Public Voices Fellowship
THE FORD FOUNDATION joined the Public Voices initiative in 2013. Since then, 60 social justice leaders across the country have convened in New York City fostering fellowship around knowledge, meaning and community, and testing what it takes for underrepresented voices to become influential on a large public scale. The impact of the pilot Ford Public Voices Fellowship cohorts also went far beyond media—as we envisioned. Fellows amplified critical social justice movements at key moments, led demonstrations, brought hidden information to the public eye, and framed headline news. Fellows came together to discuss and collaborate on some of the most difficult conversations of our age, from some of the most important vantage points. They brought vital movements—Black Lives Matter, Marriage Equality, and the Transgender movement, among others—into the public conversation in poignant ways. With Ford's support, The OpEd Project is also working on a larger impact evaluation project tracking the "S&P 500 of Voice," including how the media landscape has shifted to include significantly more underrepresented voices since our founding in 2008. This project is being conducted in partnership with MIT Media Lab.
Becca Heller’s (Director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, Year 1 Fellow) Washington Post op-ed “The U.S. should not abandon those who helped in Iraq” led to a series of outcomes that ultimately pushed a new bill through congress. After her piece ran on the home page of The Washington Post, Becca and her team were contacted by several senate offices, met with the staff of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and were invited to participate in a Congressional briefing on July 24, 2014. As a result of that hearing, congress signed on to a bipartisan bill to sustain the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program, which provides visas to Afghans who have provided faithful and valuable service to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and face threats from terrorists as a result. The New Yorker ran a feature article inspired by Becca’s op-ed, "Trapped In Iraq," and two of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project’s clients were featured on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. The Department of Homeland Security made photocopies of Becca's op-ed and pasted them up all over their office with a note that DHS “needs to respect the rights of refugees.”
On June 26, 2015, Kate Kendell (Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Year Two Fellow) stood on the steps of the Supreme Court to address the crowd directly following the announcement of the decision that legalized same-sex marriage across the United Sates. Her speech became the basis for a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, "LGBT community should now turn to fight against racism" which encouraged the LGTB community to "harness this moment and assure that the embrace of justice is felt by everyone in our community.” Kate said that she would not have written the piece without the Public Voices Fellowship.
Kris Hayashi (Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, Year Two Fellow) used Caitlyn Jenner's debut on Vanity Fair’s July cover to expose the vast gap in access to support between Caitlyn and the average transgender person living in the United States in an op-ed published at the San Francisco Chronicle. Kris also urged lawmakers to end immigration detention of LGTBQ in a piece for The Hill. During the fellowship year, Kris and the Transgender Law Center were nominated and selected to be the Community Organizational Grand Marshall of the 2015 San Francisco Pride Parade, a celebration that landed the day after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality.
As a result of her work during the Public Voices Fellowship, Qanta Ahmed (Year 1 Fellow) has become an internationally recognized voice on Islam, standing for human rights across the boundaries of faith. During and since her fellowship year, Qanta has published more than 50 op-eds in outlets including The Washington Post, USA Today, The National Journal, The Spectator, and more. Her Washington Post op-ed, “My Beautiful Faith is Being Overtaken by the Beheaders I’ve Studied” was republished by at least 10 other outlets. As a result of her publications, Qanta appeared on Fox News and CNN several times during the fellowship, and has been offered a contract by both outlets to appear regularly since.
Maya Rupert (Senior Director for Policy at Center for Reproductive Rights, Year 3 Fellow) leaned into her expertise in lead poisoning and reproductive rights to detail “How proposed cuts to the EPA would hurt black moms and kids” in The Hill. Shortly after, when five Michigan lawmakers were charged with manslaughter based on Flint’s water issues, the editor who had received Maya’s original submission, contacted her again, asking if she could write something on this new, but related topic. Maya met the 24-hour deadline and her “Flint Manslaughter Charges--Why We Can't Roll Back EPA Protections” was up on the site the next day. Buoyed by her early success, Maya then turned her pen to something more personal, drafting an essay entitled “Imagining a Black Wonder Woman.” The Atlantic quickly accepted the draft - and asked her to double the word count. Upon publication, an editor contacted her from St. Martin’s Press and asked her to contribute it to a book called How I Resist: Activism and Hope for the Next Generation, a forthcoming collection of essays by authors and celebrities to inspire a politically-motivated young adult audience. An editor from Salon also reached out and asked her to appear on his podcast. Maya has developed good relationships with Salon and other publications as a result. Maya was also asked to speak about race and comics on the Dr. Vibe Show.