TOWNIE

#TOWNIE is a globally-minded, socially-conscious, arts-centered media and storytelling project. The idea results from my 2015 experience with Chicago Sister Cities International (CSCI); the project focuses on Chicago and its 29 international sister cities, through a lens of urban music, arts and subculture. It celebrates civic identity, cultural diversity & heritage, and global citizenship. Episode 01 will revisit Lucerne and Switzerland, Episode 02 will feature Osaka and Japan.

{ BACKSTORY } My current work and 12 years of media experience are preceded by an extensive urban arts background. I liken my transition to that of a sportscaster who’s a former athlete. I refer to myself as a “media hustler”, to honor the sensibilities and insights I’ve brought with me, especially the knack for creative self-branding and reinvention, and the tenacity to overcome barriers to participation and excellence. The photo gallery here illustrates the kinds of interesting people (and stories) I routinely access, through my professional and personal networks, relationships and activities.

I embrace the media personality category which I most clearly fit— the “true-school”  hip-hop elder statesman (like an Ebro Darden, Elliott Wilson or Sway Calloway). But I also know my journalistic goals and aesthetics differentiate me from my contemporaries. My work at the intersection of journalism, culture and entertainment ranges from mainstream/commercial pop-culture, to more worldly, eclectic content (think pubcasters like the BBC, PBS or PRI). Two of my primary influences are Anthony Bourdain and Studs Terkel. Both creative hyphenates were beloved for their genius media work (and for their politics, humanity and egalitarianism), but neither were considered conventional journalists. Studs is primarily regarded as a historian and Bourdain famously maintained that he was “not a journalist”.

I met Bourdain in 2013 —we discussed achieving a successful media career as a “second act”,  the idea of “What is a journalist?”  and “Who gets the investment and uninhibited creative freedom to tell cool stories?”  I mentioned Studs and we agreed that their interviewing and storytelling styles were comparable, and that key ingredients are curiosity, respect and integrity. I call myself a journalist (reporter-presenter-correspondent-producer-documentarian), but whatever the title, I’m really just trying to do similar, good work. My #TOWNIE and #INTLPLAYER projects are inspired by programs like Bourdain’s Parts Unknown (CNN), The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Nat Geo), Searching For Sound (Red Bull), and Rebel Music (MTV).

{ CAREER TIMELINE }

PRESENT — Currently working on The #DOWNNOW Project, with support from National Geographic, ChicagoDCASE, and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). Also working on a new CSCI, US-Swiss, collaborative media arts project.

2021 – 20 Recognized as an Emerging Producer by the World Congress of Science & Factual Producers (WCSFP). Participated in UNESCO World Press Freedom Conference 2020 and 2021; see my small 2020 feature with Christiane Amanpour.

2019 – 18 Resumed freelancing as an Arts & Culture Reporter and Content Producer for outlets like WTTW Chicago [PBS]. Continued mentoring underprivileged urban youth, through organizations like MENTEE Global.

2017 – 16 Continued working, researching and networking within music, arts & culture, doc film making, media & entertainment and academia. But slowed down, surrounding the birth of my daughter (12/16/16).

2015 – 14 Traveled to Switzerland (and France) with the CSCI CLAER program. Received an IAP15 Cultural Grant from Chicago DCASE. Was awarded a Kartemquin Films Documentary Filmmaking Fellowship and began developing #INTLPLAYER (initially, for WTTW).

2013 Resumed freelancing for outlets and organizations like WXRT/CBS Radio, World Music Fest Chicago and others. Joined the media/comm. and artist relations teams of the IMAN Streets Festival.

2012 Joined national pop-culture cable network, AXS TV as a full-time, Chicago-based Producer/Presenter of AXS Live, its flagship, live-TV, entertainment news program.

2011 Began freelancing as a Producer/Presenter for various media outlets and lifestyle brands, creating content with like-minded artists such as Common, De La Soul and The Roots. Independently released a years-overdue album, Driving Songs Volume One (#DSV1).

2010 Joined JBTV as a full-time Producer/Presenter and established a strategic partnership with Red Bull Music Academy. Continued mentoring disadvantaged Chicago youth through civic programs like After School Matters.

2009 – 08 Joined the Emmy-winning NBC Chicago Street Team (a community journalism lab), as a Special Reporter and Writer/Blogger. Began working as a Brand Ambassador / Culture Agent / Content Creator. Performed at Steppenwolf Theatre and independently released a compilation, Urban Myth Revisited (#UMR).

PRIOR — Primarily active as an independent, “true-school” hip-hop, MC/poet and beatmaker; also performed DIY administrative duties (label runner, tour manager, event producer, social media director). Performed with Second City and WORDSfest. Joined the voice-over roster of Grossman & Jack Talent and began applying my voice and audio production skills beyond music making. Mentored underserved youth and led workshops with Street Level Youth Media.