Mission & Vision
Family Story is a think tank founded in 2015 to recognize, validate, and protect the many ways individuals form and re-form families.
Family Story works to address and dismantle family privilege in America. We conduct cutting-edge research to expose the ways family privilege causes harm and create cultural and political strategies to advance equity for all types of families. We believe everyone has a unique journey and that all adults and families deserve support and respect.
We envision a world in which any individuals bonded by love, support, or care for each other, who by choice or circumstance are interdependent, can be recognized as family; a world which elevates the strengths and ingenuity of all types of families rather than focusing on their perceived deficits; a world where we are served by inclusive policies and in which we are able to form and re-form families–free from judgment and discrimination.
Most conventional wisdom about family, the role of marriage, and the well-being of children, is shaped by dubious ideas about the superiority of “traditional” nuclear families. These ideas are often based in a deeply conservative worldview about what a “good” family should look like that is rife with sexist, homophobic and racist assumptions. Many have their roots in well-funded right-wing Christian ministries, but they are also advanced by moderate and conservative think tanks and pseudo-academic research institutes who erroneously present them as fact-based. Their imprint shows up regularly within policy debates, reproduced across bills, and repeated by local, state and federal lawmakers across the ideological spectrum. This causes tangible harm to many already marginalized communities by presenting their families as dysfunctional, undeserving of support, and requiring state supervision. Family Story is tracking the key players, exposing the dangerous agenda of organizations and funders trying to manipulate thinking about modern families and family structures, and lifting the veil that allows them to operate in the shadows.
As any family demographer will agree, there have been significant shifts to family structures and family life over the past several decades. However, the meaning made of these changes, and the interpretation of what the data is telling us, remains hotly contested. Declining marriage rates and rising nonmarital birthrates are frequently evoked to defend the baseless contention that the American family is in moral crisis, while methodologically-flawed, ideologically-driven research is used to bolster the specious claim that marriage is the best solution to poverty – an argument used to justify dismantling what is left of our social insurance programs. This cannot stand. Allowing data on changing family structures to be interpreted as “family breakdown” has served an unscrupulous political agenda for far too long. The evolution of family life is long, complex, messy, and not free of hardship, but is also a story of progress and liberation for many. Family Story is setting the record straight by interrogating the existing research, common assumptions and (mis)understandings, and rejecting erroneous interpretations that justify harm within communities. We are also conducting new research, free of the moralizing and judgement that infects our current understanding, in an effort to help us all better understand and properly define the evolution of family life.
Not all families are treated equally. Black families are treated by the media as “broken,” the injustices they face erroneously blamed on long-recycled dangerous stereotypes. Low-income single mothers are reprimanded for having children they cannot “afford” and admonished for failing to secure a husband. LGBTQ families still face significant legal challenges when it comes to adopting or fostering children, their familial relationships frequently invalidated. Families across the country are forcefully separated against their will, torn apart by deportation, separated at borders, and divided up by mass incarceration. At Family Story, we stand for families who are regularly targeted by these harmful policies, derisively cast as cautionary narratives, and whose well-being is frequently under threat. We believe in their equal dignity and value, and that an attack on them is an attack on all our families.
It’s time for the United States to catch up with the demands of today’s families. But to pave the way for effective policy change, we must first shift the way we think and talk about what makes a good family. Family Story is offering our unique expertise and insights to advocates, especially those seeking to evolve and improve their language and messaging, and to journalists who want to tell more unbiased stories about real families. This includes guidance on improved reporting standards; calling out negative stereotypes; and providing accurate, respectful language that avoids the often antiquated, offensive jargon of family formation. (“Out-of-wedlock births”? Ugh.) This will soon include the development of tailored fact sheets, talking points, and toolkits for different audiences, in order to assist them in addressing the most pressing and timely issues of the day as they relate to the evolution of family and family life.
Too often, the stories we see and hear about families reflect only a narrow slice of what families really look like and how they operate. There has been an explosion in the diversity of family structures in America, and we believe it is important to highlight real families, especially those who lack mainstream visibility. This includes “single” and “solo” parents; extended family members helping raise children and caring for elders; multi-generational households; “chosen” and non-biological families; queer families of all configurations; families without children; families connecting over distance due to incarceration, deportation, custody arrangements, or distant economic opportunities, and much more. Through sharing stories, we seek to expand our cultural imagination about what family really is and what it could be. At Family Story, we validate the significant obstacles and challenges real families face, while still affirming their inherent dignity and ingenuity, and supporting solutions that meet families wherever they are.
Nicole Sussner Rodgers is the Founder and Executive Director of Family Story, a think tank founded to recognize, validate, and protect the many ways individuals form and re-form families. Nicole is a social entrepreneur and an expert in the changing family who specializes in communications and research in the public interest. She is also the founder of RoleReboot.org, a site dedicated to storytelling and social critique, rethinking “traditional” family and bucking expectations about gender roles, which launched in 2011.
As a former Vice President at Fenton, the nation’s premier public interest communications firm, Rodgers ran Fenton’s branding and messaging practice for the D.C. office and was part of the Education and Women’s practice groups. Previously, she was a PhD candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, studying political communication. Nicole received her undergraduate education at Northwestern University where she graduated cum laude with a degree in social policy and a concentration in gender studies. She has presented at conferences and events across the country and her writing has been published widely, including multiple times on the Washington Post Opinion page.
Brianna Cayo Cotter is the Chief of Staff at PL+US: Paid Leave for the US, an organization focused on winning paid family leave for everyone in the US. Prior to PL+US, Brianna co-founded and led Change.org’s global communications team, where she helped influencers, non-profits, companies, and news organizations create big impact. For over a decade she has developed creative, effective communications strategies to help advance social change, leading media and communications departments at Avaaz, Rainforest Action Network, and the Energy Action Coalition.
Julie Kohler is the Senior Vice President of the Democracy Alliance, the largest network of donors dedicated to building the progressive movement in the United States. At the Alliance, she oversees the DA’s investment strategy, monitoring the work of the DA’s Investment Portfolio, overseeing the DA’s State POWER Funds, developing content for conferences and other programming, and leading the DA’s inclusive economy and democracy-related work. In her prior roles as Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer, she worked closely with the President and the Board to develop and implement the Democracy Alliance’s strategic plan and annual goals. She has over a decade of experience in philanthropy, with deep expertise in civic engagement, state infrastructure, policy/advocacy, and social innovation grant making.
Prior to joining the Alliance, Kohler served as Director for Education & Civic Engagement at NEO Philanthropy, where she managed four funding collaboratives designed to promote stronger participatory democracy and more equitable public schools. She also directed the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s National Venture Fund, which invested $13 million annually in civic engagement and social venture projects, and taught at the University of Maryland.
Kohler holds a M.A. and Ph.D. in family social science from the University of Minnesota. Her articles on issues pertaining to feminism, politics, and family issues regularly appear in the Washington Post, The Nation, The Daily Beast, and HuffPost. Find her at juliekkohler.com or on Twitter at @juliekkohler1.
Simone L. Ward is the President and the CEO of SLW Strategies, a strategic political, executive coaching, training, facilitation and team development firm. She is the former Executive Director of the Women Effect Fund (WEF) and the Women Effect Action Fund (WEFAF) fighting for economic justice. Most recently served as the Florida State Director for Hillary for America, the largest battleground in the country. Prior to the campaign she served as the National Political Director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).
With a strong commitment to electing female candidates, she has served in senior leadership roles for 3 U.S. Senate candidates including Campaign Manager for the historic re-election of U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, the longest serving female member of Congress and first female chair of the Appropriations Committee. Ward, a four-term veteran of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is the former National Constituency Director and Director of Women’s Outreach. She also served as the Vice President of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC).
In 2007, Ms. Ward worked as a Senior Regional Political staffer at EMILY’s List. She currently sits on the board of directors for the Higher Heights for America, Democratic/Global GAIN, Family Story, End Citizens United and U.R.G.E. Ms. Ward has served as a guest lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Georgetown, Trinity and American Universities. She was raised in Kansas City, Missouri and currently lives in Washington, D.C.
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