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Examining The Toll Of Gun Violence Through Poetry With The Triibe Founders

By Josh McGhee | October 19, 2017 8:33am
"Another Life" director Morgan Elise Johnson films Perrick "Moon" Robinson.
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Courtesy of the Triibe

CHICAGO — Like many West Side residents, Tiffany Walden doesn't pay much attention to the daily shooting roundups.

But one morning as she scanned the news a name popped up that caught her eye — Romaine May. The 28-year-old was found fatally shot in his head in a vacant lot in the 5400 block of West Walton Street, police said.

"He was a childhood friend of a friend" and an example of the toll of daily gun violence, said Walden, adding, "A lot of people don't watch the news because they don't want to see the body count."

Hailing from the West Side, Walden has noticed a disconnect in news coverage of gun violence and the communities usually affected by it.

When Walden and Morgan Elise Johnson launched the Triibe, a digital media platform focused on reshaping the narrative of Black millennials, they aimed their sights on the long-term effects of gun violence with their first feature.

"We needed to do something about gun violence, but why don't we do it in a way the mainstream media isn't?" said Walden, the editor-in-chief of the Triibe.

"Another Life" producer Tiffany Walden and director Morgan Elise Johnson. [Photo provided by Chantal Redmond]

Their debut project, "Another Life," a docu-poetry series, follows the emotional journeys of millennials whose lives have been uprooted by gun violence.

While typical news crews are interested the first day, as time passes, they move on. Meanwhile, the community is still battling with grief, she said.

The series examines these mental battles by following folks like Martinez Sutton, the 35-year-old brother of Rekia Boyd, who was fatally shot by off-duty Chicago police detective Dante Servin in 2012. 

For the average viewer, "if it's not on the news [anymore], it's over. [But] the family is still grieving, and that grieving continues after the cameras are there or not," Walden said. "Martinez is still grieving, and Rekia has been gone for five years."

The group initially planned a three-part series, but after the first three episodes were released, "People were so engaged [that] we decided we should do this for an entire year."

Since they launched the Triibe, the founders have financed the entire effort. But since they received a grant from the Chicago Digital Media Production Fund, they'll be able to recoup some of the money they've spent and afford to film the rest of the series, Walden said.

The production fund, which has a goal of supporting socially conscious media arts projects that will be distributed online for free, is a project of the Voqal Fund and is administered by Chicago Filmmakers in Andersonville. Chicago Filmmakers has awarded $100,000 in grants for nine projects.  

"We're beyond ecstatic," she said. "It was just a breath of fresh air to have these funds to continue filming the series."

Making lemonade

The goal of "Another Life" is to spark dialogue about the trauma gun violence causes in a community and to shift the conversation surrounding the violence to one of healing and rebuilding, they said.

The idea to blend documentary-style filmmaking and poetry was inspired, in part, by Beyonce's visual album "Lemonade" and the city itself, said Johnson, who is directing the series.

"It's such a creative, artistic city, where spoken word is so prominent. That's what we landed on," she said.

The original poetry by Shannon Smith is mostly used to transition from one story to the other. Along with Sutton, the series also follows 21-year-old Amanie Foster, whose cousin Cory Foster Jr. was fatally shot in December, and Perrick "Moon" Robinson, a high school basketball coach coping with the loss of his mentee, hoops standout Jonathan Mills.

"We wanted to make a statement that there are other ways to tell this story that are more impactful. This feels very close to my purpose. I've always been passionate about creating impactful media," she said.

Screenshot from episode five  of "Another Life." [Provided by Tiffany Walden]

Walden and Johnson met while students at Northwestern University, but before that the two lived worlds apart. While Walden grew up in K-Town, or North Lawndale, Johnson grew up in the northern suburbs.

"I have a different experience," she said. "I didn't grow up here, so some of the things that Tiffany thought was normal wasn't to me."

Though their experiences are different, they both came to the same conclusion on what was the most surprising thing they've learned thus far into the series — the extreme emotional toll social media can take on those suffering.

"I'm learning more and more [that] social media plays a big role in traumatizing and re-traumatizing black millennials," she said. Millennials aren't "learning about death on the news, but on timelines."

This is best illustrated through Sutton's story. During the series, we learn that his grief has caused him to put college on hold as he deals with depression, which is amplified by social media. People are constantly reaching out to him via social media to offer condolences so much that it's become a burden.

"He looks together, but he can't really handle social media because some the things were traumatizing," said Walden. "We're a generation when something happens a lot of times people find out something happened to someone on social media. How traumatic is that?"

The conversation continues with episode six, which will be released later this month. Thanks to the grant, the series will continue to episode 10.

Watch the first episode below: