5 Things You Need to Know About...Ranya Forgotson O’Connor (’14) Marketing
Ranya Forgotson O’Connor (’14 Marketing) serves as director of The Curbside Chronicle at the Homeless Alliance, a magazine that employs homeless and at-risk individuals in Oklahoma City, helping them earn a dignified income and transition into housing and on to further employment opportunities. In addition to covering the local OKC scene, The Curbside Chronicle also includes articles written by those experiencing homelessness and about issues of poverty in our local community.
The Curbside Chronicle has a two-fold mission. In addition to providing a voice through media to the homeless and low-income populations in the metro area, the publication provides a tangible product for those communities to sell. What was the motivation behind this unique approach?
It really bothered me that there were people experiencing homelessness in our community who felt as if panhandling was their only option. Many of these individuals have barriers to traditional employment. And I believe people deserve opportunities that meet them where they are. We wanted to provide individuals with an opportunity to earn money in a more dignified way, despite any barriers they might be facing.
As a magazine, we create a monthly product for our vendors to sell. A product where our vendors share their stories and talents with readers. A product that can also be a platform for voices that often go unheard in society. It’s a sales job, but it’s also an advocacy job where our vendors can help open people’s eyes to a situation they might not understand and break down negative stereotypes surrounding homelessness.
In your experience, what’s the greatest gain for vendors selling Curbside? Is it connection to the community? Increased self-esteem?
My favorite part of Curbside is the social role we play in the community. Every time a vendor sells a magazine to a customer, that’s an interaction. An interaction that wouldn’t likely take place without Curbside existing in our community. The norm in society is to ignore people experiencing homelessness. It can be uncomfortable and, even if we want to interact, we often don’t know what to say to start a conversation. Curbside helps facilitate interaction in a comfortable environment for both parties involved.
Homelessness is often very socially isolating, which takes a toll on a person. But our vendors deserve to be seen. They deserve to be acknowledged. And Curbside gives the community at large an avenue to do just that. And I think people love that about Curbside because all along they’ve wanted a way to interact. They’ve wanted a way to break down the isolating wall that exists and just be able to talk to someone who they normally wouldn’t get the chance to talk to. And only through meaningful interaction like this, can we break down negative stereotypes about homelessness and humanize the issue. And with greater understanding and compassion for the issue, comes greater action and ability to end it.
You studied marketing at the University of Oklahoma. What led you to deciding The Curbside Chronicle was where you wanted to focus your post-collegiate efforts?
Since we started Curbside my junior year of college, it had the opportunity to grow a lot during those years. It grew into something bigger than just an idea by the time I was ready to graduate, so it only made sense to take it on full-time and grow its potential and impact in the community.
Was there an aha! moment you experienced, or an impactful class or professor, at OU that solidified the desire to follow the path you’ve taken?
Julia Ehrhardt was an incredible professor that I took multiple classes with at OU. She was a great teacher because she made me question things that I’d always just accepted as norms in society. Things that bothered me but I thought I couldn’t ever change, she made me think about these things and challenged us not to just accept them but to tackle them in our individual lives.
You’re a product of Norman and Norman High School. Often the tendency is to move away from home for your college years. What would say to students growing up near OU about your college experience and the advantages of staying close to home?
Knowing and being involved in the local community has been monumental to the success of Curbside and my work in social services. OU and the support network that I was a part of in school has lived on long after graduation. For me, I was passionate about making a change in my direct community. The one that I grew up in. That’s not for everyone. But for me, it was important to stay and live out my life in the community that raised me. To try and make it better for others that share this community with me.
The issue of homelessness can often seem overwhelming. On any given night in Oklahoma City, there are 1,500 people experiencing homelessness. And it can often feel like the problem is just too big. But we’ve learned to measure our success one person at a time. Every time a vendor moves into housing, we get one step closer to ending homelessness in Oklahoma City. We know Curbside is not going to solve the problem on our own. It’s going to take a lot more than us to end homelessness once and for all in Oklahoma City. So maybe we can’t end homelessness today. But we can end homelessness for one person, then two, then three, and so on. And that makes a difference.