Highlighting women that are making a social difference during Women’s History Month: Melissa C. Potter
Women’s History Month is a very important month, during this month, it’s not just important to highlight historical women that have made a difference, but also women that are emerging to tell stories that are important to liberate the marginalized in society. Melissa C. Potter is doing this with style and innovation.
Melissa C. Potter is Head of Social Impact and Communications at Odyssey Impact & Transform Films. Melissa engages communities across the nation with high profile documentaries — creating. dialogue around today’s most pressing social justice issues including poverty, gun violence, mass incarceration, racial justice, intolerance and hate crimes. Her work has served as the catalyst for national campaigns, as well as the formation of prison ministries, community coalitions and support programs. Melissa believes that diverse storytelling can inspire empathy, awareness and action nationwide.
Please see interview below:
Yolanda Gibson: What does Odyssey Impact aim to do?
Melissa C. Potter: Odyssey Impact believes in the power of stories to inspire social justice changemakers. We use multimedia content and documentary films primarily to amplify and lift up these stories and to raise audience awareness of an issue.
Y.G: What inspired you to choose a career path in social impact/social justice?
M.P: I organically became one of the earliest adopters of what is now known as social impact entertainment. With a background in the music industry, I saw synergy between the issues most important to the artists that I represented and our communities. By utilizing their voice through their talent and platforms, it was a seamless transition to align entertainers with causes near and dear to their hearts. As an undergraduate student at Northeastern University, in their five-year cooperative education program, I utilized my co-op learning experiences, 6 months out of every year, to work. in the entertainment business. I then spent the remaining half of the year obtaining a degree in Sociology. The mutual benefits of studying human nature and societal shifts coupled with pop culture and its ability to create change and shift public opinion, inspired my career path.
Y.G: What is your methodology in choosing the projects that you work on (Is it the popularity of the project or the political relationship that the issue currently has with society at that point in time?
M.P: I think that one can inform the other. We look for compelling stories above all. Strong characters faced with extraordinary circumstances that the audience roots for them to overcome. By putting a human face to the issue, we are able to change the narrative beyond talking points. It may take a village, but in order to create change, you must get to know your neighbor.
I’m particularly proud of our impact campaigns with a focus on criminal justice reform. With past experiences including senior roles with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU, I saw first-hand how unfair sentencing practices and the targeting of communities of color can negatively impact generations. By exposing audiences, faith and secular, to these issues that may or may not impact their day-to-day, we have an opportunity to connect hearts and minds with the realities of criminal law reform.
Y.G: How does it feel to work on such heavy. subjects all the time, and how do you keep moving forward when these issues continue to appear to get worse in society? Do you continuously feel like you are making a difference?
M.P: Honestly, it isn’t easy. I am an empath who naturally takes on the weight of those in my sphere. However, I am inspired when I see our partners and the work that our collective outreach is able to accomplish to raise awareness, change attitudes and drive action. Playing a small role in the years of effort put forth by Beverly Walker for her husband Baron Walker’s release from prison was one of the highlights of my career. Being able to utilize our network of changemakers, connecting with faith leaders and congregations and creating a groundswell of attention to his case through social media, I could see in real time the impact of our work.
Y.G: Please speak about one of your projects that you felt had the greatest impact on society? Why do you feel like this project had this impact? What change did you see after this project was released?
Each of our projects are unique and inspiring. With Chicago so frequently named in media excerpts, it was my surprise that the Milwaukee zip code 53206 incarcerated 60% of Black men by the age of 30. What makes Odyssey unique, is our outreach to faith communities and with the MILWAUKEE 53206 social impact campaign, we held over 58% of screenings at faith-based community and educational institutions. The national platform provided by the film took what many would deem as a local problem and illuminated the need for system change across the nation. Through the eyes of our film’s subjects, we were able to see the toll that an incarcerated family member can have on a family as a unit.
Though denied parole 6 times, Baron Walker, featured with his family in the film, gained exposure to his plight through our screening efforts and was released from prison. I get goosebumps when I hear Baron ask, “what more does the state of Wisconsin need for me to prove that I’m not a menace to society?” in a recorded call from prison. I had the honor of getting to know him and his beautiful family and hope that many other deserving families can once again reunite.
Y.G: What upcoming projects/films are you promoting, or currently working on?
M.P: We’re currently working with the incredible filmmaker Rudy Valdez, on the social impact campaign for his film, “The Sentence,” an HBO documentary. This film centers the experience of Rudy’s sister Cindy Shank, a mother of three who served a 15-year sentence for her tangential involvement in a Michigan drug ring years earlier. We are collaborating with organizations such as Our Children, Movement for Family Power and Families Against Mandatory Minimums to screen the film and collaborate on change-oriented initiatives.
I’m also proud to Executive Produce with Nick Stuart and Carol Anne Dolan, the short documentary, “Run For His Life”. Part of a club that no child asks to join: being the child of an incarcerated parent, Pete Monsanto, his family and his incarcerated father show strength as they navigate a ‘new normal’ while surviving and thriving. Pete runs the New York City Marathon in honor of his father, who runs with him in spirit around his prison. This film powerfully shows faith and love between the bars.
Melissa’s work speaks for it’s self, with so many informative, influential and successful projects that have changed lives, it’s a must that we support her and her endeavors each and every time, because when she produces a project , families and friends of those that have been done unjustly get to possibly see their loved ones again.
And that’s a big deal.