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The New Platform Looking to Change the Chicago Narrative

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the triibe, black chicago, morgan elise johnson, tiffany walden

I was scouring the internet one August afternoon looking for interesting stories in the black community when I came across a video titled Another Life: EP. 1. I clicked on it after reading the short synopsis. Before I knew it, I watched all available episodes and went on the hunt to find those responsible for the making of this documentary series.

That’s how I ended up on the website The Triibe. The digital media platform out of Chicago is a place for not just Another Life but various creative and community works by those who might not have been a fit for traditional media outlets. The fairly new website,  it launched at the beginning of 2017, is the brain child of good friends Morgan Elise Johnson and Tiffany Walden. The main goal of the platform is to change the narrative of black Chicago and Chicagoan millennials. Lately, Chicago has been synonymous with gun violence and black on black murders, but the city’s black community is much more than that.

After reading up on The Triibe, I quickly reached out to them to have a conversation on Chicago, Another Life, and their other works.

the triibe, black chicago, morgan elise johnson, tiffany walden

Co-founders Tiffany and Morgan

BE: I found you guys on a website about black communities, and I just clicked on the first episode of Another Life and I couldn’t stop watching it.  I was captivated.  I went to your website and found that you also have other creative works. So, how did The Triibe come about?

Morgan: Tiffany and I met in college, at NorthWestern and became very close and always knew we would work together. Some years go by, we were both in different places. I was in Milwaukee and she was in Orlando, and both of us knew it was time for a change. I said, hey, why don’t you move to Chicago and start writing about things you really care about. Tiffany is from Chicago, she’s from the West side. She was covering breaking news at the time for the Orlando Sentinel in Orlando.  Once I finished my stint in Milwaukee and spent some time in DC and came back to Chicago, I noticed Chicago was missing something other cities like DC and Atlanta have. I wasn’t quite sure what it was. It seemed like the young black professionals weren’t connecting. We thought, let’s build something that helps black millennial  to connect. There was also a need in this era of Donald Trump to build a counter narrative to Chicago being a buzz word synonymous with everything wrong with the black community.

BE: How is Chicago conveyed differently than the way you see it, especially from a creative perspective?  How is it different than what you see in the media, because out here in California, all we hear about is the gun violence.

Tiffany: In the media, all you hear, all you see is about the gun violence and it is made to look like the wild wild west to some extent. And that’s not the case. There are millions of people in the city and everybody isn’t involved. The black people here, we have a good time, we’re able to go out and party, we have plays and a very vibrant scene. Those are the things that aren’t talked about in the media. There is a lot more to us here in the city.

Morgan: We definitely felt the narrative of Chicago, having both lived outside of the city and saying, hey, i’m from Chicago. The first time we mention it to people, even black people, would say, oh my God, Chicago, how did you make it out? And it’s offensive to us. Why would you approach somebody’s home like that. Especially coming from other black people, we should know better. Chicago doesn’t even have the highest gun violence rate per capita. There are many other cities dealing with gun violence issues, we’re not the only ones.

the triibe, black chicago, morgan elise johnson, tiffany walden

The TRiiBE launch party, Feb 2017
Left to right (Tiffany Walden, Morgan Elise Johnson and David Elutilo, The Triibe web developer)

BE: How do you feel like black millennials are different from past generations, especially in the Chicago scene?

Tiffany: I don’t know if black millennials are all that different, we just have more tools. We can unite around the city and across platforms in a way that hasn’t been done before. I think now the city appears more accessible because of social media and all the tools we have at our fingertips where as in the past, people felt sectioned off to their side of the city. We are still impassioned about education and equality and all the other things the Black Panthers were impassioned about when they were here in the city. The legacy is still continuing. We just have a different platform to carry it.

BE: Moving on to Another Life, whose idea was that, and how it did come about?

Morgan: Another Life was my idea. When we were launching The Triibe this year, we were thinking of ways we should launch the site. We knew we wanted to lead with a huge feature story.  And it wasn’t initially going to be Another Life, we thought it would be about Chicago’s art and music scene, which is very important, we have a so many artists doing great things in Chicago. At the 11th hour in January, Donald Trump just kept talking about Chicago being dangerous, sending the feds. I remember feeling very upset about it and thinking we need to tackle gun violence. If we’re going to come out as an alternative media source for young Chicago millennial, then we need to do it in a way mainstream media isn’t doing it, which is an in-depth into the trauma young black millennials go through. When the news cameras come, they cover the crying mom or the crying father, but they don’t think about the sisters, the brothers, the cousins, and the best friends who just lost the person they send the most time with and nobody is really talking about it.

BE: So what was the most difficult part of working on this project?

Morgan: Getting access, that’s the most difficult thing.  We were approaching it from verite documentary approach and following participants as life unfolds for them. We are approaching them as they are struggling with their mental healthy and we’re asking for access for a very long time. For us, it was particularly difficult to find black women characters willing to open up to us, which was surprising to us.

BE: Why do you think that is?

Tiffany: I think women are guarded and very protective after a situation like that happens, after losing a loved one. Once you get over the initial shock, you just kinda shut down. A lot of times, when situations happen in Chicago and people are reading the stories, people place blame in some situations. And that’s hurtful, nobody wants to open themselves up to being blamed for what happened to their child, boyfriend, or their loved one.

Morgan: I think also black women take on so much after tragedies. Black women are responsible for keeping the family together a lot of times after a tragedy and we approach them with Another Life, they don’t have the capacity to deal with it. The camera can be burdensome. A lot of these women are the main caregivers in their families and a lot of the times I feel like they just can’t deal with us being a part of their lives and adding that extra stress.

the triibe, black chicago, morgan elise johnson, tiffany walden

Another Life Behind the Scenes moment with director Morgan Elise Johnson and Perrick “Moon” Robinson who lost his friend, Jonathan Mills, to gun violence in summer of 2016

BE: What have you personally learned from doing this project?

Morgan: As a filmmaker, I’m learning things everyday. For me, this project is very close to my heart because I’m going out doing the filming and audio myself and I’m learning the power media has on people in our community.  So many of our people, their main experience with the media is negative. The cameras show up on the worst days of our lives and people judge you on how you appear. That’s a very toxic experience for our community. We’ve been very intentional in our approach to be sensitive to the needs of our community and that has always come first.

Tiffany: For me, it made me take a step back and made me look at myself as a journalist and the journalism field in general. Prior to moving back to Chicago, I was a breaking news reporter in Orlando. Everything was about deadlines and getting information as fast as you can and putting it up on the web as fast as you can. It was about getting sources as fast as you can. You get into a routine being competitive on how you can beat the next reporter and the next news cycle. A lot of the times, you don’t step back and look at how the person you’re talking to is grieving and how they’re handing things. It’s made me very critical about journalism and the state it is in right now.

BE: How has Another Life been received in the community and outside of the community?   

Morgan: We have gotten a very positive response about Another Life and I don’t think we were expecting the response we got. We were just happy to have done something. We have gotten an overwhelming response, first from the people that participated, that’s always important to me. And then to have the greater community and the media community look at us and say, wow, they’re doing something different, something important, we definitely have felt the support and we want to continue to have an outreach and impact element to Another Life. 

BE: I saw on your website that you have other creative projects also. How do you find these creative projects to feature on your website

Tiffany: A lot of the times we get on social media and put out a call for people who are creative to submit their work to us. I was very passionate about including a platform for artists who simply don’t have an outlet for their work to be seen. It’s just a place for people to share their thoughts and have an open dialogue.

the triibe, black chicago, morgan elise johnson, tiffany walden

Rome J, host of The TRiiBE’s emerging music show, The Forecast, pictured with Chicago artist Julian Love
at TRiiBE Tuesdays, a monthly happy hour series

BE: Do you see this moving outside of Chicago to other cities with a big black community? 

Tiffany: We get that question a lot, everyone seems to want us to go outside of Chicago.

Morgan: Yeah, I think, that’s a to-be-continued question. I know we don’t want to be a national publication that follows the day to day trend. We always want to be community based and if we were to expand, we would go to cities that have the same type of community needs as Chicago, cities like Cleveland, Baltimore, St. Luis, New Orleans.

Tiffany: The Triibe is special in a way that all our stories are original stories, it’s about being out in the community and being accessible in a way that the media hasn’t necessarily been before. You don’t usually see your news anchor walking down the street, you don’t see the reporter writing for your local paper chilling at happy hour, and that’s one of the things people value about The Triibe. If we branch out into other communities, we want to keep that same feeling. We don’t want the The Triibe to lose its identity.

BE: You don’t want it to be like an outsider coming into the community. You want to keep it homegrown. 

Morgan: That’s everything we’re against. So we’re always thinking about staying true to ourselves and true to our mission.