I first “met” P-22, the famed Los Angeles mountain lion, five years ago when Beth Pratt, Regional Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation, P-22’s staunch advocate and self-proclaimed “agent,” asked me to support P-22’s social media presence. Beth had already created a persona for this majestic animal, but she needed help to keep it going as she focused her attention on leading an incredible team to raise nearly $100M to build a wildlife crossing over one of the busiest freeways in the country. I jumped at the chance to do this type of storytelling and was honored that someone as brilliant as Beth trusted me with this work, which was so near and dear to her heart.
In October of 2017, I flew out to Los Angeles for the 2nd Urban Wildlife Week. This first year, I joined Beth and hiked with her for miles tracing what is believed to be P-22’s route from the Santa Monica Mountains to Griffith Park. That hike culminated in the P-22 Festival and I was blown away by the love for this mountain lion and even more impressed by the diversity of people who showed up to advocate for him.
The news of P-22’s death this past Saturday shook me. He is a mountain lion that I never saw or met! Beth’s eulogy popped up on my phone as I was Christmas shopping in Target with Reyna, my 10-year-old daughter. I started reading it, and not even halfway through, we were both in tears. Reyna said, “Mami stop. Let’s finish it when we get home. I can’t take it.”
Storytelling has the power to change hearts and minds because it has the ability to engage people emotionally and draw them into the experience of a story. When people are emotionally invested in a story, they are more likely to remember the lessons of the story long after it is over and take action. This can be especially effective when the story resonates with the individual’s own experiences and values. When we hear a wonderful story, we often identify with the characters and their experiences, which can help us to see things from a different perspective and understand different points of view. This is the case with P-22. Everyone in the world, regardless of background, gender, economic status, or geographic location, can relate to being lonely, feeling isolated, overcoming hardships and even unable to find true love at some point, which is why P-22 is also known as the “Brad Pitt of the cougar world.” P-22 inspired children’s books, murals and music. The Natural History Museum has an exhibit about his life, and CicLAvia put him on a T-shirt. He was trending on Twitter after the news broke!
Over the years, the team at Humanity Communications Collective, especially chief client officer, Toni Johnson, became extremely enamored with P-22, creating campaigns like Mountain Lion March Madness or CougarLuv, where people could submit their profile to be considered a love match for P-22. While fun and engaging, these campaigns were created to educate the public about P-22 and become connected with him, a mountain lion most will never see. This work was a complement to the tireless work of Beth Pratt and team to travel around the country telling P-22’s story to anyone who would listen – environmental organizations, government agencies, foundations, individual donors, community groups, celebrities, but arguably, and most importantly, children.
Beth’s dedication and passion for wildlife coexistence has changed the face of the next wave of conservationists. This next wave will look like what this country looks like, people with a rich mix of racial backgrounds, ethnicities, religious affiliations, and gender identities. And the planet will be better for it.
Every company in the United States of America is trying to figure out how to engage the “new majority,” like there is some secret magic formula. You know what the secret is?
- Being open to listening and learning.
- Putting your white privilege aside and understanding that you may not have all the answers.
- Opening yourself to new ideas, no matter how foreign they are to you.
- Bringing people in who have a different perspective than you.
Let me be clear, Beth did not do this by happenstance. This deeply critical work was intentional. She reached out to ask others, like me and my team, to be involved. She asked hard questions. She took critical feedback. She listened. She loved. She respected people’s humanity. Because this was bigger than her and she knew that from the beginning. Beth’s introspectiveness allowed for the stories of P-22 to shine through and galvanize the world.
The power of storytelling lies in its ability to engage our emotions and connect with us on a personal level. Whether it’s through oral storytelling, written narratives, or visual media, the use of storytelling is an effective way to change hearts and minds and inspire positive action. You need to look no further than the thousands of heartfelt messages and stories from people all around the world who are devastated by the news of P-22’s death.
P-22 united all of us and his legacy will love on. Beth made sure of that.