “Programs like ReFrame offer a one-of-a-kind approach to training up the next generation of storytellers charged with winning narratives to save Black lives,” Matthews said. “With ReFrame’s support, BLM, BYP100, and other organizations on the front lines of the fight for Black liberation can have the skills we need to do this important work. Without 21st-century tools to effectively communicate about our work, we run the risk of creating insular and incestuous networks and reaffirming what we already believe — instead of expanding and innovating on new ideas and opportunities for change.”

Having now completed the mentorship program, Ailith credits ReFrame with helping her stake out a leadership role in both BYP100 as well as the Movement for Black Lives. “Being in this program and being provided with the tools to understand how strategic communications is important” was critical in her growth, she said.

Do you want to join the next generation of communications strategists? Apply for our 2017 cohort today:


Centering a Black Queer Feminist lens

For BYP100 as a relatively new organization, and for Ailith as someone who was new to both her role at BYP100 as well as to communications work, ReFrame provided tools to help BYP100 navigate the media landscape and think critically about how they wanted to shift dominant narratives around Black liberation struggles, and in particular, center the role of cisgender and transgender women, girls, and femmes.

Ailith pointed to one campaign in particular that was a “transformative moment” for her — the #SayHerName campaign begun in 2015 after the non-conviction of Dante Servin in the shooting death of Rekia Boyd in Chicago, which had the goal of highlighting the abuse of Black women and girls at the hands of the police.

In the planning leading up to the 2016 #SayHerName day of action earlier this summer that was coordinated by BYP100 as well as the Black Lives Matter network, Project South, and Ferguson Action, Ailith was able to make a key intervention in the messaging for the day by adding “femmes” and uplifting how gendered violence is intrinsically anti-femme regardless of one’s actual gender identity. She was able to begin to add a lens about how gender has been used an an anti-Black tool of dominance and control and has marginalized trans and gender non-conforming folks as well as cisgender women alike since slavery. This analysis spoke to BYP100’s core audience and members and was more intimately aligned to the Black Queer Feminist ideology by highlighting and centering the needs of all Black women, girls, and femmes — queer, trans, cis, and gender-nonconforming alike.

“We were able to reach more folks, and it was more inclusive, more representative of our Black Queer Feminist lens, because we were missing that piece,” she said. “I think that I will be able to one day make our movement more intentional about centering voices of queer and trans folks and women and femmes and will be able to change conversations on the public face. I don’t think I would have the confidence to feel I could make this change before ReFrame because all I knew about comms work was social media.”

Do you want to join the next generation of communications strategists? Apply for our 2017 cohort today:


Making divestment from policing part of the media narrative

Ailith also pointed to the #FreedomNow day of action as an example of a time when the skills she gained during ReFrame played a large role in the campaign’s success. Promoted as a Movement for Black Lives action and anchored by BYP100 chapters around the country, #FreedomNow was a national day of action held earlier this year to demand that cities divest from policing and invest those resources in Black communities.

As Matthews put it, communicating effectively about campaigns like #FreedomNow is both challenging and critical in order to beat back long-standing narratives about Black people. “While there are certainly challenges, we are aware now is the time to innovate on how we communicate about racial justice — and we are doing just that,” she said. “Our lives are on the line, so while we are open to trying and failing, there isn’t much of a margin for error. We are in the battle for the story, and we believe that we will win.”

Ailith was coordinating and leading all of the national communications work for the campaign and remembers thinking that no media outlets would cover the day of action, as it coincided with the Republican National Convention. It ended up being covered by Democracy Now!, The New York Times, BuzzFeed, and other national outlets.

“What L’lerrét did with the Freedom Now actions, we had never done before,” said Charlene Carruthers, the executive director of BYP100. “Separate web pages, separate press releases, live streaming, graphics — I don’t think work of that scale is being done in any other space. The communications and direct action components made it one of the most successful points of work so far, and L’lerrét ran most of that communications coordination.”

“It was a win for me. It felt really wonderful. For years, BYP100 had been developing this divest-invest narrative and this was a moment where we were able to shift our movement discourse from simply ‘police are killing us’ to ‘there is a whole system of policing supported and funded by our government and protected by unions,’” Ailith said. “This national day of action allowed people to understand the broader connections and agitated officials to defund police and invest in resources in Black communities that will create safer, healthier, and more just lifestyles for our folks. ”

For Ailith, being a part of the ReFrame mentorship has helped her understand that she can and should play a leadership role. “I’m not just here to do social media, but I can come up with and move strategy,” she said. “This program has definitely provided me the confidence and skills to know the work I’m putting out is substantive.”

Do you want to join the next generation of communications strategists? Apply for our 2017 cohort today:

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