The TRiiBE's editor-in-chief Tiffany Walden led the panel discussion at TRiiBE Tuesday: Preserving Black Chicago's Story with Angela Ford (l), Renata Cherlise (m) and Kelly Navies | Photo by @MaganLoren [Twitter]
This story is republished on in partnership with The Real Chi, an experimental “learning newsroom” in North Lawndale for young adults.

This week, The TRiiBE partnered with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to relaunch its panel series, TRiiBE Tuesday, after a one-year hiatus. At the event, leading archivists came to the Farm on Ogden on Chicago’s West Side to discuss all things related to preserving Black Chicago’s story through those old family records and photos that may be lying around the house or boxed up in the basement. 

“Sometimes a family loses the home throughout generations,” said Kelly Navies, oral history specialist for the Smithsonian NMAAHC. Most times, when families sell their homes, or lose homes to natural disasters, those precious family photos and records are lost, too.

“Ask yourself if you will be able to pass the content from generation to generation,” Navies said on the TRiiBE Tuesday panel. “If not, consider a plan.”

Tiffany Walden, The TRiiBE’s editor-in-chief, led the panel discussion. Panelists included archivists Navies, Renata Cherlise of Blvck Vrchives and Angela Ford of the Obsidian Collection. The event was part of the Smithsonian NMAAHC’s Community Curation in Chicago, a month-long program that provides workshops and free digitization services for film, video, photographs and paper documents across Chicago and in Evanston from Sept. 7 through Sept. 28. 

Every seat at the Farm on Ogden was occupied. Walden opened the event with her family’s story. She discussed her research methods for her nonfiction memoir series, Out West, explaining, “I used 1930 and 1940 Census records. Also, I interviewed my uncle Sunny.” Walden talked about the challenges she faced in her research. Her uncle, for example, didn’t know much about older family members because kids could get a “whooping” for asking too many questions, especially concerning sensitive topics. 

Cherlise, founder of Blvck Vrchives, helped Walden track down some of the archival photos of Mississippi for Out West

“I go through the archives and libraries and bring a new perspective to the content,” Cherlise explained. “Also, I help families find history.”

Ford, founder of the Obsidian Collection, raved about the archival materials and records Cherlise shares through her Blvck Vrchives page on Instagram

“When I saw the archives, I thought, ‘Ooh, someone Black is doing this,’” Ford said.

Walden also shared her frustration with the lack and loss of West Side narratives. “We know about the King riots. Everything else disappeared,” she said.

Ford shared one such West Side narrative that’s been lost: the mysterious death of the 24th Ward’s first Black alderman, Ben “Big Cat” Lewis, two days after winning his second term in 1963.

“He was handcuffed and shot in the head. It was falsely ruled a suicide,” Ford explained. She learned this information from elders who were around 80 years old.

Audience question-and-answer session during TRiiBE Tuesday: Preserving Black Chicago's Story | Photo by Aja Beckham [The Real Chi]

Barbara Stewart, 65, spoke during the question-and-answer session of the event. A former police officer for 22 years, Stewart attended TRiiBE Tuesday because she thought the description highlighted the legacy that Black folks need to honor, celebrate and preserve.

“The powers that be don’t write our history,” Stewart said. 

“Sounds like to me, it would be helpful to start a West Side historical society,” Navies said. “Raise the money. Find a building. Train to become a librarian or archivist, and become an archival society.”

Walden welcomed that idea. “That’s the goal of The TRiiBE,” she expressed.