WE ALL HAVE STORIES TO TELL

Nadege Green, award-winning journalist, activist and Miami-native, on to who we have to pass the mic


By Samantha Schalit



Nadege Green is a born storyteller. She talks about the everyday things with the same wonder and passion that drives her social activism. Her language is stories rooted in truth and meaning of what it is to be human.


Before Nadege became Director of Community Research and Storytelling at the Community Justice Project in 2020, she worked as a social impact journalist in Miami for just over 10 years, investigating the way local government policies and actions impact the people who live here.


Her voice has a soothing intonation of strength, and you can hear the quiet intelligence that makes her reporting so impactful. She tells every story from a place of compassion, and she knows Miami inside and out. Today, her work integrates the use of analysis, data and narratives from the directly-impacted to address housing inequities, climate justice, gun violence and other pressing issues in Miami-Dade County that disproportionately impact black and brown communities.


At Impact.Edition, we’ve been digging into how community participation continues to change the social and political landscape of Miami. In the rocky course of this past year, the truth (finally) sunk in for many that passivity only hurls us backward, allowing those who hold the wealth of resources to take advantage of those with less and without.


As a fellow born-and-raised Miami native, I was eager to talk with Nadege about her experiences at one of her favorite places in Miami — the library — and the integration of the arts, social justice and community participation in democracy.


We make history now by telling our stories. Whether a tale of beauty or injustice, in an age of disinformation campaigns, we have to work harder to uplift the truth. Documenting our time and transformation within our communities, including diverse voices and democratizing that information as much as possible is the mission of improving the quality of local journalism and access to it.


This is Nadege’s story in her words:




“THE ARTS GIVE YOU SUCH A WIDE VOCABULARY AND SO MANY MODES TO SPEAK”



From a very young age, I’ve always been exposed to the arts.The first dance style I learned was Haitian folklore, which is traditional Haitian dance. And I moved on to ballet, modern dance, etc. but I think the arts are another language. I communicate very well with words. There are some artists who communicate better through visual images, some communicate better through movement - like dancers. So I think the arts give you such a wide vocabulary and so many modes to speak.


When you look at Alvin Ailey Dance Company, the dances, the stories behind Revelations and some of their other pieces — it’s not just a dance, there’s meaning behind this. The arts gives everything meaning. It makes living more purposeful. I think artists are storytellers, healers. When we hurt, when we struggle, more often than not, we turn to the arts. It’s a different mode of understanding, certainly a way of healing, it’s a call to action.


Sometimes the arts can be discarded as a puffy, feel-good thing, like there’s no substance here, but I challenge that. There’s so much substance in the arts. It helps you to understand yourself and the world we live in.



“WE ALL HAVE STORIES TO TELL”



Our narratives are important. And some narratives are erased or not even documented — as we have seen — whether we’re talking about indigenous folks, whether we’re talking about Black folks or whether we’re talking about certain immigrant groups, even. What does it mean to tell your story and to be visible with your story in a way that does not allow institutions to say that you did not exist. Who gets to tell the stories? These are very important questions to query.


There’s a lot of power in handing storytelling tools to communities to tell their own stories — and however that may live — that may be an art installation, that could be an Op-Ed to the Miami Herald, that could be a community BBQ with oral storytelling, but just having the narratives, like the lived experiences of people who live in substandard housing documented.


These first-person narratives are important, and I think that how we get to know each other, how we process information — Toni Morrison said this before — that how people retain information, process information is through narratives. We get to know each other through stories. The numbers matter, the data matter, all of that matters, but what makes that information land, and what makes it accessible is the stories behind them, right?


The more we share our stories, the more we empower communities to participate in sharing their stories and owning their narratives. Because when people come from outside your community and try to speak for your community, they don’t always know what they’re talking about. Or they might not always see the joy in the midst of what might look like an otherwise difficult situation. Because it’s not visible to them. They might not always see the resilience or the resistance that’s happening. So what does it mean to empower the folks who see that, who live that? Community storytelling is an important tool.



“HAND OVER THE MICROPHONE, AND LET PEOPLE SPEAK THEIR TRUTH AND CARE TO HEAR THAT TRUTH”



I think being able to [democratize information] through storytelling and through community education, in a way that is accessible to folks, is necessary. I think it’s giving people power. It’s handing over the microphone to folks. It’s not that people don’t have anything to say -- or as some people describe a lot of our marginalized communities -- that they’re voiceless. They are not voiceless, they have voices, they’re very loud, in fact, with their voices, and they have something to say; it’s just caring to go to listen to what they have to say, and not just listen but actually hand over the microphone or the pen or the keyboard, and let people speak their truth and care to hear that truth.


Putting faces to the people experiencing the things we’re talking about is important, and letting folks speak their truth. Plenty of people out here in our communities want to speak their truth. But who will listen?



“MEET PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE”



We have all of these places that are already hubs of storytelling within communities. Go into communities where the people are already doing it. It’s not that this work isn’t happening, we have so many artists, educators in our communities and school system.


I love the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, I would take dance classes there as a kid; that’s a beautiful institution, a beautiful storytelling institution through the arts in Miami-Dade County that also deserves all the funding and all the love with all the work they’ve done.


Voices Poetry for the People do amazing, beautiful work around connecting poetry and activism and storytelling and the truths of our community. They had this beautiful project on gentrification: that you can use poetry to address these issues and to speak these truths.


You can use dance, you can use words, and music; you can use gardening. There are all these ways of speaking and exploring the issues that aren’t necessarily just a study, or an academic white paper, or a policy, or a government memo. But that there are different ways for us to speak, and to allow people to speak in those ways and to value how they speak when they do.


I also think that’s always been my ethos, even as a journalist, was to meet people where they are. Go to the people. It’s not that hard. I think folks complicate it because when you really start peeling back the layers, I think that there’s a fear of going to the people. Folks want to be comfortable and go to the people they know versus making new relationships or going deeper into the community, and not just necessarily the first level of accessible folks.



“WE WANT ALL OF OUR ARTISTS IN RESIDENCE TO EMBED IN A COMMUNITY ISSUE”



We have an Artists in Residence program at Community Justice Project. One of our artists in residence, Chire Regens, better known as VantaBlack, is working on a project focusing on evictions and how that impacts people. Most tenants who get evicted, don’t have attorneys. So how do you navigate the court system during a pandemic without an attorney, and you’ve lost your job, and you’re just trying to figure out how to keep yourself, and often your children, off the streets? Many of the stories of eviction we’re seeing are mothers with children; or it’s the elderly, or folks with disabilities. So, it touches on all these broader themes of justice and how justice is — or isn’t — in these times.


We want all of our artists in residence to embed in a community issue and see how that community issue moves them to create. Where do you want this project to go, how does the community participate so we’re not just extracting information to put on display but for the community to engage with and be a part of?


“THE LIBRARY MADE HISTORY MORE EQUITABLE TO ME”


Reading for the sake of reading is holistically a beautiful thing that allowed me to explore different ways of thinking; it allowed my young imagination to go wild and be in these magical places. I always shout out the Miami-Dade Public Library System. It is one of the best institutions in Miami-Dade County, and I feel as a young person, reading definitely opened up my mind in ways I couldn’t have imagined and in ways I’m still discovering today...


I’d read books about Haiti — how do I better understand my own history? And growing up in Miami-Dade, even though there’s a large Haitian population, when I was at school (and I’d argue, still today) there wasn’t in-depth teaching about Haitian history, or Caribbean history, or even Latin American history, even though these are huge populations here. I didn’t learn about Haiti, the Caribbean, Guyana and all of these places in school. I learned about the Haitian revolution, which was so instrumental to breaking down the chains of enslavement not just in Haiti but all across Latin America, and inspiring slave revolts here in the US. I learned about those things in the library.


So, I think it opened up my eyes to the histories that were not taught in school — or the histories that are whitewashed. The library made history more equitable to me. It allowed me to see deeper, more nuanced, more accurate versions of history as well.


I definitely think the role of libraries have changed some in the communities because digitally, we are in a different place now than what we were when I was a child. The libraries are not just a space for books, but it’s instrumental for folks who need to apply for unemployment, or write a resume, or access their health plan for the Affordable Healthcare Act.


The digital divide is real in our community, so I think the library is continuing the work it’s always done, which is: how do you show up for a community?


P.S. The cover image is Say Their Names, a public mural memorial by Chire Regens, better known as VantaBlack305.