An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Fight to see the good in democracy and pursue it — at all costs. I’ve had seasons that have taught me how to survive the highs and lows of business. As exhausting as resilience can be, remaining mission-focused has allowed me to leverage obstacles and the complexities of relationships.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jhmira Alexander.
Jhmira Alexander is the President and Executive Director of Public Narrative, Chicago’s Premier Communications and Media Literacy Resource. She is a trained journalist committed to improving community health and well-being through media and civic engagement. Under her leadership, Public Narrative uses storytelling to implement narrative change strategies addressing harmful narratives related to public safety, health, and education. Jhmira is a resourceful, solutions-oriented visionary and social impact leader highly skilled in diverse stakeholder engagement. She is an innovative and goal-oriented strategist with over 14 years of proven leadership experience training and consulting individuals, nonprofit organizations, media professionals, and outlets according to their own strategic goals for growth and communications. She’s worked with the Chicago Police Department, the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and the Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
There’s a scene in The Best Man starring Taye Diggs and Nia Long where Nia’s character, Jordan, is directing a show on BET. I was fascinated watching this character stylishly carry out her vision. In high school, I knew I wanted a career that welcomed self-expression. Exploring a career in communications at Bradley University led me to focus on broadcast journalism specifically. Although, my media career was over just as soon as it began. I was interning at a news station while in undergrad and decided three months before graduation not to pursue a career in media. While studying broadcast communications at Bradley University, I found I didn’t love the kinds of stories we were sharing. I was a floor director at the time and the station had taught me how to direct newscasts. They’d even offered me a job directing the news on the weekends. Still, I wanted out of the industry if I had to tell such disheartening stories. My career advisor, Dr. Bob Jacobs, suggested I complete the degree and go do whatever I wanted to do. Fifteen years later, I am the President and Executive Director of the Chicago-based nonprofit, Public Narrative (PN), formerly Community Media Workshop. PN exists to balance narratives relating to public safety, health, and education. Through training and connecting community members to the media and each other, we actively diversify the voices participating in the news.
Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Since beginning my career, I’ve worked with some of the best leaders and teachers. Some of them have served as personal advisors sharing their own lived experiences through which I learned what to and what not to do. Their willingness to share their experiences gave me a significant lead in both my personal and professional development shaping how I support stakeholders as a leader. Every major moment in my career has started with an idea. While exploring the idea of leading Public Narrative, I attended the Studs Terkel Community Media Awards. After the event, a woman stood waiting for a cab, she’d left her phone in the office a few blocks away. While she was waiting, she was chatting with a woman I had spoken with to at the start of the event. I offered to give her a ride a few blocks away to her office. Our mutual acquaintance then said, “Wait until you find out who is in your car.” On our way, she began to share her story, including her five years working for Oprah. This woman was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. The most poignant moment that has stayed with me all these years is to believe, “Everything is possible!” I’ve never forgotten her words and have leaned on them many times in my leadership journey.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
Identifying and remaining connected to my life’s purpose was a game-changer for me. I work with all kinds of people with different backgrounds and lived experiences. Therefore, I try to approach my work with compassion and understanding for their perspectives while remaining true to my own. My faith guides me and helps me endure difficult circumstances that surface in both my personal as well as my professional life. It’s through the lens of my faith that I’m able to allow those circumstances to shape me into a higher, better, more polished version of myself — — the version capable of grasping, implementing, and leading big ideas!
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World?”
I am extremely passionate about eradicating racism; dismantling systemic racism and encouraging people to find and cultivate their life’s purpose. I believe there is room to achieve this through entrepreneurship, community engagement, social justice, etc. There’s much debate about how to achieve this. For example, people with 9 to 5’s are often criticized by entrepreneurs and (sometimes) vice versa. Having been in both positions, I can say that both are hard. Both challenge you beyond your limits. In my experience, I was an entrepreneur whose work attracted a 9 to 5, positioning me for even greater access to resources, influence, and income. In any event, leverage is the name of the game. I want to curate an experience for stakeholders of all kinds to step outside of their comfort zones without fear of cancel culture. As tall of an order as that is, it’s not only necessary but possible for us to address root causes of issues harming Black and Brown communities.
How do you think this will change the world?
I think this is one of the most prolific moments in our history. We have a wide range of access to capital via technology and media. Social justice movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter have challenged us to consider the place of morality in being accountable for the platforms we hold when replacing racial and gender harm with racial and gender equity. There are countless individuals with meaningful stories and experiences to contribute with the ability to truly change the public discourse that suggests we must share the same perspective of what we think, feel, and know. That’s impossible. My experiences as a Black woman in this country are different from those of a Black man. I can empathize with and support my brother, but I can’t represent his voice, his story, aspirations, or desires as he can. I can, however, create space that allows him to share my platform and perhaps even surpass it considering we are a complement to one another and not competition.
Potential drawbacks would include a continual debate about how to explore and bring resolutions to these issues without attaining meaningful goals. Presently, we see this fallout as with the debate around the controversial topics that insist on the shift of certain power structures that have depended on race to survive. Nonetheless, I think we must do it anyway!
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
The narrative change model is Public Narrative’s approach to changing harmful health, safety, and education narratives that threaten the wellness of BIPOC individuals. Created in 2020 around the time of George Floyd’s murder, the civil unrest that followed inspired the three pillars considering how protestors leveraged media and public space to speak truth to power. Phases in the narrative change model include the ability to uplift voices from the broader community through a series of ‘Community Conversations.’ Those conversations help inform organizational plans for community engagement with diverse stakeholders. In 2019, we began a research partnership with the Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities. It is known as the Chicago Community, Media, and Research Partnership. In two years, we identified the disconnect between health researchers and journalists. We leveraged our findings and lessons learned to create a framework for increasing engagement among researchers, journalists, and the broader community. In our partnership with the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a series of surveys and focus groups were conducted to help us understand the origin of harmful narratives pertaining to boys and young men of color. The results of our surveys and focus groups indicate the role the media plays in influencing perceptions of boys and young men of color on whites and other nationalities. This is why we’ve chosen to focus our efforts in areas of safety, health, and education where harmful narratives exist causing detriment to marginalized and BIPOC communities. In addition to capturing demographics, we are exploring ways to evaluate our impact. We aim to understand how we improve the public narrative through media engagement. After implementing our narrative change model, our next steps include scaling impact in communities through non-profits, service agencies, and other institutions in our areas of focus, public safety, health, and education. The City of Chicago has several projects and initiatives that would be well served by our narrative change model. Because the narrative change model is enabled by community voice, story gathering is paramount in implementing efforts that help deliver social impact.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
We need access to capital to properly compensate leaders skilled in transformational leadership, policy and advocacy, diversity, equity and inclusion, health communications, and journalism. Presently, we’re exploring sponsorship options that align with corporate social responsibility to meet our needs and the needs of the communities and organizations we serve.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. I wish someone would have told me that so many trained journalists leave the industry for other careers. And though they leave journalism, they’re still well-served in other professions for the skills they attained in journalism.
2. When your ideas are rejected, pursue the good ones anyway. I’ve encountered my share of people who didn’t believe in my vision. It hurt at the time but failing to move forward would have hurt way worse. Believe it or not, the vision I hadn’t seen with my natural eyes was more real than the rejection.
3. You can have an impact in journalism in roles beyond publisher, editor, or reporter. Throughout my career, I grew an appreciation for helping people change both their own personal and professional narratives. Still, the work I am doing allows me to change the course of history through individuals committed to purposefully influencing the world around them.
4. How to navigate the bureaucracy without losing my interest in the industry.
5. Fight to see the good in democracy and pursue it — at all costs. I’ve had seasons that have taught me how to survive the highs and lows of business. As exhausting as resilience can be, remaining mission-focused has allowed me to leverage obstacles and the complexities of relationships.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
Consider your power and your influence at the table. Don’t be afraid to set your table accordingly. Every season is not the same. If you’re developing and growing professionally, you’ll face all sorts of challenges. Challenges can and will be messy, discouraging, and frustrating. It’s not weird. It’s a natural function of progression as you’re sorting things out. Setting your table accordingly means putting the right people in the right positions while welcoming the thought that you could be wrong about all of it. In my experience, it’s been my willingness to be wrong that has challenged me to lead beyond fear and into a place of success and abundance. I don’t believe success is attained in silos but in a community with stakeholders who have the capacity to influence the larger vision.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
In over 30 years, Public Narrative has worked with journalists and non-profit organizations to tell better stories. Our relevance, in this moment, includes supporting systems change and transformation through media and civic engagement. We work with a diverse group of stakeholders to provide media literacy and communications training. The next phase of our work includes brokering relationships among corporations, startups, non-profits, educational institutions, and city agencies to help normalize the efficacy and practicality of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. In three years, we’ve built our capacity to implement this initiative along with increasing our budget by 47%. Presently, we’re seeking capital to establish five media literacy collectives throughout the City of Chicago. The collectives include the South Side, West Side, North Side, Far South Side, and Near North Side. Each collective will include non-profit organizations, researchers. and journalists who actively engage in the reshaping of Chicago’s narrative. To start, we’ll need an investment of $200,000 that allows us to invest $50,000 in each collective. Please contact me, Jhmira Alexander, at [email protected] to pledge your support and/or discuss further.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
Public Narrative: Jhmira Alexander’s Big Idea That Might Change The World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.