Transforming the Narrative

The goal of this toolkit is to offer insight from project partners that built and amplified transformative narratives in their communities, as well as resources that will help you build sustainable, cross-sector relationships, and grassroots power that help us all achieve health equity.

Transforming the Narrative

Welcome! We are so glad that you have picked up, found, were pointed to or given this toolkit. It was designed, not as a step-by-step guide, but to complement the narrative change work being done in our communities every day that decreases exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), prevents substance use and creates more opportunities for health equity. Whether you are a public health agency, community power building organization or curious community member, we invite you to join us in this work. We believe that the current dominant narrative’s ideas about the way the world works shape the way we see ourselves and respond to people and situations. They can cause intentional harm to our people, divide us from one one another, and maintain an unjust status quo. Amplifying liberating, or aspirational, narratives that include all of us is essential to create thriving ecosystems of care in our homes, communities and work spaces. 


The goal of this toolkit is to offer insight from project partners that built and amplified transformative narratives in their communities, as well as resources that will help you build sustainable, cross-sector relationships, and grassroots power that help us all achieve health equity. For health departments this helps to offer a frame for more justice rooted language. This is different from normal public health department guides. This information is more community driven and empowering, getting to the purpose behind the work that health departments and communities build together. This toolkit uses language that is true to the narratives that come from everyday experts. 


We recommend using this toolkit in collaboration with the video training. The workbook is located at the end of this toolkit. When choosing to engage in narrative change work we ask you to be curious about yourself and the others you are inviting in. Know that this work is powerful and that we all have biases and stories that impact how and why we interact with our families, communities and organizations the way we do. When we say “yes” to working together we learn how to listen more intently and get clear about the changes we see as integral to evolution. 


This toolkit was informed and developed by work completed by The National Network of Public Health Institutes and the Michigan Public Health Institute, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vanderbilt University, local community partners at local health departments and with community power building organizations in Ohio and Michigan. Partners worked on projects later discussed in the case study over the course of a three year initiative to promote primary prevention of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as a strategy to prevent future substance use in Cleveland, OH, Cincinnati, OH and Detroit, MI. For some added context, when this project first began in 2018 we were in a different place. It was pre-COVID19, people doing work in the community were able to knock on doors and meet people face to face, we were able to hug family members, go to coffee shops, visit loved ones in the hospital, have trainings and events in person, and so much more. During the pandemic everything became amplified and project partners had to shift how they worked with community members, manage their own mental health and wellbeing in new ways and learn a ton of new options for communicating with each other. There was an escalation in violence and substance use to cope with the grief of further separation and with many of us feeling as though we abandoned our loved ones or that they died alone. We saw increases in firearms violence and a domestic attack on the United States Capitol. 


Today the Delta Variant of the COVID-19 pandemic is making it hard for all of our communities to feel safe and thrive. The pandemic has uplifted disparities in Black, Brown and impoverished communities who have been affected at higher rates, deemed as invisible and disposable, while many immigrants have been excluded from federal COVID assistance. We experienced the murders of unarmed Black folk and blatant anti-Blackness demonstrations as well as a growth of the Black Lives Matter Movement. As a community we know that racism is a public health crisis that affects us all. The partners engaged in this work made magic happen in the midst of being afraid and losing loved ones, finding new ways to thrive and pivot when something was not working the way they needed it to.