Professor’s team advocates for environmental, racial issues through storytelling

University of Rhode Island journalism professor, Kendall Moore, kickstarted this year’s Ocean Sciences Meeting through an immersive storytelling experience at the Inner Space Center on Sunday, Feb. 18.

The experience featured storytellers, live music and a documentary film which would mark the start of this year’s 2024 OSM . After the presentation, Moore and her team traveled to New Orleans where the meeting resumed until Feb. 23.

Moore and her team’s presentation aimed to bring attention to two problems: environmental and racial issues, which she feels hold a significant connection to one another.

“It is important to address these problems because these stories are consistently underreported,” Moore said. “I see these issues traveling together often because the disenfranchised, especially people of color, have always had to fight for the right to clean land, air and water.”

Instead of just lecturing on these topics, Moore explained that the department chose to incorporate music, documentary and storytelling to produce a multifaceted structure, which would strengthen local voices whilst simultaneously educating the public.

“All of this is an accompaniment to storytellers who share very intimate stories about their lived experiences” Moore said, “We feel that it is one of the effective ways of clearing space for the communities that are most profoundly affected by environmental issues, while at the same time, educating people who would otherwise not be aware of these issues.”

The audience of 1,500 people included scientists, students, post-docs, artists and technicians among others. The bi-yearly meeting has substantial implications for the United States ocean community as it is an endorsed program with the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

For production specialist at Inner Space Center Media, Alex DeCiccio, he feels that hosting a lecture to kickstart a national event holds great significance.

“Simply put, this is an immense honor and the process has been transformative,” DeCiccio said. “After working on this with the storytellers and creative team, I will never be the same.”

Moore and the team didn’t make it happen overnight. In fact, the team has been dedicated to the project since last summer.

“We’ve been working on this project for over six months,” DeCicco said, “This is an emerging area for the Inner Space Center at URI GSO. At the same time, this work is true to the mission of our media and storytelling team at the ISC.”

In the summer of 2023, the team talked to four storytellers about their experiences, each with a different background . These speakers include Gaynell Brady, Joy Banner, Angela Chalk and Monique Verdin.

Brady, the executive director of educational institution Our Mammy’s, believes that “there is a story in every presentation,” according to her opening website.

Chalk is the founder and executive director of Healthy Community Services. Her organization reflects a mission which goes hand in hand with Moore’s incentives, according to her website, Healthy Community Services is committed to educating vulnerable communities so that they are able to make smart decisions regarding resilient sustainable lifestyles.

One of Moore’s big goals was that this talk created a lasting influence on scientists’ lives.

“My greatest wish is that it leads to scientists working with, and better, in communities that are often overlooked,” Moore said.

The team was able to power a lecture with aims to connect thousands of minds of an extensive community, according to Moore. And as for team member DeCiccio, he finds there is a power in storytelling unique to its craft.

“The thing about storytelling is that it holds responsibility,” DeCiccio said.“No matter where we are coming from or who we are or where we have been, listening to and relating to the experiences and stories of people … comes with an inherent responsibility to carry from that sharing.”

The meeting was an opportunity for both the University’s Inner Space Center and scientists who participated by allowing storytellers to speak their voices. Kendall Moore and her team look to inspire coverage in overlooked topics and bringe a platform to more voices.