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Resources for Building an Anti-Racism Communications Strategy

October 31, 2019
Courtney M. McSwain

Communications is a critical aspect of any advocacy strategy. Carrying your message effectively to key audiences helps to bring stakeholders together, galvanize support from allies and build persuasive arguments to move important policies through the decision-making process. 

As the NJJN community continues to pursue youth justice reform through an anti-racist lens, it is important to build a communications strategy that effectively challenges oppressive narratives while also building a vision for what we think equity and dignity for system-involved youth and families truly looks like.   

We suggest these three steps and resources as a starting place for organizations to begin building an anti-racist communications strategy.   

Understand and Critique the Existing Language and Narratives  

It’s important to start by understanding why many existing narratives surrounding youth impacted by the legal system are harmful. Further, those messages may be subtly - and unintentionally - reinforced by an advocacy organization if they are not explicitly identified and critiqued. No anti-racist communications strategy will carry external legitimacy if it does not align with the values and commitment, which is expressed internally. A first step to building an anti-racist communications strategy 
is to research and discuss where racial stereotypes show up among society’s shared language and if that is reinforced internally within your organization.  

Examine your publications, website content, social media and internal policy documents for evidence of:

  1. Words or images that reinforce stereotypes
  2. Language that trivializes the experiences of youth and families, particularly those of color
  3. Messages that reinforce white dominant culture or norms that are rooted in white supremacy 
To help you research and understand such language, take a look at these resources:   

Build a Counter Narrative

Equally important to understanding 
what language to avoid within anti-racist communications is understanding the narrative that we want to create. Building a counter narrative based on a racial justice equity vision helps organizations construct an ethos to live by as well as a guideline for external communication and movement building. When planning out the counter narrative that you want to create, consider questions like:  

  1. What are your organization’s youth justice goals (short and long-term) and how do those goals fit into the broader tapestry of racial justice?
  2. How does your vision counter the existing narrative and correct inequities? 
  3. How are you making the voices of communities of color central to your vision? 
Brainstorm answers to these questions and others, then plan your strategic communications around your answers. To help you with this type of brainstorming, check out these resources:  

Execute Your Message to Advance Your Goals

After critiquing and understanding harmful messages and creating a counter narrative that speaks to a comprehensive, anti-racist youth justice vision, the next step is executing your plan by leveraging multiple communications platforms 
 earned media, social media, newsletters and digital publishing  to reach your intended audience of allies, stakeholders and decision-makers. Execution comes through consistent use of digital media tools, relationship building with partners to team up for campaigns, and understanding how to work with earned media outlets to challenge harmful narratives while also providing accurate information.   

To help you effectively execute your anti-racist communications strategy, check out these resources:  


Is your organization building an anti-racist communications strategy? Let us know how it’s going! Email us to share tips or get support from the NJJN community. 

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