All About

Our work

Our mission is driven from a desire to shore up our country’s democratic underpinnings. To fulfill it, we teach two distinct groups — journalists and nonprofits — how to tell better stories. We know without people seeing their concerns and realities reflected in journalism, the full stories will never be told, those that are will not be relevant to people and there can never be meaningful change. And we want change. We particularly intend to change the public narrative to ensure we are telling the full story about racism, sexism and xenophobia — things that are historically and deeply woven into the fabric of society. Our goal is to change the public narrative to ensure stories involving these issues are complete and include the voices of people, not just power.

With nonprofits:

We teach community groups and leaders we work on messaging and storytelling across platforms. By doing so, we reconnect people to their mission, help refocus their staff and reprioritize their work. Many of the people we work with are underrepresented voices, people of color and women — audiences that must see themselves in media outlets to continue to be media consumers.

With journalists:

We focus on issues by teaching best practices in journalism and providing resources that can help with the difficult task of issue reporting. We remind journalists that a complete story does not just outline the problem, but includes those working on solutions. We also help journalists find the people in the community dealing with those issues.

With both groups:

We bring neighborhood thought leaders and key organizations to journalists and vice versa, via our quarterly ‘speed-dating’ programs that focus on issue reporting.

What we believe:

  • We believe a free and informed press, as well as an educated public are the cornerstones of democracy.
  • We know also that an uninformed civil society not only suffers from being left out but falls victim to myths and stereotypes.
  • And we know that a media that does not reflect its audience and understand those concerns becomes irrelevant
  • Public Narrative’s goal has always been to amplify nonprofit and neighborhood voices, so they are not only heard but are part of the ongoing conversation on issues that affect them.


Founded in 1989 as the Community Media Workshop, Public Narrative was born out a the belief that a free and informed press, as well as an educated public, are the cornerstones of democracy.

Hank DeZutter, Studs Terkel, and Thom Clark

The founders Hank DeZutter, a journalist and educator, and Thom Clark, a photographer and neighborhood nonprofit newsletter writer, saw that too many times, the voices of power were the ones quoted in news stories, rendering invisible the people working for change in the neighborhoods.

With a grant from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the two men started training people who worked in nonprofits about the media. 

The next 25 years

In 1994, the Studs Terkel Community Media Award was born. This award is given each spring to journalists whose stories reflected the values of Terkel’s narrative storytelling. Since 1994, more than 70 journalists have been recognized for their work.

In 1995, we began producing a media guide, “Getting on the Air and Into Print,” which today provides contact information for over 7,000 Chicago-area journalists and media outlets.  

The Ethnic & Community Media Project was launched in 2009. The project supports the nearly 200 ethnic and community media outlets whose stories are part of the fabric of Chicago’s many neighborhoods.

Building a better Public Narrative

DeZutter retired in 2004 and 10 years later, Thom Clark stepped down as president, handing the reins to Susy Schultz. That same year, Firebelly Inc. began a process to examine the organization’s impact on the city. They found that while the Workshop enjoyed great respect and many knew of the work, not many knew the name. Therefore, in 2015, the organization was renamed Public Narrative, to better reflect the work of teaching storytelling to nonprofits and journalists. 

In 2019, Jhmira Alexander became the president and Executive Director of Public Narrative. Under her leadership, the organization has begun working with youth for the first time ever, and has started the Chicago Community, Media & Research Partnership with Northwestern.

Our Team

Deborah Douglas

  • Board Member
  • @deadlinedd
Deborah Douglas is a veteran journalist most recently serving as managing editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, and is a senior leader with The OpEd Project, leading the Public Voices Fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin. She has also led initiatives for The OpEd Project at Dartmouth College, Columbia University and Global Policy Solutions (Closing the Race Wealth Gap), United Action Fund in South Africa and Kenya, the Aspen Institute New Voices Fellowship and Youth Narrating Our World (YNOW).  She is the Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Professor at DePauw University. Douglas’ award-winning special projects include the Sun-Times' The New Downtown and The Baby Ceiling, which coincided with an appearance on “Oprah.” Douglas is a NABJ/Kaiser Family Foundation fellow, which allowed her to study malaria and HIV/AIDS prevention in Tanzania. Before heading to the Sun-Times editorial board, Douglas served as No. 2 in the features department and helmed the library, leveraging the outlet’s intellectual properties into engaging museum exhibits and books. She was editor in chief of the Sun-Times Red Streak edition, hiring important voices in Chicago media today, and led the redesign and repositioning of the newspaper’s most profitable titles. Douglas regularly writes articles and opinion pieces for outlets that include Oprah magazine, VICE, American Prospect, Ebony, Ozy, Time, The Guardian, Pacific Standard, The National Post and The Crisis. Douglas was cited in a 2016 New York Times magazine piece for her contributions to the public discourse on race, women and erasure. She has appeared on CNN, BBC, ABC 7, WGN Radio, and V103, among other outlets.

Afenya Montgomery

  • Board Member
  • @afenyaBSN
Afenya Montgomery is the founder of The iCAN Collective.  The iCAN Collective is a professional development platform connecting entrepreneurs and career professionals to resources, information, business partnerships and collaborations.  She has spent over 15 years honing professional skills in customer service, leadership, and management: combining corporate experience with nursing expertise to provide engaging, educational workshops, seminars, conferences and consultant services. Afenya is also licensed as a registered nurse.  She began her nursing career as a nurse extern and climbed the nursing ladder to Master of Science in Nursing and MBA with a focus on executive leadership.  Prior to becoming a nurse, Afenya obtained a marketing degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She currently works as an Engagement Coach with Northwestern Medicine.

Paul O’Connor

  • Board Member
Paul O’Connor is urban strategist for the global City Design Practice of SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP), which role includes writing strategic positioning narratives for urban dev elopment  and redevelopment projects; and he manages the Chicago office’s civic engagement. For two years prior, he was marketing and communications VP for Chicago Metropolis 2020 and its Burnham Plan Centennial Committee. Prior to that, he was the founding executive director of World Business Chicago, the City’s nonprofit, public-private economic development organization. Mr. O’Connor’s highly diversified professional background includes leadership positions in advertising, corporate communications, and state government. His core craft is writing and reportage: he was legman to columnist Mike Royko, helped John Callaway start what became Chicago Tonight, was urban affairs writer for Seattle’s morning newspaper, and was raised by pioneering Chicago TV commentator Len O’Connor. He went to the University of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a US Army Security Agency veteran.

Katanya Raby

  • Board Member
  • @MyUrbanDreams
Katanya Raby is an Associate Outreach Planner for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). She is co-founder and former president of Society of Black Urban Planners and serves as co-chair of the Diversity Committee for the American Planning Association Illinois Chapter. As the founder of a community organization in Chicago, she works with volunteers to address the ever-increasing need for the visual and creative arts within urban schools. She manages CMAP's Future Leaders in Planning (FLIP) program, a youth leadership development program that introduces students to planning and policy and encourages them to consider their roles in the future of their own communities. She is an alum of AmeriCorps VISTA and City Year and is committed to planning for equity and service to underserved communities. Ms. Raby has a Bachelor's degree in Sociology and a Master's in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois-Chicago. She is the recipient of the 2017 APA-IL Emerging Planner Service Award.  

Dr. Janice T. Samuels

  • Board Member
Dr. Janice T. Samuels is an educational technology leader, writer, and activist whose mission is to “help others know themselves, own their power, and live full and glorious lives that produce that best of what we are as humans, dreamers, and believers.” Throughout her career she has translated this mission into innovative programs and learning solutions that engage and empower students, faculty, peers, and the community to facilitate change. Dr. Samuels is the founder and executive director of the National Youth Art Movement Against Gun Violence (NYAM), a Chicago-based fiscally sponsored nonprofit project that combines art activism and Augmented Reality technology to provide marginalized youth with the opportunity to be thought leaders in gun violence prevention. In less than three years, she has secured numerous supporters and partners and gained international and national attention through multiple conference presentations and publications, including a showcase of NYAM youth artwork at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum. Dr. Samuels also holds a Doctorate of Education in Learning Technologies from Pepperdine University, Master of Arts in Management with a concentration in Nonprofit Management from Regent University and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Rollins College.

Bryan Smith

  • Board Member
Bryan Smith is the senior writer for Chicago magazine. He’s a two-time winner of and six-time finalist for the National City and Regional Magazine Awards Writer of the Year. His work has been featured in the Best American Newspaper Writing and Best American Sports Writing book anthologies. His first book, The Breakaway, was a #1 bestseller on Amazon for more than two months.

Sheila Solomon

  • Board Member
  • @solshe
Sheila Solomon is an expert in newsroom diversity and has had a lengthy career as an editor for a variety of news outlets. As a senior consultant to the Democracy Fund, she has been examining Chicago's  journalism ecosystem in an effort to foster a more collaborative and sustainable media environment. She's also the strategic alliance liaison at Rivet, a Chicago-based “smart audio” creation and distribution company. She previously was the Chicago Tribune's senior editor for recruitment and cross media editor. Among her honors is being inducted into the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications Hall of Fame at Hampton University (Hampton, VA), receiving the Ida B. Wells award given by Medill and the National Association of Black Journalists and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chicago Headline Club. Solomon has been a lecturer and adjunct professor and serves on numerous journalism-related boards and advisory committees. She's also a past Journalism and Women Symposium board member and served as secretary.

Jhmira Alexander

  • President
  • @jhmiralatrice
  • 312-369-6400
A connector of people and ideas, Jhmira brings a diversity of leadership experiences to her work. Prior to her presidency at Public Narrative, Alexander served as the owner and principal of 29Eleven Consulting, a social media concern that engaged organizations including After School Matters, Loyola University’s Risk and Resiliency Lab and Blue 1647, providing training to youth and adults in safe social media practices, content management, and user engagement. Alexander has also been a project director, youth developer, community engagement specialist, and program designer for the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School; Bright Star Community Outreach; Wilmington Job Corps; and DC / Northern Virginia Career Transition Services. Here, she coordinated teams of board members, faculty, staff, students, and parents around multiple educational objectives while cultivating organizational cultures toward performance and engagement. Alexander’s drive to cultivate communities through media is unwavering: she speaks and lectures widely, and is a member of the National Association of Broadcast Journalists and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated. Alexander holds a B.S. in Communications from Bradley University and an M.P.A. from Strayer University.
Mareva Lindo

Mareva Lindo

  • Project Manager & Blog Editor
  • @marevaraves
  • 312-248-4177

Mareva is a Chicago-made writer, audio producer, and musician. She’s the creator of The Archives podcast at the Old Town School of Folk Music, where in 2017 she conducted an oral history of the school in partnership with StoryCorps. She regularly covers public meetings as part of City Bureau’s Documenters program. Mareva’s currently working on a new podcast exploring Chicago’s controversial TIF program, the interests behind it, and the activism it’s inspired. A lifelong folk music collector, she’s also an organizer of local music collective Old Lazarus’ Harp, co-founder of Midwest Sing & Stomp festival, and regularly plays fiddle with old-time string band the Prairie State Ramblers.

Matt Cardoni

  • Trainer
Matt Cardoni is a digital marketing consultant and educator with more than 24 years of experience making and promoting websites. He specializes in search engine marketing, including PPC, SEO and web analytics. He teaches at the University of Iowa MBA program, Ascend Training, General Assembly and at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He earned a biomedical engineering 1998 and received his MBA in marketing in 2006. He aims to make learning fun and interactive, and uses as many cat jokes as possible.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

  • Trainer
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco writes stories about labor issues and life in the Midwest. He is an independent journalist and serves as a producer, editorialist, and youth mentor. He served as the reporting fellow at City Bureau, where he provided exclusive coverage about the closing of Pilsen’s St. Adalbert’s Catholic Church. He has worked at In These Times Magazine, The Third Coast International Audio Festival, and Lumpen Radio.

Brittany Harris

  • Trainer
Brittany Harris is an avid supporter of policy work designed to end poverty by advancing legislation in a variety of areas, including criminal justice and reentry. Brittany’s ultimate goal is to reduce violence and poverty in her hometown, Chicago, through a curriculum she designed to create social and economic opportunities for people experiencing poverty. The integrated system simultaneously builds applied skills and social awareness. It then teaches individuals how to market creative work that gives voice to key social justice issues relevant today. She holds a master’s of arts from New York University in educational leadership, politics, and advocacy.

Dr. Shaniqua Jones

  • Trainer
  • @drshanjones2016
Dr. Shaniqua Jones is the the restorative justice coordinator and dean of students at Chicago Collegiate Charter School. Her work is the foundation for the restorative justice trainings she developed for churches, schools, community organizations, The Cook County Southland Juvenile Justice Council and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. Dr. Jones is a wife and mother of five children. Her passion for children and family success comes from a place of compassion and  empathy based from her life’s mantra: a journey not shared is a soul not healed.

Brandi Jimenez Lee

  • Trainer
Brandi Jimenez Lee is an educator, artist and teaching artists who believes all rooms of learning should be centered around transparency and the  revolutionary power of knowledge. her passion led her to work in learning centers and work with organizations such as StoryCatchers where she used acting, choreography and music to create an accessible way for participants to tell stories. Lee created and facilitated curriculum that teaches acting skills to youth with Lifeline Theatre. She worked with For Youth Inquiry, a branch of the Illinois Caucus of Adolescent Health using the art of theatre to teach youth and adults about sexual health and their reproductive rights. Lee created and built a flourishing internship program at the Goodman Theatre.