Sonja Claxton was planning to launch Social Chang(h)er at an event at Impact HUB Philadelphia last April.
The organization was designed to act as a support system for female dreamers, thinkers and creatives in Philadelphia. However, the event and the original mission of the organization failed.
Claxton said it’s because her peers at Impact Hub (and other social entrepreneurs) weren’t working as an audience for the organization.
“The biggest lesson I learned is that my peers are not my community. I was trying to organize the wrong community. My fellow social entrepreneurs are mostly college educated, already have agency, access to resources, and have a plethora of social capital,” Claxton said. “There is an oversaturation of resources directed toward them. There is no need [per se] that I could fill. If there were a need, the event would have been sold out.”
But that didn’t stop her from trying to make Social Chang(h)er work. Claxton said she realized that she needed to step back and put her ear to the ground.
“I spent the last 6 months listening to single moms, the homeless, high school students, and new immigrants. I can’t focus on them all so I had to pick one. [So I picked] the one closest to my own struggles: women and children,” said Claxton. “There are few places for them to be heard and even [fewer] spaces for them to share their stories. The stories almost evaporate in thin air because there is no place to contain them.”
Now Claxton is working on creating a space for women and girls to tell their stories, and encouraging nonprofits and social services organizations to create that space.
Using Social Media to Promote Storytelling
In addition to trying to find a way for nonprofits and social service organizations to help create a space for women and girls to tell their stories, Claxton uses a variety of social media platforms to facilitate storytelling online. For instance, Claxton runs a Facebook Social Chang(h)er group as a space for fellow female social entrepreneurs.
“I try to focus the FB conversation, encouraging and uplifting the work of female social entrepreneurs as opposed to promoting our work. I send out words of inspiration, tips, tools, as well as information relevant to this group. It also allows me to clearly define the term Social Chang(Her),” she said. “Right now we are [defining] it as a female social entrepreneur who works to solve problems plaguing women and girls in our community.”
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She’s also using Twitter through Twitter Chats with a couple of different organizations.
In partnership with Let’s Go Outdoors, Social Chang(h)er is hosting the #gooutdoorschat on Twitter, a conversation around outdoor recreation for women and girls. They’ll use the time during the chats to ask people about their experience in the outdoors or the lack thereof. They’ll hold the chats monthly on the fourth Wednesday of every month. The next one is March 28.
In addition, for Women’s History month in March, Social Chang(h)er is hosting #changherstory twitter chats, every Wednesday night from 8-8:30pm.
“The conversation will be centered around what we hope for the next generation. One of our workshops revealed that young women are concerned about things not getting better for the next generation of women and girls,” said Claxton.
“There are few places for them to be heard and even [fewer] spaces for them to share their stories. The stories almost evaporate in thin air because there is no place to contain them,” said Claxton.
Storytelling Workshops for Girls
Currently, Claxton is holding storytelling workshops with organizations across the city.
Recently, she held two storytelling workshops with Girls Justice League, a girls’ rights organization dedicated to taking action for social, political, educational, and economic justice with and for girls and young women. The girls Claxton is holding the workshops for are high school aged girls who are working together to plan a completely girl-led Spring Summit on Feminism, co-sponsored by Girls Justice League and New Century Trust.
The Girls Justice League asked Claxton to facilitate a storytelling experience for the eight girls working on the summit as a way to help them bond and as a way for them to see how their collective stories are part of the fabric of feminism.
“The first session asked girls to share more general stories about their backgrounds and identities as females/female identified folk. That first session laid the foundation for a deeper intimacy among the girls who came from a broad range of racial and ethnic backgrounds (African American, Caucasian, Latina and Asian) and geographies (different Philadelphia neighborhoods, Upper Darby, and Southern New Jersey.),” said Maxine Bailey, one of the founders of the Girls Justice League. “The second session allowed the girls to go much deeper in expressing dimensions of their personal identities, their fears and regrets, relationships with their mothers and fathers and their dreams for their futures.”
“The group went beyond the superficial to reveal their true stories. Stories of triumph, coming of age, identity, and asserting oneself. They revealed their vulnerabilities,” added Claxton. “They cried, they showed their fears and flaws. They were bold and courageous.”
As the girls’ planning team continues to work together, Bailey said they expect to continue to embed deeper levels of storytelling into each of their planning team meetings. In addition, she said the team is committed to including storytelling in the workshops they are planning for the summit so that other girls experience a safe and supportive space for telling and unraveling their personal narratives.
“Sonja is a superb guide for the journey that links our personal experiences with our collective memories and our passion for social justice,” Bailey said. “Her quiet affirmations give us all the courage to continue the struggle.”
Image via Girls Justice League-30-
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