African Heritage Program uses visual storytelling to shine a light on diasporic celebrations

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PORTLAND, Ore. – This past summer the Oregon State University Extension Service’s African Heritage Program used visual storytelling to celebrate two little-known diasporic celebrations with co-workers and community members.

On July 25, the program celebrated International Afro Latinx, Afro Caribbean, and Diaspora Women's Day. This 30-year observance provides visibility to confront racism through a gendered lens, and to shine a light on the achievements, values, culture and wisdom of Afro-descendant women.

The African Heritage Program, which is part of the Portland Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) unit, invited women from partnering agencies from the diasporic regions of Africa, Caribbean islands, South America and the American South to connect through culture, cooking, and storytelling.

Each attendee prepared a dish from their family’s country of origin. Social media posts and videos were created and uploaded to celebrate African Heritage’s inaugural storytelling experience.

In August, African Heritage Program fellow Ainsley Beck, sponsored by the OSU Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventative Health, led the celebration of World Jollof Rice Day. Beck, an OSU student majoring in nutrition, created educational social media posts, voiced a cooking demonstration, led a community cook-a-long, and presented a “lunch ‘n learn” about World Jollof Rice Day to inspire OSU Extension employees and community members to celebrate the dish on Aug. 22.

“Visual storytelling has the ability to create cultural understanding, elicit emotions and empower storytellers,” said Meilana Charles, coordinator of the African Heritage Program. “It’s a technique that transfers experiences through visual imagery such as photography, videography and graphics, and it’s a progressive way to exchange cultural experiences and create universal connections.”

Charles said that in 2024, the African Heritage Program plans to continue experimenting with visual storytelling by highlighting two different diasporic celebrations.

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