WHAT IS THIS?
Stories of Atlantic City is a collaborative project focused on telling restorative, untold stories about the city and its people. The project works on stories and information sharing that inspires hope, change and highlights experiences of resilience despite challenges. Stories of Atlantic City is supported by Stockton University with funding from Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the NJ Local News Lab Fund at the Community Foundation of New Jersey, a partnership of the Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund.
On Sept. 20, 2018, about two dozen community members and journalists gathered at the Carnegie Center in Atlantic City to learn about “restorative narrative” and how this kind of approach to storytelling could strengthen their community.
The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, Free Press and Images and Voices of Hope (ivoh) organized the initial effort, which was suggested by a group of community members who had participated in a Free Press News Voices event in 2015.
Restorative Narrative is a strengths-based approach to media making. This refers to journalism and storytelling that tells the deeper stories of people and communities experiencing adversity and taps into their strength and resilience to cope and grow. These stories can inspire audiences who see renewed potential for their own lives and communities and change perspectives by showing commonalities across differences.
At our initial gathering, a common thread quickly emerged from the conversations that day: People who live in Atlantic City often have a much different perception of the community than people who don’t. Ilsa Flanagan, the executive director of ivoh and workshop facilitator, encouraged the group to work together to “create stories and drive narratives that benefit our community.”
After the workshop, Evan Sanchez reached out via email to a group of attendees to propose a series of restorative narrative stories focused on Atlantic City, and said the Leadership Studio could be a place for interviews, could host a reception for participants, and could host potentially other events.
This idea gained traction with the group, and upon further reflection during follow-up calls, the group decided to focus on a collaborative project very similar to Evan’s idea, one in which community partners led by the Leadership Studio in Atlantic City would source restorative narrative stories, media partners would then research/write/publish/broadcast the stories on an agreed-upon co-publication date, which would be followed up the next day with in an in-person storytellers event. We’re calling this project “Stories of AC.”
We envision this being the launching point for a broader, longer-term effort, where community partners and local newsrooms continue to work together on Stories of AC to elevate unheard community perspectives and help journalists build trusted relationships with the people of the city.
For the 2020 expansion of the project, one of our top priorities was to host and coordinate more community story-sharing gatherings in neighborhoods across our city. Our Community Vision Event, Friday March 13th, coincided with the implementation of new social distancing practices, cancellations, and major changes to our everyday lives.
The original purpose of the Community Vision Event was to gather community and media stakeholders to hear ideas about a new, shared vision for Stories of Atlantic City. We wanted to learn what types of story gathering events appeal to the community. We wanted to learn what interest there was in story creation events (writing, photography/video, stand-up comedy, poetry, art). We wanted to hear more about where there is a void in storytelling.
While many were canceling or postponing gatherings, our team made the swift decision to move our first event to the online Zoom meeting platform. We talked about what role media plays to help AC residents better understand COVID-19. We asked what information AC residents need to navigate COVID-19. This was a success.
The goal of this project is to showcase Atlantic City through a restorative narrative lens, one that highlights the resiliency, creativity and spirit of the people who live there.
- Toby Rosenthal, project coordinator.
- Christina Noble, part-time project manager.
- Erin O’Hanlon, Stockton Service-Learning senior program coordinator.
Stories of Atlantic City is supported by Stockton University with funding from Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the NJ Local News Lab Fund at the Community Foundation of New Jersey, a partnership of the Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund.