The Power of Storytelling: Three takeaways from my fireside chat with journalist Jon Fortt

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As part of Adobe’s celebration of Black History Month, I had the privilege of joining award-winning journalist Jon Fortt in a fireside chat, hosted by the Black Employee Network at Adobe. Jon currently co-anchors CNBC’s TechCheck, and recently created an inspiring in-depth learning series called The Black Experience in America: The Course.

Screen shot of Jon Forrt and Brian Miller on a video call.

Our theme this year for Black History Month is “Joy, Community & Creativity,” and what Jon shared during our talk hit home for me because he brought our theme to life through something near to our hearts at Adobe: the power of storytelling. By sharing stories, we give people something they can connect with through their own experiences — and make those experiences accessible in new ways to new audiences.

From diversity and intersectionality to Shakespeare and Spider-Man, our discussion covered a remarkable range of topics. It was deeply engaging and entertaining, and I wanted to take a moment to share just a few takeaways from our chat.

1. Be curious and connect the unexpected

When creating The Course, Jon referenced more “serious” sources like Shakespeare and Toni Morrison, but he also pulled from modern pop-culture sources in surprising ways. One unexpected connection he made that I particularly love: W.E.B. Du Bois’ idea of “double consciousness” and the movie Into the Spider-Verse.

“You see it playing out on the screen where Miles Morales is talented, but he doesn't feel like he can bring his entire self together. And then not only is he dealing with that, it's ‘triple consciousness’ because then he's Spider-Man too! So how does he reconcile all these aspects of his being?”

This connection resonated with me — grappling with the complexity of identities will be a meaningful call to action for my Diversity & Inclusion colleagues.

2. Be a creator and use technology as an amplifier

Fortt hit the nail on the head when he asked, “How do we pull out the richness of all of these stories and frame it in a way that moves us forward... for everyone?”

The answer: Take what seems like complex and multifaceted issues and show what they mean for real people. As a journalist, Jon is of course gifted at doing this, but you can do this too. You have the tools right now to advocate, own, as well as tell your story your way, and embrace technology as an “amplifier.”

“In the past, you would've had to get a publisher and artists,” Jon explained about putting together The Course. “Because I'm a Creative Cloud subscriber, and curious about the technology platforms available to creators, I have access to these tools. I can teach myself to use them. I don't have to wait for somebody to open up opportunity for me.”

3. Be a learner and check your biases

Jon recounted how, as a young journalist working at the Lexington Herald Leader, he was out looking to talk to people with a strong opinion about a county vote to limit the sale of alcohol. He thought he had hit the jackpot when he encountered a white man with long hair carrying dark brown bottles out of a store.

The twist, however, is that it was non-alcoholic beer, and the man didn’t seem to care much about the vote at all. “I just completely stereotyped this guy based on his long hair, his Metallica t-shirt, and he's in the back of a pickup truck,” Jon said. “I had his whole story framed out in my head based on who I thought he was and what I thought was in his hand.”

The courage to learn someone’s full story is important — it is fundamental allyship. Just as important, Jon suggests we can even take this a step further and strengthen understanding by talking openly about why we make assumptions like this.

“Even though skin color and hair length and what band is on your t-shirt doesn't matter, it matters, right? I think that's the next level of understanding these things... with our kids, also with our teams, with our communities. Pointing out these things shouldn't matter, but here are some cases in which they do. So how do we acknowledge that, too?”

Share your voice

I want to thank Jon once again for sharing his own joy, community, and creativity with us. People like him — and you! — are creating moments and stories that make a difference. I could not be prouder to work for a company that sees the best in people, and creates technology to amplify diverse voices, ideas and a catalyst for change.

Be sure to check out The Black Experience in America: The Course.