Facing Race: A National Conference in St. Louis, MO — November 20-22, 2024

Nayantara Sen

Master Trainer | Butterfly Lab for Immigrant Narrative Strategy at Race Forward
Pronouns: she/her

Presentations from Facing Race 2022

Narrative Design Intensive: Butterfly Lab for Immigrant Narrative Strategy

Race Forward’s Butterfly Lab for Immigrant Narrative Strategy was launched in 2020 to build power for effective narratives that honor the humanity of migrants, refugees, and immigrants, and advance freedom and justice for all. This year, the Butterfly Lab rolled out and trained organizations, institutions, and artists in its groundbreaking approach to narrative design and strategy. Utilizing narrative tools the Lab has tested and taught extensively, this breakout session will participants an opportunity to explore beginning and advanced topics in narrative strategy. It will be specifically grounded in our learnings from the scaled immigrant narrative projects of the Chrysalis Lab, original commissioned research conducted this year, and two years of advanced praxis in narrative design. The session is open to all who are interested, including those who have participated in Butterfly Lab work over the past two years, or to those who are new to narrative design and strategy. It will culminate in a process that allows participants to better advance an aligned narrative strategy for the immigrant movement. (Note: While we will be focusing on our work on immigrant narrative, all who are interested in narrative and cultural strategy are welcome.)

Speakers: Jeff Chang, Sára Abdullah, Nayantara Sen

Transforming our Narrative Waters through Narrative Systems Design

Achieving a racially just future in which the majority of people are engaged in building pluralist culture requires more than just changing a few narratives — it requires transforming the toxic narrative oceans in which we swim. But how can we transform our narrative waters so that hundreds of millions of people can change their beliefs and behaviors in order to engage in the hard, delicate work of belonging together? And how can we design for impactful narrative strategy at scale across a broad range of sectors, issues, and stakeholders?

The Pop Culture Collaborative approaches these questions through narrative systems design. To transform the narrative landscape in America around people of color, immigrants, refugees, Muslims, and Indigenous peoples—especially those who are women, queer, trans, nonbinary, and/or disabled — we focus on bolstering the infrastructure and impact of the pop culture for social change field. In this hands-on, interactive workshop, the Collaborative team will share about narrative systems design — the creative, powerful, and responsive narrative framework and strategy at the heart of our grantmaking and field organizing. Participants will learn about the six components that work in synchronized relationship: a culture change goal, mental models, narrative archetypes, specific stories, inciting experiences, and desired behavioral norms.

Through storytelling and interactive exercises, the Collaborative will help attendees analyze past examples of cultural change processes, and learn about the building blocks of a narrative system — so that they can utilize narrative systems design to advance racial justice values and issues in their own work.

Speakers: Bridgit Antoinette Evans, Tracy Van Slyke, Nayantara Sen

Presentations from Facing Race 2018

Making Waves: Cultural Strategies for Racial Justice

The social justice field has been abuzz with talk about cultural strategy and cultural shift. With escalating attacks on communities of color across issue areas of immigration, labor rights, mass incarceration and more, the need for deep cultural change for racial justice is becoming urgent. But what exactly do we mean by “cultural strategy for racial justice?” What does cultural strategy look like in the fields of community organizing, media and entertainment and policymaking? And how do we ethically partner with artists and leverage creative ecosystems to advance equity and justice?


Come join our workshop featuring some of the best thinkers and doers in cultural change, where we’ll explore strategies for fueling artist-powered change through organizing, pop culture and narrative shift. This session will be facilitated by Nayantara Sen, Manager of Cultural Strategies at RaceForward,and will feature short talks by Bridgit Antoinnette Evans from the Pop Culture Collaborative, Betsy Richards from the Opportunity Agendaand Rufaro Gwarada from Power California.


Presenters will share examples from the field and dig into questions like: How should a cultural strategy talk about communications, organizing, narrative, and art? How do we build organized creative ecosystems that advance equity and justice?

Speakers: Bridgit Antoinette Evans, Nayantara Sen, Rufaro Gwarada, Betsy Richards

Racial Justice Innovations: State-of-the-Art Strategies and Solutions

Though white supremacy continues to permeate our culture in long-standing and ever-changing ways, efforts to resist and create equitable alternatives are also growing and evolving. What are some of the innovations in the movement for racial justice? What are the opportunities to advance proactive and preventative strategies while still resisting and reacting to blatant and latent racism? How do we dismantle systemic racism and create structural and systematic equity? How so do we bring narrative shifts and systems change to scale? We’ll invite participants to discuss these questions and share examples of what’s new, what’s changing, and what’s promising.

Race Forward has worked in partnership with many organizations at the leading edge of racial justice innovation. For example, the New York City Arts Innovation Lab has brought together 60 arts organizations that have incubated and tested new strategies for addressing racial equity and changing their organizational cultures and programs. The Governmental Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) is engaging a network of 75 government jurisdictions around the country in systematizing race-conscious decision-making with a focus on equitable impacts. Participants will share some of their own examples and experience with racial justice innovations in different sectors, issues and regions.

Speakers: Terrence Keleher, Nayantara Sen

Presentations from Facing Race 2016

Choice Points in Speculative Fiction: Creative Storytelling for Systems Change

Science fiction and fantasy get treated as the antidote to many of popular culture’s ills -- genres in which radical possibilities for justice can materialize as long as they are envisioned. But in practice, their most frequently recurring tropes (and their most financially profitable properties) are little more than fanfiction for the empire: ‘chosen’ protagonists fight dark-skinned embodiments of evil, characters of color consistently get sidelined and villainized, and the struggles of poor, working-class people of color remain invisible. Speculative fiction narratives across all genres rarely engage with structural racism, and are often stuck in a “diversity” narrative that relies on a sprinkling of POC characters in a binary hero vs villain framework. Surely, us nerds deserve better -- and in this workshop, we’ll do better. This hands-on writing workshop is for anyone interested in the powerful, strategic use of speculative fiction for changing social narratives -- whether your preferred medium is novels, movies, television, literature, comics, or video games. We’ll practice strategies to extrapolate from concrete scenes – the building blocks of story – to race-explicit, structural analysis,, and we'll identify strategies for “systemic storytelling.” Participants will come away with at least one workshopped story idea, along with a slew of writing prompts, tips for best practices, new creators to check out, and hopefully a few new potential collaborators.

Speakers: Nayantara Sen, Channing Kennedy

Presentations from Facing Race 2014

Racial Justice Leadership Institute- A Pre-Conference Training

(Requires separate registration. To register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/racial-justice-leadership-institute-at-faci...

The Racial Justice Leadership Institute, developed by Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation, is an interactive training for those who wish to sharpen their skills and strategies to address structural racism and advance racial equity.  Unlike “diversity trainings” which primarily focus on interpersonal relations and understanding, the Institute emphasizes how to challenge and change institutional racial inequities. 

Training Components: 

  • Racial Justice Values & Vision
  • Key Concepts: Different Dimensions of Racism / Structural Racism
  • Implicit Bias and Systems Analysis
  • Opportunities to Advance Racial Justice 

Participants will:

-build a clear understanding of key concepts such as racial equity and structural racism;

-learn to talk about race constructively within their organizations and with their constituents; 

-gain tools and practices for counteracting racial bias in their work and practices;

-identify opportunities and next steps for applying concepts and strategies to advance racial equity.

Speakers: Nayantara Sen, Terrence Keleher