Looking Back at 2021 and Forward at 2022

2021 review

In ways we couldn’t anticipate, 2021 was a rollercoaster of optimism and despair with the COVID-19 pandemic, the vaccines, and new variants. While it was another challenging year without much of the in-person work that is critical to our oral history methodology and projects, Voice of Witness (VOW) was able to successfully conduct virtual trainings, workshops, partnerships, events, and storytelling—and find moments of joy to celebrate with our community.

As we reflect on the past year—including the insurrection at the Capitol, the increase in anti-Asian violence, ongoing Black Lives Matter protests—we recognize the heightened need for powerful storytelling that promotes healing and advances justice by centering the voices of those most impacted by systems of oppression. We are proud of what VOW was able to accomplish in collaboration with our dedicated network of narrators, editors, educators, students, and partners.

Mi María book cover

In 2021, Voice of Witness released Mi María: Surviving the Storm, the latest collection in our human rights oral history book series, amplifying stories of climate disaster and colonialism in Puerto Rico.

VOW continued the rapid-response project Unheard Voices of the Pandemic, partnering with local media outlet Prism to highlight the inequities exacerbated by COVID-19. Seventeen of these oral histories have now been compiled into a mini-book with our publishing partner Haymarket Books.

The education program continued working in classrooms to deliver culturally relevant, arts-based learning opportunities that promote empathy, critical thinking, communication, and social and emotional learning for students. We provided virtual content and direct support for underresourced students and educators; developed online oral history webinars and workshops; and shared our best practices in media outlets like Edutopia.

The program also built further community around our recent release How We Go Home: Voices from Indigenous North America, sending free sets of books and curricula to over 50 schools and Indigenous-led nonprofits across the country through our Sharing History Initiative.

We continued our community partnerships work, co-coordinating a campaign with immigrant justice organizations advocating for Temporary Protected Status renewal and a path to permanent citizenship, and supporting our youth narrators from Central America to share their stories of seeking asylum in the US.

Voice of Witness also expanded our consulting and services work. We facilitated an oral history project with Koreatown Youth and Community Center in Los Angeles to document and highlight the impacts of the pandemic on their community; partnered with 100cameras to implement a photography-based storytelling program for public school students in NYC and SF; consulted with Sequoia Living, a senior housing and services nonprofit, to implement an intergenerational storytelling project with local high schoolers; and trained health professionals, caregivers, and families to gather and share stories of aging and dementia with UCSF’s Memory and Aging Center.

As we look to 2022, Voice of Witness is focused on developing our forthcoming long-form oral history projects highlighting refugee resettlement in the Appalachia region and algorithmic biases in the digital welfare state.

There is still so much work to be done to address human rights abuses in the U.S. and across the world. We are so grateful for the Voice of Witness community of narrators, advocates, educators, and funders that make this work possible. VOW is more committed than ever to amplifying the voices of people impacted by—and fighting against—injustice.

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