Dr. David Fakunle

Storyteller, Public Health Advocate, and Professor
A man holding a staff.

Photo credit: Schaun Champion

Jo Reed:  From the National Endowment for the Arts, this is Art Works.  I’m Josephine Reed.

Dr. David Fakunle:   Creativity is our health, it is how we get to express ourselves. I say the conversations that we have by ourselves, the thoughts that we have by ourselves. Sometimes the only way we can explain this thing called life is to sing, to dance, to paint, to sculpt, to act. But it shares this is what this is like for me, this thing called life, and the ultimate denominator is we all are doing that. We're all navigating this thing called life.  So, it goes both ways. We want health people to use arts and culture, we want arts and culture people to know how much they contribute to health, and being intentional about that. It's always there, it's about bringing it out into the open, into the forefront.

Jo Reed:  That is Dr. David Fukunle a man who wears many hats but he is first and foremost a storyteller who received a PhD from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where he now a faculty member. He’s also an assistant professor at Morgan State University in the School of Community Health and Policy, and serves as adjunct assistant professor at the University of Florida Center for Arts and Medicine.  David is also the president of the National Association of Black Storytellers and serves as executive director of Womb Work Productions a social change performing arts company in Baltimore with a focus on kids. As I said, many hats—but all of his work explores the healing power of storytelling and its centrality to public health. 

Dr. David Fakunle:  I look to demonstrate the utility of storytelling, and really arts and culture overall, within the health context.  For me that shows up as research, that shows up as practice, that shows up as education, that shows up as advocacy, that shows up as activism.  Those would be, I think, the main five.  And, again, it's about showing that arts and culture are already present in our health.  We are all using some form of creative energy, and it does have a correlation and sometimes causation with our health and wellbeing.  What if we do that with more intentionality?  What if we do that with more emphasis?  What if we do that with more resources?  And that is the overall aim and goals of my work as a “mercenary for change,” which is what I call myself, is to just show that these readily accessible tools, these readily accessible skills, can be cultivated in a way that is beneficial for individuals, families, communities, societies, and it relies above all else on our humanity, something that we already possess.  So it's showing to me the ultimate human-centered design in a lot of ways that I think recent time has kind of shown are very important when it comes to having what we consider a quality life.

Jo Reed:  Art was really central to you when you were growing up, wasn't it?  Your mother is an artist, she's a singer, a beautiful singer. 

Dr. David Fakunle:  I come from a family where arts and culture has always been a foundation for who we are and how we express ourselves, and that's extended to African drumming, certainly storytelling like I mentioned before, theater, dance, we've always needed to express ourselves creatively.  So the idea of all of that being connected to how we felt as individuals, as family, as community, makes a lot of sense now and I think speaks a lot to, again, how much we valued arts and culture as a part of our overall wellbeing.

Jo Reed:  Well one institution that I do want to mention, which you're now an executive director of, is WombWork. 

Dr. David Fakunle:  Yep.

Jo Reed:  And that is a social change performing arts company that focuses a lot on kids, and you went there as a boy.

Dr. David Fakunle:  14 years old, that's when it started.  that was really the institution that laid the groundwork for how arts and culture can be used for health because for 25 plus years WombWork has used performing arts, particularly theater, to tell the story of circumstances, issues in the neighborhood.  So based out of Baltimore, we've talked about the issues in West Baltimore, we've talked about issues in the East Baltimore, we've talked about issues in Baltimore overall, the state of Maryland, the United States of America, the entire world.  And the mantra, the model that you can find on WombWork’s website is to heal and empower communities-- youth, families, and community heal.  You can't spell health without heal, it's right there, but we never put two and two together until the time was right to put two and two together.  So, again, it continues to serve as a living example that creativity can be intentionally applied to health, whether it comes in the form of communication-- and we have talked about some very serious health topics, yeah, very serious health topics, HIV, AIDS, gang violence, inter-partner violence, sexual abuse, child sexual abuse.  Again, stuff that goes there where it's not just about bringing awareness to the public health issue-- and in most cases we didn't need to bring awareness, people know these things exist-- but there's never been a comfortable space where people can explore those health issues.   And, you know, we all have so many memories of us being on stage where the expression of these stories-- many of which were based on truth, right, we were telling our own stories even as teenagers, as young people, telling our stories of the health circumstances that we experienced in real time in Baltimore City-- being able to express that was healing in itself, putting the script together, being on stage rehearsing, all part of the healing process, focusing those stories not just on the health challenge but what we as young people, as a community, could do about it.  That's what was demonstrated even back then, the transformative power of creativity to address individual, familial, community health.  And now that there is, I think, the explicit intentionality-- like we're really calling out the fact that WombWork in particular is a public health organization as much as it's an arts and culture organization-- has made I think a big difference in the support that the organization has gained, and really the opportunities to really dive into what other aspects of health can we start to affect and bring impact to with arts and culture being the foundation?

Jo Reed:  I'm going to come back to health, and health in the community, but I want to go to  storytelling.  And I really would like you to tell us how that came into your life, because it's a very specific avenue   

Dr. David Fakunle:  It goes back to the National Great Blacks and Wax Museum, and it was a celebration for the unveiling of Colin Powell's statue.  So Colin Powell and his wife came to Baltimore for the unveiling.  I actually had the chance to read a poem to Colin Powell and his wife.  There was a celebration for this momentous accomplishment, and during this celebration a lot of the children of the museum, you know, children of staff, children in the neighborhood who frequented the museum, just started to be creative, right?  They would sing, they would dance, they just kind of did whatever talent came to mind.  And I admit, out of envy, I decided that I wanted to put myself front and center, so for whatever reason, I told a story, you know, I have other talents, but for whatever reason in that moment I decided to tell a story, and I told the story of the yellow ribbon, and it was a hit most of all with Mary Carter Smith.  And Mary Carter Smith was a world-renowned griot, a Black storyteller, who had a radio show for 25 years at WEAA.  Again, this is very cosmic, very, very cosmic.  And she knew, like she knew that I got that story from her, like  where else would a little boy know the story of the yellow ribbon if not for her radio show?  So she was impressed by my rendition, she mentioned me on her radio show, which my mother, my sister, and I listened to Saturday mornings, 10 to 11:00 AM.  And she eventually reached out to my family and asked if I could come to WEAA and be on her radio show to read stories.  And eventually those reading stories turned into telling stories, and I still remember my first performance with Mary Carter Smith at the top of the World Trade Center in downtown Baltimore, I was 10 years old.  So being able to do those stories with, again, a world-renowned artist, a world-renowned storyteller, was immense, and the learning that I absorbed from her, not always direct teaching, just being in her presence, being in her house which was its own museum of artifacts and just mementos of her incredible life, I mean, please look up Mary Carter Smith if you haven't, she was an incredible woman.  And it was above all else the love that she showed me, she became a grandmother figure in my life and was the driving force for me really getting into Black storytelling. It’s been such a wild ride, but I'm so grateful for it.

Jo Reed:  Before we go to health--

Dr. David Fakunle:  Yes. 

Jo Reed:  --will you tell me a story?

Dr. David Fakunle:  Absolutely, absolutely.  I will tell the story that usually serves as my introduction to audiences, and I tell this story because it really captures the essence of what I do, it captures the essence of really what this journey is all about.  It's called “The Precious Stone.”

 There was once an elder woman, and every day this elder woman would walk through the forest.  She would take in the sights, the sounds, the taste, the touch, the smell, all the ambiance of the forest.  And she did it every day because for her the forest was refuge, it was sanctuary, it was connection to the divine, it was peace, it was everything for her.  On this particular pilgrimage, the elder woman came across a stone.  Now, you can imagine as an elder woman, she's seen a bunch of stones, we can talk big ones, small ones, round ones, jagged ones, smooth ones, shiny ones, dull ones, on and on and on and on and on.  So the elder woman knew there was something special about this stone.  So what'd she do?  She picked the stone up, she put it in her pouch, and she continued on her pilgrimage through the forest.  As she was continuing that walk, she came across a young man, and the young man was coming in the opposite direction.  It started as a shadow, but then she was able to see the face, she was able to see the eyes, she was able to see everything.  And with her eyes, she could tell that that young man had been dealing with some stuff.  She could see the hunger, she could see the thirst, she could see the tiredness, she could see the pain, she could see that all.  When the young man finally approached the elder woman, he practically got on his knees and begged her, ma'am, do you have anything that I can eat?  Do you have anything that I can drink?  Do you have a place where I can lay my head?  Can you tend to my wounds?  Ma'am, can you help me please?  It wasn't long until that young man's eyes caught gaze of the precious stone, and when they did, that young man was no longer thinking about his hunger, he was no longer thinking about his thirst, he was no longer thinking about his tiredness, his exhaustion, his pain.  There was only one thing on his mind.  And so he asked the elder woman, ma'am, may I have that stone in your pouch?  And without any hesitation, as if she didn't take a single thought at the request, and she never said a word, she took that stone out of her pouch, she handed it to the young man, and she kept walking.  So the young man is holding this stone in his hands.  The elder woman is continuing on her pilgrimage.  The young man is looking at this stone, and he hasn't taken his eyes off of for a second because he's thinking about never being hungry again because of this stone, never being tired again because of this stone, never being thirsty again, no one ever laying another finger on him.  All the things he wanted, he dreamed of, he desired, he saw the stone as an answer to all of that.  But eventually he looked up.  It was as if he was reminded that he was in the forest.  He felt the wind, he heard the birds, he saw the trees, he felt the ground beneath his feet, he smelled the fragrance of the flowers, he even found a berry to taste.  And after a while, the young man turned around, and he caught up with the elder woman who was still walking, still continuing her pilgrimage.  And when he caught up with her, this is what he said, ma'am, I want to give this stone back to you because I want whatever it is inside of you that allowed you to give me this stone so freely. 

So I tell that story, The Precious Stone, because the whole point of this life, this  existence to me, is that we have the capacity, whatever that capacity is, we have the capacity to give of our precious stones, and those are the qualities of our humanity.  That may show up in patience as you have shown me today, patience that shows up in diligence, right, to get this set up, it shows up in persistence, same thing, right?  It shows up in excellence.  It shows up in peace.  It shows up in forbearance.  There's so many manifestations of the ultimate virtue, the ultimate quality of our humanity, love.  And what this story encourages us to do as the elder woman did is whenever you have that opportunity to show love, to give love, to exude love, do it.  That's the precious stone.  That is what every other human being fundamentally wants on this earth.  Yes, we need food, clothing, and shelter-- Maslow's hierarchy of needs, shout out Maslow-- but ultimately we want love because we are humans, we need each other, and the best way that we exude that connection with each other is by loving each other.  And I continue to learn that love shows up in so many different ways, right?  You don't necessarily have to love everybody the same way, you shouldn't love everybody the same way, but you should love them.  And tying it all together, when we create space for people to share their truth, good, bad, ugly, beautiful, indifferent, confusing, you know, clarifying everything in between, there are very few ways better to love a person than to give them space to share their truth.  

Jo Reed:  Well, let's take that turn to health now.  Okay.  You specifically decided to train in social science research and public health research.  That was intentional.

Dr. David Fakunle:  Yeah. 

Jo Reed:  So tell me what made you decide to embrace that as well as your artistry?

Dr. David Fakunle:  Ooh.  Well, I'll say that I didn't choose public health, public health chose me, as cliche as that may be, but it's true.  There was a time after I graduated with my bachelor's where I knew I wanted to get into research.  I had my research interests, which really was a reflection of my life, born and raised in East Baltimore.  You can look up stats on Baltimore, you can look up the story of Baltimore, it has its challenges, no doubt about it, and I lived in a part of Baltimore that had its challenges as well.  And for a young Black person like me it could have been very easy, again, the razor's edge that many of us live on, it could have been very easy for me to fall on another side of that razor's edge where it could have been, unfortunately, as it is for so many people who look like me, it can be substance use disorder or any other type of manifestation of trauma, it can be incarceration, or it can be death, and there have been people who I grew up in my neighborhood for whom that was their fate.  And I looked at my life where I had the opportunities to maximize my educational capabilities, maximize my creative capabilities, maximize my athletic capabilities, just opportunity after opportunity after opportunity, and I saw how it turned out for me, how it turned out for my sister, and I was always struck with the question, why?  Why me?  Why us?  What made the difference?  So for me I carried that fundamental question about my own life to the research world.  There's got to be something about this story that has a generalizability to other circumstances when it came to particularly young Black men, me.  That question could have been answered through so many different fields, I learned, and at that time in my life I didn't need more options, I needed an answer.  So it wasn't until I connected with a faculty member at Johns Hopkins in the Bloomberg School of Public Health where I was told, you know, not you could, you need to, you need to do public health.  And it was specifically, you need to get a PhD in public health, and technically, because I've always got to give credence to the truth, a master's in social work.  I got one of them, the PhD in public health.  And what I quickly found out is that public health was the perfect space for me because it's everything.  Everything Is related to our health and wellbeing.  Buildings, right, buildings are related to our health and wellbeing.  Nature is related to our health and wellbeing.  Arts and culture is related to our health and wellbeing.  Yes, race is related to health and wellbeing.  Gender is related.  Everything is related to health and wellbeing. And it gives you, again, that carte blanche, that permission to explore everything, anything and everything, as long as you can make the connection to health it's fair game, and public health really suited me well from an intellectual standpoint to have that flexibility and almost kind of nebulous space, like I said, it's all over the place.

Jo Reed:  That makes sense—but let’s talk specifically about you intentionally bringing arts and culture to public health.

Dr. David Fakunle:  Now, arts and culture that part, serendipity shows up once again.  My first year of completing my PhD I took a class called Gaps in Opportunities in Public Mental Health.  I was in the mental health department at Hopkins, and this class, unlike all the others, was a practicum so it was about doing something as opposed to learning something, not just learning and just listening but doing.  And my instructor in that class found out I was a storyteller, and what she asked me to do for the practicum was go to a recovery center in West Baltimore that she was connected with, teach the clients storytelling.  I'm going to be honest, I was a little apprehensive, not because I didn't believe in storytelling, but the mindset that I brought to a place like Hopkins-- best probably health school in the world, they'll tell you, oh, they'll tell you-- was in order to survive, I wasn't even thinking about thriving, in order to survive getting this PhD from, again, the best public health school in the world I've got to be 100 percent focused on everything they're telling me that I need to do, right, epidemiology, biostatistics, research.  Research, that's your path, right, that's your journey.  But this instructor was adamant and, again, it's the instructor giving me my grade, so I'm like, okay, I'm going to do what the instructor asked me to do.

And so I went to this recovery center with my mother, a storyteller as well, I went with my aunt who is also a storyteller.  She may not be a professional storyteller in the sense that my mother and I are, but she is a professional-level storyteller, and what makes her presence so profound was she's been in recovery from substance use disorder my entire life.  Again, the cosmic nature of David's story, I grew up in the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous, and I say that proudly because in support of my aunt's recovery, my mother, my sister, and I would go to her NA meetings to support her.  Now, granted, probably shouldn't have been in those meetings with all the cursing that was happening, there were things I probably shouldn't have heard just given my age, but the wisdom that was passed down, whether those women-- and it was women-- whether those women realized it or not, they were giving me so many lessons about life, real life, <laughs> right? Those proverbs, those lessons that you only learn through living, and even at eight, nine, ten years old, I was absorbing them, right? I may not have fully understood them at that time, again, children understand what they understand at that age, but again, the seeds that were planted later on. So, my mother, my aunt, and I, we went to this recovery center, we met with the clinical director, the executive director. We made it clear this is not a research project. This is just to bring storytelling to people who should have the power to tell their story. This is being juxtaposed with what I'm learning at Hopkins, in other classes. I was on a training grant for drug epidemiology, so we were talking drugs all the time, “What's the relationship between this location, or that aspect, and the availability of substances, the use of those substances?” I'm thinking to myself “Is there anybody in this room who's ever used any of these substances? That knows what that experience is like?” Because I know people who <laughs> had those experiences. I'll bring my aunt <laughs> in a minute to tell her story. Even the clients at this particular recovery center, recovery and community, they were never going to be at the table where I was. But I knew from, again, the lessons I learned as a child, and even when I started to learn from them in the immediacy, their wisdom and their knowledge deserves a place at this table. Even more than that, it's necessary.  It's not a charity case. In order for us to best understand these health issues that NIH is giving them funding to train me to learn how to do, <laughs> you need them at the table. They need to be a part of this story. So, I looked at it from that standpoint, to equip people to be better advocates for their health. It became a space where the storytelling was the healing, right? It wasn't about the training, it was just creating space for people to tell their story, and to listen to each other's narratives, to find those opportunities where the lessons and the experiences could serve as a reminder of who everyone really was. Dealing with substance use disorder, being around people who have dealt with substance use disorder, you hear everything but who they are, a lot of times. Even in the rooms in recovery, there'll be a lot of times where the narrative focuses on the actions and behaviors related to the addiction, understandably so. That is part of the story. So, there’s no sugar coating or hiding the fact that you are in this space because of a health challenge that you're dealing with. That doesn't mean that's the entirety of the story. And the reference point, my aunt. My aunt was more than someone who was in recovery for 30 plus years at this point. There's more to her than that, and that was what I wanted people to understand about themselves. Even me, if I had to put the researcher hat on one day, if I had to put on the professor hat one day, I wanted whoever I work with to know that all of you are way more than just your age, your race, your sex, your gender, and the fact that you use substances. There's more to you than that. But in the research, that's how many of you would just show up. That's it. A compilation of statistics. Statistics don't make up humanity, <laughs> I'm sorry. So, for me, creating that space where people could have their humanity reaffirmed, in conjunction with all the other healing that was happening in the space, we weren’t the only piece, it was part of the overall puzzle, a part of the overall process of healing. You got to change how you think, you got to change your behaviors, of course. You got to change how you feel too, because those feelings will find their way into their thoughts, as well as find their way into the behavior. As we went through this iterative process, it started off almost like a kind of formal curriculum, we soon threw that away. It doesn't work in this space. It just had to be a fluid, flexible space where whoever showed up, whether it was a few people or over a dozen people, could feel comfortable telling their stories. What made it impactful was my mother and I were telling our stories. We have folk tales from the traditions that we brought to serve as catalysts for discussion, catalysts for people to tell their stories, characters to relate to, to find those connections between the narrative that we're presenting and their own narrative. But then sometimes we just had to tell our truth, what was going on that day for us. And I hold a special place in my heart for them because they were as much the emotional support that I needed to finish my PhD as anybody.

Jo Reed: Well, you brought that back, their wisdom, their stories, back into the School of Public Health, with-- tell me if I'm wrong, but what I'm thinking-- and with that idea of making intentional storytelling. That is the piece that you brought back to the School of Public Health.

Dr. David Fakunle: Yeah.

Jo Reed: Is that true?

Dr. David Fakunle: Yeah, well, again, serendipity, <laughs> and just having an opportunity to try things. I was just looking to get a good grade <laughs> in the class. That's all I was looking for at that time. But then the experience of actually doing it opened me up to other possibilities. It really was a revelation, and I use that word very intentionally, because the way that I felt, and the impact that we were having in such a short amount of time, we have public health projects all the time that understandably take a lot of development, a lot of foundation building in order for it to have the impact that it’s looking to have. This was happening just like that, and it was happening with low resources, low tech, it's mobile. All these things that we know can be beneficial to public health, especially when it's dire, I'm demonstrating it and I just started here, <laughter> right? I just started at Hopkins, and I found this pathway that just made all the sense in the world.

Jo Reed:  Okay, so you have this great idea…and it is a great idea; but then it needs to grow within an institution…and that can be tricky.

Dr. David Fakunle: What allowed the idea to grow and to be cultivated was the support that I got from faculty. I remember one of the faculty in my Department of Mental Health who I connected with and told the story, right? To me, as much as they may believe in the storytelling, and there certainly was that, they believed in me, and they were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt to say “Okay, let me hear what you're talking about. Let me see what you're talking about.” I quickly realized that's the opening that I needed. If I could bring them into the space, they'd understand. Even for this particular professor, tenured, highly regarded, has all the accolades, they were willing to accept the data of the experience. I didn't have to give them a paper, I didn't have to show them a formula. I said “Come into this space and you'll understand everything I'm trying to tell you,” and they did. So, even that in itself was, again, confirmation that okay, I get the importance of quantitative data, I get the importance of being able to show it in an empirical sense, but sometimes you just need to be there, and that be all the confirmation and validity that you need. So, the momentum grew, the support grew, so when I did graduate from Hopkins in 2018, literally the next week, after I walked across the stage and got my <laughs> PhD, I was teaching a class on storytelling in the Mental Health Department. Because I also recognized that storytelling had a value when it came to the dissemination of public health research. Having to be in workshops, having to be at seminars, having to be at keynotes, a lot of those professors, as brilliant as they are and were with their science, sucked. And I say it, “Sucked,” in telling the story. So, no wonder people were falling asleep, <laughs> or on their phones trying to get out of there, <laughs> myself included, and thinking to myself “All this time, and energy, and brilliance that's ultimately being wasted because no one's listening.” It's not resonating. So, if you incorporate just some of the basic elements of storytelling, which I grew up with, yeah, people would be a lot better. Again, a lot of the faculty and staff in the Mental Health Department supported that idea. They saw that vision and gave me the space to try, and I think all I was looking for was just the opportunity to try. If I failed, I failed, but at least I gave it a try. The story goes, it was successful, <laughter> very successful. So, again, my intuition and the skills that I brought as a storyteller, and honestly, when I say the PhD in storytelling that I brought to Hopkins is really what allowed me to find his marriage, to find this symbiotic relationship of the importance of creativity and obviously the necessity of health, and seeing that that whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Sometimes the only way we can explain this thing called life is to sing, to dance, to paint, to sculpt, to act. But it shares this is what this is like for me, this thing called life, and the ultimate denominator is we all are doing that. We're all navigating this thing called life.  So, it goes both ways. We want health people to use arts and culture, we want arts and culture people to know how much they contribute to health, and being intentional about that. You don't even need six degrees of separation to make that connection to health. It's always there, it's about bringing it out into the open, into the forefront.

Jo Reed:  The Chair of the Arts Endowment, Maria Rosario Jackson advances the concept of artful lives. So I ask you: when you think about the idea of an artful life, what five or six words come to mind?

Dr. David Fakunle: First and foremost, shout out to Maria Rosario Jackson. Wow, I'm so glad she's in charge. <laughter> I had the chance to write a white paper with her through the University of Florida, “Creating Healthy Communities.” So, just to see where our paths have gone now, it's like “Yeah!” So, an artful life? Ooh, the five, six words. The five words that I will use are the five words that I designated as the existential determinants of health. What I mean by that is we understand many of our social determinants of health, race make-- again, race plays a factor, and location plays a factor, socio-economic status plays a factor. All those things play a factor in our health and well-being. What's above that? What are those true determinants that even despite all those social determinants, we can find across humanity, whether in Baltimore, Maryland, whether halfway across the world, it’s consistent? An artful life, for me, is one where our creativity allows us to maximize our acknowledgement of ourselves and each other. It allows us to show appreciation for ourselves and each other. It allows us to respect ourselves and each other. It allows us to have understanding of ourselves and each other. You probably know what the last one is, it allows us to love ourselves and each other. So, to me, those existential determinants of health are elevated and strengthened when we are living an artful and creative life.

Jo Reed:   That was Dr David Fakunle—among his many affiliations, he is on faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; he’s also an assistant professor at Morgan State University in the School of Community Health and Policy, and serves as adjunct assistant professor at the University of Florida Center for Arts and Medicine.  David is also the president of the National Association of Black Storytellers and serves as executive director of Womb Works productions as well as the founder and CEO of DiscoverME/RecoverME. Additionally, he is the chair of the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Committee.  I asked if he ever sleeps. He says he naps often.

We recorded this interview at WEAA at Morgan State University the radio home of  Mary Carter Smith for 25 years. Many thanks for their kindness and generosity. You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Follow us wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a rating on Apple. I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

Today's podcast is a conversation with Dr. David Fakunle, who uses the art of storytelling to promote public health by listening, understanding, and addressing the personal, social, and structural factors that contribute to health disparities. He powerfully combines science with art and is transforming discussions about the role of storytelling in healing. Fakunle shares his personal story of growing up in a family deeply rooted in the arts, especially music and storytelling. His childhood was marked by significant cultural influences, such as his experiences at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore and his memorable encounter with renowned griot, Mary Carter Smith, who with 2019 National Heritage Fellow Linda Goss co-founded the Association of  Black Storytellers.  Fakunle took these influences to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where he realized the deeper implications about the potential of storytelling in the realm of public health. Fakunle's innovative ideas were supported by the faculty, and upon graduation, he began teaching storytelling in the Mental Health Department at Hopkins, emphasizing the importance of effectively communicating scientific research through engaging narratives. Fakunle argues that the profound benefits of storytelling in health communication come from its ability to resonate with audiences but more importantly,  authentic narratives and voices need to be central in discussions about health challenges

Fakunle also discusses his many years of work at WombWork Productions (where he is now executive director). WombWork is a social change performing arts company, which, under his leadership, shifted its focus from implicit to explicit public health impact, tackling a range of serious topics such as HIV, gang violence, and child sexual abuse through art. Fakunle’s passionate belief that the creative process serves as a crucial part of the healing process is the thread that moves through all his work.

Let us know what you think about Art Works—email us at artworkspod@arts.gov. And follow us on Apple Podcasts.