What exactly is space? Does it constitute a physical area or is it a state of mind? How is space used, who is it used by and for what purpose?
We all interpret the different shapes and meanings of shape in our own ways. That made it an apt theme for this year’s frank – which has become an indispensable platform for important – and necessary – discussions about race, social justice and equity.
For some young activists, like Mary Pat Hector, the Founder of Youth in Action USA, the desire to create space at the table for women and people of color compelled them to shake up the system in surprising and sometimes jarring ways. For other activists, like Tony Weaver, the Founder and CEO of Weird Enough Productions, the ubiquitous reach of art and pop culture provides the space to change the way we think about issues like education, health care, domestic abuse and immigration.
Frank host and comedic genius Lizz Winstead, the co-creator and former head writer at the Daily Show, gave us the space to laugh (and cry). Even New Orleans’ own Big Freedia provided us the space to dance and come together around the power of music and create new shared experiences.
Now in its sixth year, frank has become a meeting place for communicators, scholars, storytellers, artists and activists working on the front lines of social change to share, learn and connect. Franksters and Spitfires share a passion for making the world a better place. The Spitfires who attended frank this year were reminded why we fight to advance racial, economic and social justice and work to expand opportunity for all. It’s who we are.
Summing up our experience in one blog post is impossible, but here are some of the surprising and awe-inspiring moments that stuck with us.
Michael Ramsey, Senior Account Executive
“Tu no necessitas permiso para ser grande. You don’t need permission to be great!”
As Mary Pat Hector’s words of affirmation rang through the halls of the Hippodrome, she threw into sharp relief the power we all have to make meaningful change in the world. Mary, who at age 19 became the youngest woman or person of color to run for office in the state of Georgia, reminded us that we don’t have to wait for a seat at the table. Instead, we can simply pull up a folding chair and create our own space.
This year’s speakers brought their unique perspectives and voices to bear as they set out to answer those thought-provoking questions about space. Tamarra Thal, a Karel Fellow, kicked off the opening day with a rousing talk about combatting stereotypes that set an extremely high bar for the speakers who followed.
Frank featured an impressive mix of advocates, comedians, artists and academics who shared their real-world experiences. Collectively, they discussed the ability of pop culture to shape narratives, the role comedians play as storytellers and how we can use our personal “super powers” to define our own spaces.
Tony Weaver encapsulated all of these elements – his talk about how storytelling can transform individuals and institutions brought audience members to their feet (and to tears). Watching Tony scurry around in his custom-made cape for three days convinced me that he is a real super hero.
The session I found most meaningful was Dr. Elijah Anderson’s presentation about “the white space.” In a soft-spoken voice that nevertheless filled the room, Dr. Anderson explored the contrast between the cosmopolitan space, where racial, ethnic and gender diversity strive to co-exist in relative harmony; the traditional white space, which, despite changes in society, often is an unwelcoming space for people of color; and the black ghetto – and the popular (and largely inaccurate) perception of the black ghetto as a place to be avoided. He described the forces and the rhythms that bind these worlds together and the code-switching that is necessary for black people to navigate hostile spaces.
Ultimately all of the speakers, through their insights and inspiring words, helped to challenge my concept of space – and how I can use it to effect positive change.
Jacquelyn Smith, Account Executive
As a long-time frank fanatic, I was jumping out of my skin at the chance to attend the gathering this year. Throughout frank, there were oodles of opportunities to make connections and learn more about the work that we do every day.
This year, there were breakout sessions playfully named “recess.” During recess, franksters got to choose which session captivated their attention most. The recess topics ranged from “Fandom as Worldbuilding for the Future” to “Using Art to Drive Social Change.” Each session offered rich insights and diverse perspectives.
One recess session that stuck with me was entitled, “The Science of What Makes People Care,” led by Ann Christiano and Annie Neiman, Ph.D. The breakout examined five core principles from behavioral, cognitive and social science that can be applied to help people care more about an issue.
Here’s a quick summary:
- Bring value to your community by entering their world.
- Start by thinking about members of your audience. What do they care about? Where do they gather? Are you connecting with what audience members value?
- Talk in pictures.
- Makes pictures with your words by using vivid language that connects to people’s experiences and emotions. Listen to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech for a perfect example of this. (Tip: Start at 1:56)
- Invoke emotion with strategy and intention.
- How can you intentionally use emotion to get people to engage with your ideas? Use emotions that people want to feel, especially after making people feel a negative emotion.
- Make your calls to action actionable.
- Goals and calls to action are not the same. Makes your calls to action concrete and specific because science says that people will not act if the issue feels too big.
- Tell effective stories.
- Stories create lasting change in our brains. Does your story have a beginning, middle and an end? Check out scienceofstories.org to learn how to structure effective stories.
After soaking in this incredibly smart and practical information, I left feeling energized and excited about finding ways to implement a science-based framework in my communication work. Moving forward, I will take time to step back and ask myself questions like, “Is there an existing movement we can join before we work to create our own movement?” and “Is my language creating a picture and invoking a positive emotion even the language comes after a negative emotion?” I look forward to infusing these tips and tricks that are rooted in science into my day-to-day work.
Jae Aron, Senior Account Manager
As strategic communicators, we believe that our work should be grounded in evidence-based research. But too often the work of academic researchers never makes it into the hands of the practitioners doing communications work. At frank, they’re changing that – by bringing these distinct, but related spaces together to connect with a community eager to apply their work (and vice versa). The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications also awards a $10,000 research prize – the top three finalists for the award presented their research during the gathering.
These three scholars presented groundbreaking research that will contribute to our understanding of public interest communications, covering topics ranging from the role of comedy as a route to social change to the political consequences of the civil rights movement.
The winner of the research prize, by vote of frank participants, was Jeremy Yipp, an Assistant Professor of Management at Georgetown University. Yipp’s work on the psychology of anger and perspective-taking offers deep insights into our current political malaise. His research found that anger promotes unethical and deceptive behavior and limits our ability to recognize perspectives different than our own.
For the 300 funders, nonprofit organizations, activists and scientists in the room – and anyone obsessed with communicating for the greater good, myself included – Yipp’s research has implications for how we use emotional language and messaging to change audience perceptions and behaviors. For example, when confronting inaction on climate change, we should consider choosing civil and polite messaging if we ever want to overcome entrenched views and inspire bold, bipartisan efforts to confront this global climate crisis in a meaningful way. For more about psychographics, check out: https://mindfulmessaging.spitfirestrategies.com/.
You can experience frank for yourself (and catch a cameo from Michael!) by watching the frank 2019 closing video here.