Digital media platform awarded grant to help amplify black voices in Chicago

An upstart women-owned digital media platform that aims to reshape the narrative of black Chicago has been awarded an inaugural media and storytelling program grant from the Field Foundation of Illinois.

The TRiiBE, launched in 2017 by two Northwestern University graduates, is one of the first recipients of a grant for “outlets that are taking multifaceted approaches to disrupting inequities within the media map.” Other recipients included LaRaza newspaper, the National Museum of Meixcan Art, the Chicago Reporter and AirGo, a weekly podcast and cultural media hub. Grants from the Field Foundation of Illinois generally range from $10,000 to $50,000.

The TRiiBE is an alternative news source that offers its readers content ranging from journalism to creative writing to documentaries and videos. According to the co-founder and filmmaker, Morgan Johnson, the TRiiBE was started out of resistance against the missing and inaccurate stories being told about black Chicago.

The TRiiBE was founded in 2017 by Northwestern graduates Morgan Johnson and Tiffany Walden. (Photo by Keeley Parenteau)

“We basically took it upon ourselves to do what we [can] to change that narrative, and to take ownership of that narrative,” Johnson said. “And [to] not allow people who are not from here, people who are not from a part of our community to tell us who we are.”

The TRiiBE plans to use the grant money to increase content production, start hosting workshops and relaunch a panel series called TRiiBE Tuesday that will allow members of the community to discuss recent stories featured in the TRiiBE.

“We are just very appreciative of and happy for how the readership that we have and how folks have been rocking with us since our launch,” said Tiffany Walden, TRiiBE’s editor-in-chief and co-founder. “And really being supportive of our mission and what we want to do to reshape the narrative of black Chicago.”   

This summer, the media outlet branched out into a new venture: a guide to black Chicago to unify and amplify black voices. Sponsored by Wintrust Community Banks, the 44-page book give not only avid readers of The TRiiBE but also anyone that was ever interested in venturing out of their comfort zone in the city of Chicago. Penned as a way to “enhance the Black Experience,” readers will find everything ranging from an interview with Vincent Martell about bringing more light to queer stories to a map highlighting health and wellness related businesses. 

    “It was important for us to include health and wellness because it’s such a conversation going on especially within the millennial generation right now,” Walden said. “And also considering the conversation around school closures and things like that in Chicago and all the mental health facilities that were closed during Rahm’s [Emanuel] tenure, folks are still in need of places to go to therapy and talk to professionals and get the mental help they need. So we wanted to list those places out and especially list out places for folks who can talk to black people as well.”

    The grant from the Field Foundation will also allow the TRiiBE  to expand its next coffee table book with additional content. Hoping to have at least 75 pages to create a “perfect binding,” the next book will feel more like a magazine, the co-founders said. 

    The TRiiBE Guide can be found online and in select black businesses around Chicago. It is offered free of charge.

“Consumers these days aren’t in the habit nor do they seem to want to be in the habit of paying for media,” said Sheila Solomon, a strategic liaison for Rivet Radio and journalism consultant for the Democracy Fund. “But in the case of The TRiiBE … you put out something like this it’s going to attract some people who didn’t know, ‘Hey this is what I’m missing? Oh, all I have to do is go to this link and I can see stories like this and other really cool information that interests me every week?’ It’s going to attract some people.”

    Included within the pages are photos of the “TRiiBE Mob,” a group of black creatives affiliated with TRiiBE by either creative contributions to the publication or gaining recognition in their neighborhoods photographed by Johnson on the West Side. Those photographed can be seen holding objects ranging from a notebook to a paintbrush to represent their artistic “weapon of choice.”

    “The theme for the photoshoot is that we’re a mob or army of creatives coming basically to take the city by storm and to take our narrative back,” said Johnson. “So I asked everybody to wear war materials like army print fatigues, black denim, and to just look super black and proud.”

Articles found in the book are some of the favorites from The TRiiBE’s website. Articles like “Out West,” a multimedia series written by Walden, sheds more light on an area of Chicago that may not get as much publicity as the South or North sides. 

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Walden. “But I feel that now is the time that we can really all pull together and try to tell the West Side’s story and keep black people on the West Side before gentrification literally eats it up. It’s great to just be able to speak out about neighborhoods and the places that I grew up in.”

The story of black millennials in Chicago facing the dilemma of leaving or staying was another article featured in the book. Written by Janya Greene, Walden said it was a timely piece to add due to the rise in people leaving Chicago.

“That’s a really important conversation that she had in that article because I think around the time that we released it, reports had come out that Chicago’s population had declined even more,” said Walden. “Even more black folks had left Chicago. And the projections [show] that even more black people are going to leave Chicago in the next 10 years. So instead of just looking at numbers sometimes, [sometimes it’s] great to hear why people are actually leaving and to be able to put their reasons.”

    Dyana Daniels is a correspondent for GJR in Chicago and attends Columbia College Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @Therealdyanad.

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