Advocating through stories

From WashU to GWU, Imani Cheers has documented the stories of the disenfranchised. Now she’s teaching others to do the same.

WashU alumna Imani Cheers in front of a collage of historical images.
Imani Cheers, AB '02, serves as associate director of the School of Media & Public Affairs at George Washington University. She first pursued her storytelling career while a student at WashU. (Photo: Andres Alonso)

 Cultural curator Imani Cheers, AB ’02, credits her parents with teaching her “the importance of ­documenting life,” she says. 

“My mother was a consummate scrapbooker and saved so many ­memories,” Cheers says. And as a ­photojournalist and editor for ­Ebony and Jet, her father taught her “the ­power of documenting ­history and allowing people to tell their ­stories,” she says. “So I wanted to give a voice to ­historically marginalized communities.” 

Both of her parents were St. Louis natives, and her mom had taught in the African and African American studies department at Washington ­University, so Cheers decided to pursue her storytelling career at WashU. During her ­undergraduate years, she ­directed 2002’s Black Anthology and was a co-creater of B-Side, a student television program on Black culture. “The ­confidence I gained at WashU has carried me over the years,” she says.

About Imani Cheers

Who: Imani Cheers, AB ’02 

Home sweet home: As faculty-in-residence, Cheers lives on the GWU campus with her son, Isaiah.

Full circle: Cheers served on the leadership team of former WashU Chancellor Mark Wrighton while he was interim president of GWU. 

Favorite TV show: “Living Single — Queen Latifah, Erika Alexander, Kim Fields and Kim Coles are the epitome of Black girl magic. I wrote my doctoral dissertation and first book on this iconic 1990s sitcom,” Cheers says. 

Fun fact: She worked on the music video for St. Louis rapper Nelly’s “Air Force Ones.” 

After graduating, Cheers gained directing and producing experience in various jobs around the country before heading to Howard University to earn both master’s and doctoral degrees. While working as a multimedia producer at PBS NewsHour, she heard about a teaching position in digital ­storytelling at George Washington University (GWU). Although she hadn’t considered teaching at this point, she felt she could “better advocate for ­historically marginalized communities in this position instead of just reporting about them on the news,” she says. 

Now an associate professor at GWU, Cheers is also the first Black female ­associate director of the School of Media & Public Affairs and served as interim senior associate provost for undergraduate education for the 2021–22 academic year. “It’s incredibly fulfilling to see students in my advocacy-based journalism courses create their own ­viewpoints around issues of racism and social justice,” she says.

Outside higher ed, Cheers is ­founder and director of “It Takes a Village: Basics of Boyhood and Messages for ­Manhood,” a multimedia project about Black ­masculinity. She’s currently creating a book of the images she curated for ­“Framing Fatherhood,” the project’s photography exhibit celebrating Black men and their love for their children. Cheers also is editing a book about Black women’s friendship in television and film, and she’s applied for a Fulbright scholarship to create a multimedia ­project about Indigenous women’s ­responses to climate change.

Cheers is passionate about giving back and serves as co-chair of the ­Washington, D.C., chapter of WashU’s Black ­Alumni Council. She also ­created a series highlighting fellow alumni, including social change activist ­Brittany ­Packnett ­Cunningham, AB ’06, and ­Jason Green, AB ’03, whose award-­winning ­documentary, Finding Fellowship, ­featured Cheers as creative director. 

“Throughout my work, I want to demonstrate the power of stories and the importance of listening, valuing and sharing them,” Cheers says.

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