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The Power of Asset Framing: A Conversation with Trabian Shorters

“How do we create equitable outcomes for all members of our community? We can start by defining people by their aspirations, not their challenges.”

This method of thinking, commonly known as “asset-framing,” has become an essential part of the way Trabian Shorters views his work as the founder & CEO of BMe Community. The Miami-based organization has developed a network of innovators, leaders, and champions who invest in aspiring communities across the country and help develop positive change. For Shorters, recognizing people as assets to their community has helped drive his organization’s impact and tell a more accurate story of the groups they serve.

To learn more about asset-framing and how it can be used in our own work for Detroit children, we recently invited Trabian to speak with our Board of Trustees and staff. Following the conversation, we sat down with him to capture some of his thoughts around the subject and how it can be applied to help strengthen an organization’s focus on equity.

Defining “Asset-Framing” and How It Can Be Applied

Trabian explained asset-framing and describes how it can be applied in philanthropy and throughout our daily lives.

Narrative Is A Key Part in How We Frame Our Lives

Next, Trabian identified the important role narrative plays in our life and how it influences our understanding of identity, decision making, and the people around us.

It’s Our Responsibility to Care About Each Other

In order to create a more caring society, Trabian thinks philanthropy needs to do a better job of bringing people together under a common cause.

The Dangers of Using a Stigmatizing Narrative

Trabian also explained the dangers of philanthropic organizations using stigmatizing or negative narratives in their work. While on the surface these tales of deficit and despair seem effective in inciting action from stakeholders and gaining sympathy from the larger public, they can also stigmatize the communities they intend to serve.

The Power of Sharing Truthful Narratives

Finally, Trabian shares the importance of telling truthful narratives that will positively influence future generations and inspire people to work toward a common goal.

The Skillman Foundation

A voice for children since 1960, The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy that serves as a fierce champion of Detroit children. The Foundation works to ensure Detroit youth achieve their highest aspirations by strengthening K-12 public education, afterschool learning opportunities, and college and career pathways.

Comments (16)

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  • Julie Tennessen

    So true! Narratives that our students believe about themselves are so powerful.

  • Joshua Lang

    Great videos. I agree that we talk about strengths and we challenge false narratives as an after thought, way after we’ve already spent time and energy hyper-focused on whatever “deficits” we are trying to fix… Those thought patterns are what drive our strategies, but they are incomplete and harmful without seeing the strengths of the child, family and community.

  • Elizabeth Frisby

    “How do we create equitable outcomes for all members of our community? We can start by defining people by their aspirations, not their challenges.”

    This is a powerful quote.

  • Sarah Cooper-Evans

    I believe that narratives are important. Many of us have come under the false narrative that we “don’t have time” to hear and understand one another’s narrative. This feels pervasive. I like thinking about narratives overall and that identities are the roles that one plays within the narratives. I, too, have moved to strategy before really thinking about and focusing upon truthful narratives. The narrative is the foundation that strategies can come from.

  • Teresa Rumppe

    Great videos. I loved the pieces on narratives.

  • Monica Trent

    These were the best videos I have seen so far from Frontlines! What we do as a district and society runs so counter to what Trabian Shorters is sharing.

  • Jill Asfoor

    “Asset-Framing” is powerful- I have not heard of it before. It only makes sense to always look at people, communities and everything in life from an asset-framing lens. I’m going to challenge myself to always do this and hopefully catch myself when I’m not.

  • Sara

    I am moved by the narratives we create about ourselves and others and how we perpetuate the narratives. I am more moved by how we can change those narratives and it is our obligation to create truthful narratives.

  • Karen

    If I’m walking across the street and you see me and you hate me so you intentionally run me over, that’s terrible. On the other hand, if I’m walking across the street and you’re not paying attention and you run me over, it doesn’t matter to me. The outcome is the same for me [I’m still dead!]

    I love this as a clear illustration of how impact (literally?) matters more than intent.

  • Christine Sedesky

    Asset-Framing Narratives, what a great way to begin the return to in person learning.

  • Ted Hartzell

    I wasn’t familiar with asset-framing, and I’m grateful for Trabian Shorters’ crisp and helpful definition. I try to look at people not as “problems” but as humans with hopes and aspirations. However, like everyone, I’ve absorbed the messages about “problem” communities and “problem” people over the years. Mr. Shorters’ message is a good antidote to this thinking, and gives me a practical tool for keeping my mind on the right track. His discussion of narratives and identities also helped me.

  • Sharon Lipe

    Great video clips, depending on how narratives are taken, can make or break a person, their self-worth, self-esteem, whether they are resilient, etc. Narratives are so powerful one way or the other. Think and speak positive, be acceptant and understand black lives values and ethics.

  • Rachael Thompson

    Tragically negative narratives have certainly changed the minds of many viewers. Take time to talk to one another.

  • Day 19: Tools for the Racial Equity Change Process - United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region - https://changethestory.org/day-19-tools-for-the-racial-equity-change-process/

    […] Learn more about how the Skillman Foundation is using asset framing in their work with Detroit Children, and watch videos from Trabian Shorters, […]

  • Georgiana Schuster

    The talk about looking at our narratives and deciding if they are true has left me thinking, which is good!

  • Doris Bey

    These videos were outstanding. It is a treat to listen to others explain the importannce of sharing thoughts feelings and research.

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