By Grace Asiegbu
On the ninth floor of the historic Nichols Tower on the West Side of Chicago sits a shared workspace with creaky floors and the smell of old books. Tiffany Walden, 31, walked out of a corner office with a bright smile. Tiffany relayed all the meetings and work she hadn’t completed, but seemed to be relaxed and unfazed.
The TRiiBE is an outlet created by Walden and Morgan Johnson, who is also an Northwestern alumna. Launched in 2017, the site focuses primarily on stories and events that happen in predominantly black neighborhoods in Chicago. The authors of many pieces on the site are either Walden, Johnson, freelancers who are also black. The TRiiBE exists exclusively online and it has sections dedicated to the people (non-journalists who write op-eds), the culture (pieces written by journalists) and the works (art and prose written by creatives). There are also sections for people to peruse upcoming events in the city and (the scene) and retail merchandise (the store). It is updated on a weekly basis with content.
“The writing bug hit me when I was young. Maybe like 8 or 9. I always had a gift for writing and a passion for it. I just didn’t know how to be a writer,” Walden said.
As a child in North Lawndale, Walden grew up knowing writing was her calling, but not knowing how to harness it. That is, until her teachers pushed her.
“My teacher gave me the confidence boost of life when she created a curriculum especially for me,” she said.
“Ms. Miller taught me the structure of stories and helped me understand what makes a story intriguing. She had me write a creative personal essay, imitating the creative essays I saw in magazines. That same creative personal essay is the one I believe got me into Medill. I wrote about my relationship with my high-school boyfriend for my application. I’m still proud of that essay to this day and I still have it,” Walden said while laughing.
Her confidence grew and her skill improved as she finished up her high school courses and attended a workshop at Marquette University, that helped solidify that journalism is what she was meant to do in life.
“I remember feeling the importance of going out into the community, learning a person’s or people’s story, and writing that story for the world to see,” Walden said.
When the time for college applications came, Walden’s teachers nudged her again — this time to Medill.
“When I applied to that program for Marquette, it didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t get in. The only time I felt like I may not have gotten in was when I was applying to Medill.”
During her time at Medill, Walden found herself in a precarious position. She had always been a top writer, and took pride in her abilities to weave stories that moved people. She struggled to adapt to Northwestern’s environment.
“I didn’t always feel like I fit in. My cohort had maybe 100 people and less than 10 were black. Being one of the only black people from the West Side, I was trying to take the writing I was used to doing and bringing the voice I know from my community to this program. That was when my copies struggled a bit because I just didn’t know,” Walden said.
Alexis Isaacs has been friends with Walden since 2007 when they met during their freshman year at Northwestern University and watched Walden try to reconcile her struggle and her dreams.
“Being a top writer in high school, she was always getting praise and accolades. When she got to Medill, I guess she started to see what they call a ‘Medill F,’ and I think that broke her spirit a little,” Isaacs said.
For Walden, finding her voice meant creating a space for the voices that sounded a familiar, that sounded like her home.
“While I was freelancing, I was pitching stories about black cultural things. At some point, we (Walden and co-founder Morgan Johnson, also a Northwestern alum) decided to just do it ourselves. To own our work and stories, but also to own their narratives and to give them agency to tell their own stories as well,” Walden said.
Marrion Johnson, a former Northwestern classmate, said watching Walden create The TRiiBE helped reenergize her and brought her zeal back into her craft.
“I saw her put blood, sweat and tears into it. She is committed to the work that helps drive people. She has found her voice with The TRiiBE,” he said.
To Walden, The TRiiBE is more than just another news outlet. It is an intentional community resource for black Chicago.
“We want to have an office space of our own where we can build The TRiiBE as a community hub, where black creatives can come in to learn about journalism, documentary and the business of media overall,” she said.
“I’m excited about creating pathways for people in the future to do the work that they want to do, but also stay here and do that, too,” Walden said. “We want to hire black creatives and help them build sustainable, long-lasting careers in media. We want black Chicago to fully own its story.”