For more than a decade, her engagement with Humanity in Action has greatly informed Marissa Schneiderman’s understanding of her career and its purpose. The projects she has worked on through HIA have all precipitated important changes in her life; and, while the overarching meaning of those journeys wasn’t always clear at the time, she now sees them as a process of uncovering what is hidden, of understanding how people are shaped by the stories they tell.
When Marissa was selected to participate in the 2009 Copenhagen Fellowship, she was planning to study law upon her return to the United States. The Fellowship was eye-opening for Marissa for a number of reasons:
“It was the first time I had ever gone abroad explicitly to examine and engage with a socio-political structure that was not my own.
Marissa notes: “While Denmark, like all nations, has its struggles, I witnessed how people can truly flourish when they don’t have to worry about the cost of healthcare or education. I was also able to see how a country, often touted as the ‘happiest nation’ in the world, was struggling to support individuals who didn’t fit into the Danish narrative.”
“Through all of my experiences with Humanity in Action, as I sought to understand the realities of socio-economic structures, on-the-ground grassroots organizing and eventually, storytelling and history, I have come to understand the power of making individual voices visible. For me, in what feels like a post-truth reality, there is a utopia in helping people connect with each other’s humanity.”
After working at a law firm and realizing that it was not the right path for her, Marissa turned to Humanity in Action and took part in the Grassroots & Community Engagement Fellowship in San Francisco. She worked at the Center for Young Women’s Development and City Slicker Farms where she saw first-hand the work and dedication required to run a non-profit. Through this Fellowship, Marissa got to meet and learn from Bay area leaders working in supporting marginalized communities, philanthropy, environmental justice and social entrepreneurship. Eager to give back to Humanity in Action, Marissa decided to co-chair the Humanity in Action Senior Fellows Appeal from 2009-2011.
Many years later Humanity in Action again played a pivotal role in her life. During the Humanity in Action 2015 International Fall Conference on “Arts and Activism,” she participated in a workshop with prominent storytelling non-profit, The Moth. Receiving coaching from world-class storytellers – and soon sharing a deeply personal story in front of a group of changemakers – was an ah-ha moment for her.
Following the conference, Michelle Shofet (2011 Warsaw Fellowship) and Marissa applied for a Humanity in Action grant to create their dream project. They spent a month in Poland, documenting and collecting oral histories in spaces that directly contradicted the narrative that all Jewish life is absent in Poland. The fieldwork resulted in a longitudinal, multi-media project ZYD: An Index of Encounters. Marissa’s mission for the project was to re-examine what it means to be “out” – be it in regards to sexuality, gender, religion, or class. The privilege and opportunity to work on a creative project centering around Poland ignited her to make radio as an expression of all of the hidden stories and multifaceted identities shaped by so many of the social, economic, gendered structures of society.
Marissa was recently nominated for a Peabody Award for her work on Rachel Maddow’s Bag Man, a story about shameless bribery and corruption in the White House 45 years ago (and unfortunately all too familiar today), and continues to work on stories which she hopes will illuminate important truths for our time.
Utilizing the skills she gained during her time as a student at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies, Marissa now works professionally in radio and podcasting. By recording people’s stories and shaping narratives that resonate with listeners, she hopes to foster understanding and connection across diverse communities.
Follow Marissa’s work here.