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J.R. Jamison Discusses Inspiration Behind The Facing Project

We all know the power of storytelling and how a passionate, informative, and inspirational narrative can serve as a catalyst for change within ourselves and within the communities in which we live. A good story can effectively reach in and help you form new perspectives and develop new ways of examining important issues. As humans, we communicate through the act of telling stories. We share the burdens and joys of our own personal human experiences through this act. It is through the telling and in turn, through the listening that we are given the chance to achieve a better understanding of the conditions of our fellow human beings. The real meaning and importance of storytelling can oftentimes emerge when we decide what to do with that understanding.

J.R. Jamison is co-founder and CSO (Chief Storytelling Officer) of The Facing Project (Jamison is also Executive Director of Indiana Campus Compact). The Facing Project is an innovative 501(c) (3) nonprofit that connects people through stories to strengthen communities. These voices come from those who are, as Jamison says, “facing life circumstances that deserve to be shared to better educate the broader community and connect people across difference.” The Facing Project works to connect “writers, storytellers, artists, educators, and community leaders who are having crucial conversations on social justice issues—neighbor to neighbor, community to community—by discussing solutions and exploring healing through their own narratives.”

We asked Jamison a few questions via a questionnaire concerning The Facing Project in an attempt to understand the inspiration behind the project and how it came to be. We also asked Jamison to share with us how he thinks this project can help meet the goals of deepening civic engagement initiatives between campuses and surrounding communities. Our questions and Jamison’s answers are below.

 

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J.R. Jamison, co-founder of The Facing Project

What inspired you to begin this project and how was it initiated?

I co-founded this project with Kelsey Timmerman, the New York Times Bestselling author who wrote “Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes” and “Where Am I Eating? An Adventure through the Global Food Economy.” Kelsey traveled the world and spent time with garment workers and farmers, and through his books he told their stories. Back home in Indiana, he felt like a crummy local and decided to get engaged in our hometown of Muncie. Part of his local involvement, because he is a writer, was the development of a storytelling project called Facing Poverty with an organization that works to empower people in poverty toward self-sufficiency. He developed what is now the model of The Facing Project, and he recruited me as a writer on that project. I was so moved by the experience, the relationship I developed with my storyteller, and the immediate impact I saw the project have on our community I told him the magic couldn’t be one and done. My background is in community organizing and the community engagement movement in higher education, so I knew a thing or two about replicating models and working with communities to make projects work. Also, both of us knew narratives are a key component to change perspectives.

How can this project help meet the goals of deepening civic engagement initiatives and experiences on campuses and within the communities they live in and serve?

Our goal as educators should be to get students to think bigger about social justice issues – not only globally but also locally. The real question to ask should be: Do I know one person in my community facing poverty or hunger or a disability? And better yet, do I understand their story? The Facing Project provides the opportunity to create connections between community members and students, and it provides for interdisciplinary engagement that is more intimate than other community-based experiences because we’re asking students to carry the weight of their neighbor’s story and stand with them, side by side, to create community change. I’d like to think we are creating community organizers who understand the art of listening.

What keeps you motivated to continue to promote and develop this particular project?

The stories, the people, and the connections we’ve seen happen in communities because of their Facing Projects…There’s a ton of good in all of us. By the summer of 2017, with all of the Facing Projects combined, nearly 75,000 books will have been distributed throughout communities, 7,500 volunteers mobilized partnering with 800 community partners, and over 1,500 first-person accounts collected to create community change across the country.      

Please share a few words of advice to inspire those (faculty/staff/students) who strive to enrich their communities through civic engagement and who may be looking for alternative ways to do so:

Don’t be afraid of the unknown. As engaged scholars, we spend so much time in reflection mode and navigating the systems of higher education, which is super important, but that constant mode can keep us from taking risks. We must take risks, but do so with the community as a core partner. The support you’ll find there is amazing if you’re authentic and have good intentions. None of us do this work alone. Find a partner, or many partners, and go make a difference. Everything else will fall into place, as it should.

If you’d like to know more about the Facing Project, check out The Facing Project’s website, where you can find contact information, examples of Facing Projects in many different communities, and more details about how the project works. Also, Missouri Campus Compact has partnered with The Facing Project to offer projects to five member campuses. These campuses will be highlighted in our upcoming SPOTLIGHT blog so don’t forget to check it out!

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Five MOCC Member Campuses Engage with The Facing Project

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The Facing Project is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit co-founded by Indiana Campus Compact Executive Director, J.R. Jamison that connects people through stories to strengthen communities. We are excited that 5 Missouri Campus Compact member campuses are engaging with this innovative program. For our SPOTLIGHT this month, we wanted to highlight those 5 institutions who are working directly with The Facing Project on community engagement initiatives. The following are brief overviews of each of the campus projects.

 

  1. Fontbonne University is exploring immigration status and higher education in their Facing Project which is entitled “Facing Undocumented Students in Higher Education”. Their specific goal is to learn about the types of challenges that undocumented students are facing while working towards completing their college educations. In their proposal, Corinne Wohlford, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Adam Flores, Assistant Professor, Performing Arts, state, “Less than a year ago, the state of Missouri forced public colleges and universities to treat undocumented students as international students, thereby charging them the highest tuition rates. This decision has pushed some students to seek education out-of-state and imperiled others students from completing—or even starting–their educations…Questions about the rights of undocumented students to higher education are about more than the futures of these individual students; they are also about how we define who and what an American is, about the purpose of higher education, and about our responsibilities to our communities.” With immigration issues in the forefront of news headlines today, this relevant social issue is an extremely timely topic to explore.

 

  1. Focusing on issues of inclusion, UMKC is working towards reducing barriers for students with disabilities. Laura Hurse, a UMKC graduate student and current UMKC-IHD employee with a developmental disability, writes in UMKC’s proposal, “We appreciate that The Facing Project invites disability to be seen as a social construction and not only a medical problem. The Facing Project would allow UMKC to further include people with disabilities as part of the campus community. Inclusion of people/students with disabilities is a topic that allows faculty and students to start thinking about people with disabilities as a part of our campus community instead of seeing people with disabilities as outsiders.”One of UMKC’s goals is to integrate people with disabilities more deeply into campus culture and life. By engaging with The Facing Project, UMKC hopes to provide an outlet for students and faculty to engage in open dialogue about how to make UMKC more inclusive for people with disabilities.

 

  1. UMSL’s Facing Project is “Facing Community Trauma, Resilience, and Healing among Youth.” UMSL lies near the epicenter of an event that served as a catalyst for nationwide protests, riots, and calls for impassioned dialogues about police brutality and race. The communities in around Ferguson were affected deeply. Dr. Kristen Wagoner writes in UMSL’s proposal, “The officer-involved death of Michael Brown in August 2014 ignited civil unrest for nearly a year in the city of Ferguson, MO. Youth in the community were particularly affected by seeing one of their peers left dying in the street and the hatred it fueled among their own community members and across the country. This project will explore how youth experienced community trauma before and after the death of Michael Brown, ways youth dealt with the unrest, and what they need from their community to support healing and promote wellbeing.” By partnering with community agencies such as The Ferguson Youth Initiative (established by the Ferguson City Council), Ferguson-Florissant School District, Riverview Gardens School District, and Gitana (local youth theatre and social justice program), UMSL plans for students engaged in this effort (as Dr. Wagoner puts it) “to expand their sense of responsibility, citizenship, and awareness of the effects of community trauma”.

 

  1. Stephens College project is entitled “Facing Difference, Finding Understanding”. It will pair Stephens’s students with the residents of the Missouri Girls’ Town, which serves girls 8 – 21 from all over the state who have been neglected, sexually or physically abused and are dealing with behavioral and emotional issues. Monica Hand, Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing at Stephens College and Dr. Milbre Burch, Adjunct Instructor, International Teaching Assistants Program, University of Missouri will provide a master class on interviewing and creating monologues from the interviews. Stephens College hopes that by helping to establish relationships between Stephens’s students and Girls Town residents and encouraging healing dialogues, they will be able to create a positive impact within the community.

 

  1. MSU’s Center for Community Engagement is working on a project entitled “The Many Faces of Poverty.” This project plans to explore the multifaceted causes and consequences of Springfield’s impoverished communities by seeking common ground and telling the stories of those who suffer most from the effects of poverty. Kathy Nordyke, director of MSU’s Office of Citizenship and Service-Learning and contact person for MSU’s Facing Project, states in the proposal, “Missouri State’s campus sits at the heart of one of the most impoverished areas in the nation. CCE would use The Facing Project resources to actively involve Missouri State students and challenge the Springfield community to look poverty in the face through the telling of powerful, personal stories.”

 

We’d like to congratulate these 5 campuses on their passion to engage students in meaningful dialogues and activities that are sure to have a substantial impact on the campuses themselves and the communities within which they live in and serve. You can read more about The Facing Project on MOCC’s website. Also, check out this month’s Engaged Missouri blog (here on our website) where you can find out more about what inspired J.R. Jamison to co-found The Facing Project. We look forward to seeing how the projects unfold!

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Welcome to our first SPOTLIGHT blog piece!

Welcome to the first installation of Missouri Campus Compact’s monthly SPOTLIGHT blog! Our goal is to highlight individuals, programs, and initiatives that exemplify service-learning and civic engagement on our member campuses.

For our first SPOTLIGHT piece, we’d like to introduce you to Debbie Corson, Coordinator of Academic Service Learning & Civic Engagement at St. Louis Community College. Debbie has held this position since January of 2013 and has worked in the office for the past 5 years. She actively engages students in civic engagement and service-learning programs and is passionate about creating educational and transformative experiences for them.

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