New digital media company, The TRiiBE, is one of nine awardees’ of this year’s Chicago Digital Media Production Fund (CDMPF), a project of Voqal Fund that is administered by Chicago Filmmakers. Triibe is being honored for its first vérité docu-poetry series, “Another Life,” which captures the aftermath and trauma Chicago’s Black millennials endure after a loved one is lost to gun violence.

Tiffany Walden (left) and Morgan Elise Johnson (right) launched a new digital media company, The TRiiBE, early this year.

This year, the CDMPF awarded a total of $100,000 in grants in amounts ranging from $2,200 to $18,000. The fund strives to support socially conscious media arts projects intended for free online distribution, according to a CDMPF press release. This year the awardees’ topics range from trauma related to gun violence to sickle cell anemia and more.

The TRiiBE’s directive is to produce innovative content that speaks to and reshapes the narrative of Chicago’s Black millennials. The company was launched by its co-founders, Morgan Elise Johnson, a filmmaker by trade, and Tiffany Walden, a freelance reporter and former breaking news reporter for The Orlando Sentinel, in February. Currently, Walden serves as The TRiiBE’s editor-in-chief while Johnson is its creative director.

Johnson recalled the origins of “Another Life” stemmed from an organic reaction when Walden checked her Facebook feed after learning someone in Chicago was shot to see if she knew the individual — a practice not uncommon for Black Chicagoans of a certain age group.

“We both thought this was a profound moment, checking your Facebook feed after someone dies,” said Johnson. “We started to unpack on how healthy or unhealthy that was and we knew we had something.”

Johnson said they decided that if they were to launch their company, it should be made with a strong accompanying statement. She said based on that desire, the next thought was to talk to the friends, siblings, and more who had lost someone to gun violence and to understand how millennials are coping.

“We were going with the idea of running with another story, and then at the last minute I was like, ‘you know what, the dominant narrative of Chicago is now gun violence and that’s being re-enforced in present day politics with Donald Trump constantly making references to Chicago’,” said Johnson, “We needed to tackle the narrative of gun violence in a way that’s often neglected, which is to talk about how it’s affecting our generation, Black millennials, the only generation that’s really grown up in this age of gun proliferation.”

“Another Life” chronicles the lives of three Black Chicagoans whose lives are rocked by gun violence: Amanie Foster, 21, whose cousin Cory Foster, Jr. was murdered; Perrick “Moon” Robinson, 31, whose mentee, Jonathan Mills, a former Chicago prep basketball star, was murdered; and Martinez Sutton, 35, whose sister, Rekia Boyd, was fatally shot and killed by off-duty Chicago police officer Dante Servin in 2012.

“With ‘Another Life,’ our goal is to spark an open dialogue about the ongoing trauma in our community while also changing the conversation about Chicago violence to one focused on healing and rebuilding as a step to help #HealChicago,” said Walden, in a press release.

Johnson, a native of Chicago’s northern suburbs, explained that although “Another Life” was originally intended to be a three-part series, the overwhelmingly positive response the first episodes received prompted more entries to be created.

The raw intimacy of “Another Life” is apparent as Johnson stated she often filmed by herself without a production crew or even additional lighting, always using just the resources the self-funded TRiiBE had at its disposal. Johnson stated while she cannot directly relate to the experiences of the principles of “Another Life,” through her expertise as a filmmaker, she was able to connect with her subjects on a very personal level.

Morgan Elise Johnson of The TRiiBe filmed a portion of their “Another Life,” their vérité docu-poetry series.

Walden, a Chicago native hailing from the North Lawndale neighborhood, said she knows people who learned of the death of one of their loved ones through social media. She said “Another Life” is “powerful” to her because it unlocks a conversation she herself has often had.

“The way I grew up, gun violence and shootings were a kind of a way of life. You were raised to listen out for certain things. I remember there were times where a drive by would happen and you would have to get on the floor and wait for it to be over with,” said Walden. “You have those happen to you until you’re numb to it. Watching Morgan film and telling these stories about how these instances have affected people personally, it adds a lot of depth to the situation. It takes you out of this being an everyday thing for you.”

One aspect Walden and Johnson recognized while creating “Another Life” is the widespread narrative that Chicago is the Wild, Wild West in many respects. Johnson said there’s “no nuance” to the conversation when discussing Chicago and calls the coverage “disrespectful” and lacking of human decency. Walden said she wishes people were more sympathetic to the choices people had to make given the circumstances they’re faced with that are beyond their control.

“There’s an assumption that people live on these streets and in these neighborhoods and they want this life,” said Walden. “That you grow up wanting to be in gang life or you grow up wanting to be these things… when really it’s a result of systematic oppression around you that you end up in these situations. In the past, there’s always been this assumption that people are living how they want to live, and if they didn’t want to, they would change.”

Johnson said the CDMPF grant will provide the funding to finish filming and producing the final installments of “Another Life.” She said the final episodes of the series will be released in January, completing a yearlong cycle in the lives of their subjects.

To watch episodes 1-5 of “Another Life,” visit: thetriibe.com/feature/another-life/

To learn more about The TRiiBE, visit thetriibe.com/.

 

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