My very first job in the communications field was as an editorial intern for a newspaper in my hometown of Philadelphia. My main task, standard in any newsroom, was to fact check the stories the paper was running that week. Primarily this involved calling the subjects interviewed and quoted in articles and double-checking basic things: the spelling of their names, their dates of birth, etc. People being what they are, almost everyone who is the subject of a newspaper article is understandably interested in knowing how they are portrayed. One man in particular, one of the first people I ever had to call as part of the job, was particularly interested. He was one of the subjects of an article detailing his feud with a local business.
He did not come across well.
I, of course, should not have told him this over the phone when he asked, but I felt bad for him. I found the article to be entirely one-sided, I wondered if knowing his side of the story might illuminate some part of the feud the reporter hadn’t seen fit to cover or seek out. I wish I could go back and see the look on my own face as I sat on the phone with this man as he gave me his side of the story, details that seemed to only confirm the worst things about him that had been expressed in the article. When I questioned him about some of the incidents detailed in the story, hoping they had in fact been exaggerations, he could do little more than sheepishly confirm that they had occurred – including one such incident where he smashed a window and threatened the teenage son of the business owner he’d been feuding with.
I learned a valuable lesson that day: our stories matter.
They matter because they contain messages about who we are and what we truly value.
My time with RFPUSA this summer has done nothing more than reassert the importance of this message.
I have sat in rooms with religious leaders hoping to lead their flocks away from divisive messages that have been attached to their faith by the nature of our current political landscape. I have broken bread with men and women who have done the almost unfathomable work of sitting rooms with people who vehemently detest their faith in order to say “Hey, I think maybe you’ve got the wrong idea.”
And I’ve worked with a passionate, courageous staff that I continue to learn from with every conversation, whether it be in person, via email or one of our many, many (many,) staff-calls.
One thing that will stick with me until the end of my days is something our special advisor, Aaron Stauffer, when I asked at one point if we weren’t just “preaching to the choir?”
To my surprise, he refuted the idiom in a way I’d never thought possible.
“It’s not about preaching to the choir; it’s about getting the choir to sing.”
The work I do for RFPUSA is much different than what I’ve done for any other organization I’ve been with. We’re aren’t news media and we aren’t selling anything. Our only job – my only job – is to let people know that there are people out there trying to make the world a better place. Nothing I write can make you throw your lot in with us or open your wallet to support our cause (and I suspect our executive director will wonder why he even hired me when he reads this,) but the mere fact that there are mothers, teachers, businessmen, clergy and people of faith who wake up every day hoping that one thing they do makes an impact, is enough of a reason for me to work with RFPUSA to uplift their voices and share their stories.
Our stories matter, especially in a world hellbent on refuting the notion that we have agency in anything from who leads our nations to the kind of world we’ll leave the next generation.
When I started working with RFPUSA I expected to meet a lot of preachers, instead, it’s been singer after singer.
I can’t wait to hear what it sounds like when we get them all together
Julian M. Galette, Communications Intern