Tiffany Walden and Morgan Elise Johnson want to start “taking back the narrative of what it means to be black in Chicago.”
Walden and Johnson co-founded The TRiiBE, a multi-media news website for black millennials. The site features documentaries on Chicago gun violence, but also has sections for culture and opinions.
“We want to reshape the narrative of black Chicago through some of the media we’re fluent in,” Walden told Morning Shift host Jenn White.
The Another Life “docupoetry” series combines interviews with the family and friends of those killed in Chicago. One of the people they interviewed was Martinez Sutton, the brother of Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old woman who was fatally shot by an off-duty Chicago police officer in 2012. The video included reflective poetry by Shannon Smith.
Walden, who grew up in North Lawndale, and Johnson, who is from the north suburbs, told White about their creative process and overarching goals for the site.
On how The TRiiBE got started
Morgan Elise Johnson: When Tiffany and I both got back into the city [after living in Orlando and Milwaukee], we kind of felt like outsiders. ... We hadn’t been in and around Chicago since college … and we had trouble finding our tribe. I’m a filmmaker— I didn’t know where the film community was, it seemed kind of underground to me. We had trouble going out in the city and feeling like the spaces were for us — we didn’t feel included. And we were wondering, “Where are the black people? Where are the black professionals?” And [we thought], maybe we can help create something to help people find each other.
Tiffany Walden: At some point, I wrote a story for the Chicago Tribune about black millennials having a hard time partying in Chicago … and that story went viral. And at that point, we both realized there’s a need for more content like this that isn’t in the mainstream media.
On the “Another Life” docupoetry series
Johnson: We had this moment in D.C. where … [Walden] was going through her Facebook feed, and someone had just passed away. And I was watching her going through her friends list, seeing if [she knew anyone who] was affected …. We both realized how deeply [violence] affects us on a day-to-day basis. It’s something that is touching our generation in a major and profound way. We wanted to capture some of those daily things that affect our thinking and our life ... So often, we get caught up in immediacy of the violence, and the narrative of who did it, are they going to go to jail, and are they going to be punished? And we don’t focus on the aftermath and … the long-term effects on our generation.
On the importance of building trust
Johnson: It took me two or three months to realize that [Martinez Sutton, the brother of Rekia Boyd] was struggling with depression. Because Martinez is so used to dealing with the media, he knows how to perform in front of a camera — and in front of me. … And then right before Episode 2, he told me, “I’m about to go to therapy.” And I was like, “You’re in therapy?” … When you’re doing longform journalism or documentary, it takes relationship-building before you can get there with the subject, and before they can really open up to you and build that trust. Martinez, even five years after Rekia has passed away, he’s still dealing with those dark moments and feeling anger and missing her…
On the use of poetry in “Another Life”
Walden: Poetry is a form of therapy. A lot of people turn to poetry, turn to music … as a form of healing and reflecting … So I think adding poetry to Another Life gave it that depth that was necessary to take a step back and really understand the complexity of the violence, and the effect that it has on these individuals … When you’re watching Another Life, you’re forced to think about the relationships that you have … And I think that that’s a form of healing. If we can all see ourselves, see our friends, in this violence, [we can] try to take those steps to heal Chicago — and heal ourselves.