I’m interested in understanding and facilitating storytelling to promote civic engagement and social justice. I am lucky to work in a department that is committed to leveraging our privilege as faculty members at an urban university to work for social change.
Three years ago I began work on The Redemption Project, a digital media project focused on storytelling and advocacy. I co-founded the project with John Pace, Abdul Lateef (formerly Aaron Phillips), and Kempis Songster, three extraordinary men who all served at least 30 years in prison for crimes they committed when they were under the age of 18. Alongside the website and digital storytelling, The Redemption Project is closely tied to educational and activism efforts around mass incarceration, including prison visits by college students, talks and forums.
“Those of Us Behind the Walls”: Oral History, Narrative Capital and the Movement to End “The Other Death Penalty,” at the Oral History Association annual conference, Oct. 11-13, Montreal, Quebec.
“A Persona Separate from His Crime”: Multimedia “Redemption Narratives” and the Voices of “Juvenile Lifers” in the United States,” at the 68th Annual International Communication Association conference, “Voices” to be held in Prague, Czech Republic, 24 through 28 May, 2018.
“When I Google my Brother, All I See is Him’: Multimedia Oral History Across Prison Walls,” at Dangerous Oral Histories: Annual Conference of the Oral History Society in Belfast, Northern Ireland, June 28-29, 2018.
“Storytelling and Movement Building: Collaborative Mediamaking Across Prison Walls” at the Our (Digital) Humanity: Storytelling, Media Organizing and Social Justice Conference April 20-22, 2018 as part of the “Documentary Storymaking Track.” This presentation is with our friends at Lifelines: Voices Against the Other Death Penalty.
Lyons, J. Michael, Rosado, Felix. “There’s Urgency Here”: A Pedagogy of Discomfort in a Prison Basement, PUBLIC: The Journal of Imagining America, Vol. 5, No. 2, forthcoming January 2019.
This essay, co-written with Felix Rosado, who is serving a death by incarceration sentence at SCI Phoenix outside of Philadelphia, details and critically analyzes meetings between men serving life-without-parole sentences in a maximum-security Pennsylvania prison and media production students. The students are part of a course called Crime, Media and Justice, which is designed for students interested in becoming media makers (journalists, writers, filmmakers, etc.) to scrutinize reductive mass media narratives of crime, justice and incarceration. The article looks at the visits through the lens of a “pedagogy of discomfort.”
Two articles resulted from historical research I have done to better understand the evolution of social movement media, particularly “small” or DIY media, in these cases a small newspaper, Free Russia, and a comic book, “Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story.”
J. Michael Lyons, “An Army Like That of Gideon: Transnational Reform on the Pages of Free Russia.” American Journalism 32.1 (2015): 2-22.
This article explores how a transnational network of reformers used the short-lived newspaper Free Russia to help sustain a movement to topple Russia’s czarist government in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Prominent American reformers and writers of the era, including Mark Twain and Julia Ward Howe, subscribed and contributed to the newspaper, which was edited by exiled Russian revolutionaries in London. Free Russia helped buoy movement actors and establish a movement narrative, much like 19th Century Abolitionist newspapers. The article also illustrates the international impulses of American and European reformers at the turn of the century, particularly in their efforts to reshape pre-revolutionary Russia.
J. Michael Lyons, “Diffusing Dissent: The Montgomery Story comic and civil disobedience.” Journalism History, 21:2 (Summer, 2015)
The history of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s provides ample opportunity to understand how groups use mass media to build and sustain social movements. This article examines an understudied but important piece of movement literature, the “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story” comic, which simultaneously provided an “origin story” for the modern movement and a step-by-step guide to nonviolent action. Young activists such as Congressman John Lewis, a college student when “The Montgomery Story” was published in 1957, called the comic the “Bible of the movement.” The comic would later surface in South Africa, in Latin America translated into Spanish and, after a translation into Arabic, on Tahrir Square in Egypt in 2011. Through letters and archival documents, the article explores the creation and distribution of the comic and its usefulness as a compact and simplified “movement narrative” that was adapted to use in other social movements.
The article chronicling The Montgomery Story will be included as a chapter in the forthcoming book, Production of Living Legacies: Literary Responses to the Civil Right Movement, published by Routledge. The book is scheduled for release in April 2018, 50 years to the month after the death of Dr. King.