The Power of Community, Interview with Kimberly Nightingale

Grey background with images of Beth Barany and Kimberley Nightingale for The Power of Community, Interview with Kimberly Nightingale

The Power of Community, Interview with Kimberly Nightingale, How To Write the Future podcast, episode 83

“Youth need to be invited to all of the places where adults are, and that’s how they learn and that’s how they grow and that’s how they become adults themselves.”  – Kimberley Nightingale

In this interview episode on How To Write the Future, host Beth Barany talks with Kimberly Nightingale, whose PhD focus in urban studies about belonging in cities for youth. They discuss the importance of inviting youth into adult decision-making spaces and how getting them involved in the community will have a positive influence on all. They also share insight into breaking and othering and what this means. 

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About Kimberly Nighingale

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Kimberly (she/her/hers) believes in the power of people to tell their own stories. She is the former creator, executive director, and publisher of the Saint Paul Almanac, where for fifteen years she supported people sharing their stories, poetry, and art in different spaces, including books, readings, open mics, storymobiles, films, and on the walls of art galleries, buses, and trains. Kimberly understands that being published is a powerful, transformative experience. Her research areas include the emotional connection to place and using art to bridge breaking and othering to nurture belonging. At Portland State University, Kimberly’s PhD focus in urban studies is belonging in cities for youth through arts-based critical participatory action research (CPAR) in intergenerational spaces.

About the How To Write the Future podcast 

The *How To Write The Future* podcast is for science fiction and fantasy writers who want to write positive futures and successfully bring those stories out into the marketplace. Hosted by Beth Barany, science fiction novelist and creativity coach for writers. We cover tips for fiction writers. This podcast is for readers too if you’re at all curious about the future of humanity.

This podcast is for you if you have questions like:

– How do I create a believable world for my science fiction story?

– How do figure what’s not working if my story feels flat?

– How do I make my story more interesting and alive?

This podcast is for readers too if you’re at all curious about the future of humanity.

Transcript for The Power of Community, Interview with Kimberly Nightingale

Hey everyone. Welcome back to How To Write the Future Podcast. I’m your host Beth Barany. I am a creativity coach for writers, an award-winning novelist in science, fiction, and fantasy, and here to explore with you how, when we vision what is possible, we help make it so. I offer up my tips for writing fiction and I also interview guests.

And here with me today, I’m so excited, is Kimberly Nightingale. She’s actually my cousin, and I am so excited to have you here, Kimberly. Thanks so much for being here. I’m gonna dive into, reading your bio so everyone knows who you are, and we have some wonderful questions to discuss. So, so here we go.

About Kimberly Nightingale 

Kimberly Nightingale, she, her, hers, believes in the power of people to tell their own stories. She’s the former creator, executive director, and publisher of the St. Paul Almanac, where for 15 years she supported people sharing their stories, poetry, and art in different spaces, including books, readings, open mics, story mobiles, films, and putting art up on in art galleries, buses, and trains.

So fun.

Kimberly understands that being published is a powerful, transformative experience. Her research areas include the emotional connection to place and using art to bridge breaking and othering to nurturing belonging. Currently at Portland State University, Kim’s PhD focus is in urban studies, in belonging in cities for youth through art-based, critical participatory action research, including all generations.

So the intergenerational spaces.

Kimberly, I’m so pleased to have you here. Thanks for showing up and chatting with me.


Thank you for having me, Beth. Glad to be here.


Yay. So I know when we initially met and we just both got so excited about talking about urban spaces and, bringing art out into the world to change the spaces for everybody.

So, I would love to hear from you a little bit about, what draws you to working with youth and the notion of belonging and art and cities. what is it that brought you to this place to combine all of these, and for your PhD and, and for the work that you’re doing?


Sure. Well, it really comes down to my own childhood and my own youth. And I grew up in Tokyo. I had gone through some disabilities when I was younger and I had been suffering some, serious skin burns when I was young and had spent time in the hospital. 

And just 10 months after that I moved from the United States to Tokyo and the energy and the activity and the art and the pulsating rhythms of the city ended up being another character for me as a young person, a child, and as a youth, that helped me navigate growing up, and it was a place that nurtured me. The city nurtured me like a whole nother being not a human being, but a being as far as a moving, physical being that I could depend on.


That, that’s just so wonderful. And I find the whole notion of an urban space nurturing, nurturing you as I imagine it also nurtured others just so fabulous. and fast forward to the work that you did in St. Paul, Minnesota, bringing in youth, helping them maybe feel more a part of the city.

What-what prompted you to do that work?


Everyone needs to belong. I’m convinced that everyone needs to feel a sense of belonging to the place where they live, to the place where they put their feet to the pavement or the grass. They need to feel like they belong to that place.

And there’s lots of ways to do that. and people can connect in many different ways it may be that one moves as an immigrant to a new community, or it may be that, one has moved to a new house or a new neighborhood and getting grounded in that space through arts activities, communicating with the animals that live in that space to the sounds and the energy of that space, is, is really important. 

And there’s just so many different levels of communicating in an urban space, whether it’s, you know, the smells, the sound, the different connections. And young people tend to be really open to that kind of thinking.

Like it’s not just person-to-person communication, but it’s communication in its entirety. And so I’ve always connected with young people. Young people are often the forgotten people in urban spaces. We tend to have all of our policies and rules organized for adults and not for youth.

And, we tend to organize, urban spaces to isolate youth and also to not invite youth in and I think we need to completely change that model.


Yah. Say more about that, why it matters that we change that model. What would that look like?


Sure. Well, if you think about in the United States, in the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, one of the first things that happened is they closed most of the educational facilities that were in neighborhoods, the recreation facilities.

And, there were no places for young people to go to and to congregate, to hang out. And I think oftentimes, adults are afraid of young people or read stories that make them afraid of young people and not get connected to young people. And so we have young people isolated in their homes or they don’t have places to hang out intergenerationally with adults.

And I think that a huge way to change that is that anywhere where we see adults participating in work, whether it’s at the government level, policy level, in this building, in that building, in this space, we need to invite young people as well. Youth need to be invited to all of the places where adults are, and that’s how they learn and that’s how they grow and that’s how they become adults themselves.

We’ve been isolated from each other for too long, and we are all losing out from that experience.


Yeah, it makes me think about how the youth are the next generation. They’re the ones who in 10, 15, 20 years are gonna make the big decisions that affect everyone, whether the older generation or obviously the next, younger generation.

So it feels like it’s also important for those reasons– civic reasons, just the quality of life reasons. And also discovery of becoming a full human being. It’s like if we cut off spaces from youth and we don’t allow ’em to participate, it’s almost like we don’t allow them to really fully mature.

yeah, really, really wonderful. And how specifically do you want to change the world? What’s your big vision there?


Well, Beth, it gets to your, listeners who are professional writers or people who are aspiring professional writers in writing about the future. In my world, writers are the future bearers.

Especially writers who are writing about the future, they’re the soothsayers, they’re the truth tellers. They’re our activists. They’re imagining our world today. And the smaller the space gets and time gets between their imaginings, your imaginings, and other future writers’ imaginings to the current world, the more that we can create our own world today, that is more reflective of a positive world that future writers are envisioning today.

I don’t know if that makes sense, but, whatever you’re imagining today, can for the future, could possibly happen today, and how soon can we make that happen? Yeah, especially the positive things.

I’m not so interested in the negative, but when we’re thinking about work and we’re thinking about the kind of work you do as, as writers, you are imagining a, a future. And as workers today, oftentimes we’re not working for our communities. We’re maybe working for something that doesn’t make any sense, that has no bearing in making things the world a better place.

And my idea is to make sure that work is really connected and embodied into that idea of: what is the bigger way to make the world a better place in my neighborhood, in my community?

So really looking at what is the purpose of work and why are we here? Why are we doing the work that we’re doing? And how is it benefiting us personally, benefiting our families, benefiting our communities, and benefiting younger people and other generations?


That’s wonderful. And is there a tangible project that you are envisioning that you can talk about, about how you feel like your work can manifest in the world?


Sure. So right now I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing and thinking about lots of different things, youth, needs that youth have.

I’ve been thinking about belonging and I’ve been thinking about cities and when you put those together, a big piece of this is how do we make sure that young people have agency and power in the places where they live, and what does that look like? And right now the United States is the only country besides Somalia that has not passed Convention of the Rights of the Child from the United Nations in 1988.

And that convention has over 50, rights that young people zero to 18 have in their communities. We have not passed that in the United States, but we have another, mechanism to work with the same ideas of Convention on the rights of the Child. And that is the child-friendly city. And so the United Nations has another framework called Child-Friendly Cities where you can take the conventions On the Rights of the Child and implement them in a city framework.

This summer, Houston was the first city in the United States to become a child-friendly city. And they went through a rigorous process to get that designation.

Now the United Nations sets up frameworks for doing work that is, dependable, stable, and creates a sense of, understanding of social norms within different communities.

But there’s also the radical work that fiction writers and future writers do that can connect with the work that stable planning, that the United Nations might do with child-friendly cities or, Convention on the Right to the Child and what might that look like. And that is where the energy of youth connected intergenerationally with people in their cities can quickly change how a city is focused to reflect the needs of young people and children.

And there’s lots of ways that that could happen.


That’s wonderful. So I live in Oakland, California, and I was reading the mayor’s newsletter recently, and I saw that there is some youth projects going on. And I know for example, that there’s a youth poet laureate in Oakland.

I believe Berkeley, the neighboring city also has one and some other arts projects that are happening with the youth. In fact, I’ve also worked with youth filmmakers, teen girls, gender fluid folks, helping them make a movie in one week. And that’s been centered in Oakland and very much grounded in this region.

And they go out into the streets, sometimes doing documentaries, sometimes using the neighborhood of downtown Oakland as their backdrop for their futuristic story or their horror story or their drama or whatever they’re creating. So I know that, in this area that bringing the youth, especially the teens into urban art projects, has been happening.

Is that the kind of project that you’re talking about where, like me, I can come in, I live in Oakland, I can mentor, I can support this next generation of filmmakers. Is that the kind of thing that you are thinking about?


Yes, that’s definitely a big piece of the kind of work I’m looking at.

So, especially when you’re looking at young people working in an arts environment, they’re able to create things out of their own being and their own ideas and have other people look at that art, whether it’s a play or film or, drawings or paintings or, Art, writing and have other people reflect on it.

And a lot of times young people often think that they’re the only ones going through something in turmoil in their own selves, but often it’s collective and that people of all ages are going through what they’re going through and it’s a collective feeling of mourning or trauma or awareness or some sort of feeling that is collective.

And in having that kind of artwork, in a public space or where people can talk about it is pretty powerful. And then you learn about yourself. The young person learns about themselves and all the other people looking at their artwork or talking about their artwork, learn about themselves. So it’s a real quick, deep way to change culture is when you use art to talk about difficult things that come out of a person’s being through the creation of their work, just like your fiction writers. A lot of the good, good fiction comes out of, especially future fiction, comes outta other people’s experiences. And when we think of Octavia Butler and all of her work, that deeply powerful work has impacted and affected people from all of ages and many youth.

Parable of the Sower and Kindred Parable of the Sower is very powerful and has been turned into an opera. And so that kind of thinking is really critical when we’re looking at how do we change the world.

Art is a really quick way of getting everybody connected collectively to do that change.


That’s beautiful. And for you, Are there some more specifics about how you see this change happening, say in the city where you live? you’re in St. Paul right now, right?


I am in St. Paul. I do a lot of traveling. We’ve already done quite a bit of work here in St. Paul with the St. Paul Almanac. And, a group of young people worked intergenerationally with elders in their community and they published a film, a beautiful film in 2018 called “Rondo Beyond the Pavement,” and it’s been seen by thousands of people and young people interviewed elders in the community, about the black community of Rondo and what the community used to be like and how had it changed and everyone learned so much.

I think that the elders were thinking originally that they would impart all of this knowledge to the young people. And at the same time, they were surprised that they built these really strong relationships with the young people that interviewed them. And the young people brought their interviewing expertise, their filming expertise so there was a lot of expertise on both sides. 

And then they were able to bring that power together to build this amazing film and then also strengthen and nurture relationships with each other. So it was a project that I was really, very honored to be a part of. These kinds of art projects across the country could be life-changing for many people of all generations.

I’m also very interested in breaking and othering and in belonging.


Hmm. Can you say more about that? Maybe define the terms as you see them.


Sure. So, it gets to the part of the country that you are in. John A. Powell started the Othering and Belonging Institute at Berkeley University. And he’s done lots of work across decades looking at, how does someone encounter and feel a sense of belonging. And when does that not happen? And he’s identified that othering and breaking are activities that we practice as human beings that limit belonging. And he’s come up with several different strategies to bridge that othering and create belonging.

So, one of the ways that he does this – John Powell at the Othering Belonging Institute talks about bridging. And so bridging is a way that you have conflict and then you continue to step forward. Even though you have conflict, you make the commitment to step forward, conflict moving forward, creating bridges of bridges, trying to find out where there’s commonality, and coming together on that commonality continually doing that work.

And that is a practicing that within one’s family, one within one’s community, within the world, it can be one powerful way of creating a sense of belonging and limiting breaking and othering. I. So that’s another term that’s used at the Othering and Belonging Institute is breaking.

You can have breaking and othering. And So breaking might be that you have a breakup with a friendship or a relationship. Or something goes wrong and there’s a big blowup. It’s okay to recognize that there is breaking, but also recognizing that one is, even with the conflict, one is going to continue to move forward and find ways to bridge that breaking.


So the notion of bridging seems so central to this work, like, let’s make a bridge together, let’s find what’s common between us. And can you say more about othering? How would you define that?


Sure. So othering is when we get into real black-and-white thinking around these people do believe in this and we believe in that.

So there isn’t any possible way we could have a conversation with them or be in the same room with them, or talk religion or politics. Othering has that kind of thinking. But when you’re thinking about bridging othering, you could think about all the 10 other different ways that you might be able to communicate with people and build a bridge that is not connected to the othering.


So basically like even though we may differ, have a different, political, point of view or even different religious point of view or moral point of view, let’s find the things that bring us together. We both care about our children. We both care about, having a nice, safe place to live, having a city that we all can walk around in and feel safe, for example, like bringing those things up.


You described it perfectly. Yes. And it can be hard to want to do that work. But in the end, after one thinks about it for maybe a long time or maybe a short time, my own liberation is, well, connected to your liberation.

And if I am pushing everyone away in my life, and if I am refusing to navigate or work with certain people, I’ve set up boundaries for myself that have their own pain. And my own liberation is bounded in finding connection, finding connection with human beings, even human beings that I think I could never find a connection with.

And there’s a liberation for oneself in doing that because the other person isn’t defining who you are going to interact with and who you are not going to interact with. You get to make that decision- liberating and find that piece of that other human being that you can connect with. I don’t know if that makes sense.


Yeah, absolutely.

I mean, I’ve been listening and watching a lot of, videos about biology, and this one scientist was saying how everything is connected literally, like our cells and your cells and the cells of the tree and the bookshelf and the telephone and my pens. They’re all made up of similar things.

Okay. I’m mixing inanimate and living things, but just even taking all living things, we are all actually made up of parts of each other, and that nothing is really as separate as we seem to think it is. from a biological standpoint, we’re actually super interrelated and not just related, but connected in a way that we mostly don’t recognize or see.

As a storyteller, I’m exploring some of these things and, and playing with the different paradigms and putting it into story so people can experience it. I don’t wanna say too much ’cause it’s a work in progress and I, yeah, we don’t wanna release the energy of that, that quiet cauldron bubbling there.

So, it, it inspires me to hear what you’re saying and to know that people are doing this work in today’s world. It’s so wonderful.

So as we wrap up today, Kimberly, I know there’s so much more we can talk about, and I want to bring you back later as you advance in your own work and how you’re bringing your PhD into the world, into projects.

But, is there anything that you would like to say as we end today, in our conversation?


Beth, you just described beautifully how I see this work, because we’re so interrelated, and also, like you say, especially with the animals and plants around us and trees, I think all of us are interrelated in ways that we can’t even conceive of at this moment, but we’ll know more about in the decades to come.

The other thing one more item that I’d like to start people thinking about, and that is: what do you really want your environment to look like? You know, if you could dream up your work, your daily life, and your daily work and your daily city or your daily environment, wherever you are, what would it look like and how could we create that?

And how does your fiction writing reflect your dreams for your daily life today and Your dreams for your daily environment, you know, physical environment?

They’re interrelated. And also that the future and the past and the current life is always speaking to each other. It’s always speaking to each other.

The past is coming up in all sorts of ways and how we interact with the world, our language, and the foods we eat and how we interact with people that we learn from being with our parents and grandparents, and also how we’re dealing with the future is reflected in our children and grandchildren and also in the future writing that your readers and writers and listeners and you are doing, so. We’re more connected than we ever imagined.


Oh, that’s so wonderful. Thank you so much, Kimberly. And everyone, we’ll be putting in the notes for the show, information about your movie about the Rondo, about the movie that you helped create, also I would like to get the information on the convention of the rights of the child from the UN and Child-Friendly City. I think those are great resources.

So thank you so much, Kimberly. I really, really appreciate that you are here with us today. And I hope everyone listening, take Kimberly’s prompt and, share with us. Share, write me. 

Us here at How to Write the, and tell us what is your vision for how you want your environment to be and how can you put that into your story.

So that’s it. Thank you so much, everyone.


Bye. Thank you. Thank you.

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Beth Barany teaches science fiction and fantasy novelists how to write, edit, and publish their books as a coach, teacher, consultant, and developmental editor. She’s an award-winning fantasy and science fiction novelist and runs the podcast, “How To Write The Future.”

Learn more about Beth Barany at these sites: 

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