Picturing the Language for Justice: An Interview with a Bay Area Inspire Awardee

At the start of 2016, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation (PVF) awarded grants to eight young Bay Area residents with fresh ideas for building better communities. These awards were made possible through the Bay Area Inspire Awards, which provides $10,000 grants to 18-30 year olds living in San Francisco, Alameda, and San Mateo Counties. Below is an interview with one of these awardees, Tracy Nguyen, who is using her award to provide graphic facilitation services to nonprofits that work with limited-English proficiency immigrants.

PVF: Tell us about your project. What inspired you to launch it?

Tracy: I first learned about “graphic facilitation” while sitting next to a stranger at a banquet. As a conversation starter, I asked, “What do you do for a living?”

She responded, “I draw what people say!”

She proceeded to pull out her phone and showed me PowerPoint slides of some of her work. In awe, I pulled out my personal notebook to show her that all my notes were in the form of doodles and sketches. It was from that moment that I felt completely validated about my ability to learn and communicate in visual form.

I wanted to be a graphic facilitator.

As more and more information is being shared and disseminated in this day and age, it is not always accessible to limited-English proficient immigrants. As I was doing some community organizing in East Oakland with Vietnamese nail salon workers, I noticed that graphic facilitation helped some of the women better understand our political strategies. With icons, diagrams, and some coloring, complicated concepts came to life. I saw that graphic facilitation practices needed to be more available to communities who are most marginalized and under-resourced.

PVF: Tell us about some of your project accomplishments to date.

Tracy: Throughout the year, I experimented with illustrating difficult concepts in a visual language. One of my first projects included graphically recording a meeting that was being conducted in four different languages: Mien, Lao/Khmu, Mandarin, and Cantonese. The group was able to discuss upcoming state-wide policy impacts related to their environment!

Later in the fall, I also conducted my first “Introduction to Graphic Facilitation” class for community organizers in San Francisco’s District 11 (Communities United for Health and Justice). We discussed best recording practices and explored visual vocabulary related to their communities. I plan to publish a visual dictionary that will be specifically catered to non-profit community organizers.

Tracy Nguyen teaching others how to draw "star people"
Tracy charting a timeline of activities

PVF: What are the next steps for your project?

Tracy: At the end of 2016, I joined my colleague’s graphic facilitation team: Leapfrog Consulting. They specifically onboarded me to continue doing my visual work for the communities of color I want to organize with. I’ll be specifically contributing to the team by focusing on an illustrative style of graphic facilitation. I’m excited for this opportunity to work with a seasoned team while developing my specific style and honing into my intended audience. I’ve also received a lot of interest in my “Introduction to Graphic Facilitation” classes and will be providing more of those workshops in 2017.

PVF: What is your hope with how this project will create change in the community?

Tracy: My hope is that this graphic tool will be implemented more consistently in communities that need aid in understanding the systems and environments they live in. This will allow marginalized communities in America to have a voice and be more engaged in their communities. When the most impacted communities get to be at the forefront of the movement for justice, we end up with more creative and effective solutions. We collectively need to picture the language for justice.

A worker’s right teach-in on May Day right before hitting the streets
Hitting the streets with Asian and Pacific Islander refugees and immigrants

PVF: What would you like donors to know about funding community projects led by young people like yourself?

Tracy: The Bay Area Inspire Awards is a great model for encouraging boundless ideas from fresh young minds. Whether it’s $10 or $10,000, the gesture of supporting a young person’s idea will open doors to solving world problems. With the freedom to invent and implement, this award models how pulling together collective effort can grow unstifled young souls.

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