Diversity is a tricky subject in Minneapolis. Sure, we’re far from the mass of pale-skinned, lutefisk-gobbling Vikings other parts of the country might imagine: Not only is it common to see notices in government buildings in Hmong and Somali as well as Spanish and English, but members of those immigrant groups have also run for and in some cases won public office here, and Minneapolis boasts the first Muslim member of U.S. Congress. But the Twin Cities have repeatedly had the highest black-white unemployment gap in the nation, and the geography and social patterns of Minneapolis mean that a white girl in Northeast could spend years being totally ignorant of what’s going on just across 94 on the Northside.
For University of Minnesota student Tiffany Trawick, the problem is a lack of empathy, and the solution–at least part of it–is storytelling. Trawick founded InCOLOR Magazine, scheduled to launch August 30, with this motto: “Our FOCUS is DIVERSITY. Our MISSION is to PROVOKE EMPATHY.” Targeted mostly towards college-aged readers, at least at first–InCOLOR is in the process of becoming a student group at the U–the online magazine seeks to close that awareness gap by telling the stories of individuals and groups from all parts of the city and situations in life. Tiffany shared her thoughts with MPLS.TV on her plans for the future, her team of writers and editors, and why Minneapolis needs InCOLOR.
Name: Tiffany Nicole Trawick
Home: South Minneapolis
Education: Attended DeLaSalle High School; about to start her senior year at the University of Minnesota majoring in English and minoring in African American Studies
When and why did you decide to found InCOLOR?
I decided I wanted to start a magazine back during my sophomore year of college, but I didn’t know what the genre was going to be or anything like that. I didn’t tell very many people, only my parents and a couple of close friends. It was really just a vague idea I had after a failed attempt with a group from the University to revive another publication called the Griot magazine. This was a publication geared towards students of color at the University of Minnesota campus, namely African Americans. I was just a team member, but the idea of having a publication geared towards the minority populations was quite inspiring.
My junior year, I started writing as a columnist for the Minnesota Daily, and this experience really re-opened my eyes to the fact that there are people in this community that need to be heard. With national incidences such as the Troy Davis case and the Trayvon Martin case, there was a large echo of activism on campus and within surrounding communities, but this urgency for change was not echoed in the media, and I don’t believe it is even when it comes to related issues in our own community.
What writing and/or journalism experience have you had in the past?
My journalism experience really began my junior year of high school when I attended a free journalism course at the Central Library in downtown Minneapolis. This class was taught by Ruben Rosario, who is a reporter for the Pioneer Press, and also Annie Nelson, head of ThreeSixty Online Magazine. This class really taught the basics of journalism, writing, reporting, etc. By the end of the class, we were to have created our own stories. At the end of the course I ended up being recruited to write for ThreeSixty Online Magazine with Annie Nelson. I guess that’s where my professional writing and reporting began. Once I got to college, I spent a summer working at the Pioneer Press–only doing classified ads, though–and my junior year is when I started writing as a columnist for the Minnesota Daily. I’ve been there for a year now.
Why do you think the Twin Cities needs a publication with this focus on diversity and empathy?
There are two main reasons that I find it vitally important. 1. Minnesota is predominately Caucasian. With this being said, most people inevitably lack knowledge of the different cultures around them. This causes a lack of understanding, which often causes social tension, or disregard for the minority populations. 2. While Minnesota is predominately white, we have the largest Muslim population in the United States, along with many other sub-cultures and communities that exist. My question is, how can we truly progress as a society when we don’t even understand those who we call our neighbors?
What kinds of stories do you hope to have in the magazine?
My personal goal is to create an intimacy with the audience that you don’t get from every publication. I want to hear the voices of those in the community who have not been heard. I want to hear celebration stories of first-generation graduates; at the same time, I want to hear the struggles of those in our community who are dealing with illnesses and financial struggles, things like this, in order to show the entire range of issues that occur in our community. My goal is to have at least one cover story like this per issue. These are the stories I would expect to create empathy. Along with that, of course we have our general topics: Current Events, Sports, A&E, etc., so that we can provide entertainment as well as information for our readers to absorb. However, I still urge my team to find that “unique” angle.
Are you accepting submissions right now? What are you looking for?
Definitely! We want to hear from local entrepreneurs and artists, models and designers, writers etc. One thing I love about Minneapolis is that it is thriving with local talent. The thing is, half of these people, no one has heard of–these are the people we want to give the spotlight to.
Have you finished hiring the rest of the staff? What can you tell me about the other people you’re working with?
I am so glad that I can say yes. I can also say that I’m working with an AMAZING group of people. I’m honored to have them as part of the staff. The team consists of six people in total (including me) with various talents and skill sets, and all have a passion for the focus and mission of the magazine and also their specific portion of the magazine.
The staff has participated an immense amount in the Twin Cities and in much larger communities. My assistant editor, Crys Mitchell, speaks fluent Chinese and attended Yunnan University in China. Our A&E reporter, Sim LeCompte, is originally from Turkey and also speaks French fluently. Lateef Oseni, our media director, is a part of multiple student groups as he is the Vice President of both the Black Student Union and PRISM, which is a multicultural sector of the School of Journalism at the University of Minnesota. The talent and diversity within the group goes on and on.
What has it been like getting a publication ready to launch?
Balancing two jobs and summer classes, it has been extremely hectic but exciting at the same time. For some reason, in the middle of all of the senior year chaos, I truly believe now is the right time for InCOLOR to be born. One of the biggest challenges is getting the word out and promoting. Thank goodness we have Twitter and Facebook. On the flip side, all of the support and recognition the magazine has received thus far has been tremendous. It feels like a plane getting ready to launch off of the runway: It’s a little rocky at first, but once the wheels leave the ground, we’re soaring, baby!
What are some of your short-term and long-term goals for InCOLOR?
My short-term goal is to have a successful first issue that will circulate successfully among communities within the University of Minnesota and surrounding areas. As we continue, I would like the publication to become well known throughout local colleges including Augsburg and Hamline, and even high schools. The magazine as a whole is a bit of an enterprise, though, so I’m kind of just going with the flow, taking care of what I have in front of me, and seeing where it will take me. Whether it becomes a well-known online publication like The Huffington Post, or a great local in-print magazine such as Vita.mn or City Pages…I guess we’ll have to see!
Who are some of the people you look up to and want to emulate, either specifically in journalism or just as general role models?
My parents! Both of my parents are extremely successful, and they sort of paved their own way to get to where they are. My mom is the strongest woman I know, and works hard as a successful real estate agent and running a full time daycare service. My dad works as an executive in corporate America, and he is an author as well. Not to mention they are both reverends at my local church, Evangelist Crusaders. Whenever I even begin to start feeling overwhelmed, I just think about my parents and I know that it’s in my blood to be successful and work hard, just like them.
What are you passionate about (besides creating this magazine)?
MUSIC! I was sure when I was younger that I wanted to be a singer. I used to perform around the city a lot more, singing and playing the piano. I even had a very popular YouTube page…I’m sure it’s still up. But my artistic interest has sort of shifted to solely writing. However, whenever I’ve had a tough day, I love sitting down at the piano keys and just letting go, singing to the top of my lungs and letting my fingers just glide. And don’t fret: I still perform on occasion and I’m also working on a music project with a very talented team of producers, but shhhh…that’s for later.
What do you like about Minneapolis? Where are some of your favorite places to eat and hang out?
I love that it’s my home. I mean I love all of the craziness that comes with the city, but home is always 20 minutes away. I also have a great appreciation for our art scene–from music to museums to theaters, it’s just outstanding. There is always something new to do or see, and even participate in. The Mall of America is one place that never gets old to me, even considering the fact I worked there for three years (Build-a-Bear). I’m not even a shopaholic, I just like to go, walk around, people watch, and eat good food. Two places I’d definitely recommend eating are Tiger Sushi and Tucci Benucci. Yumm.
What do you think needs to improve about the city?
Again, the biggest thing is empathy. Living in Minnesota as an African-American, it is inevitable that you quickly become acclimated to the larger Caucasian community, especially once you enter into higher education. However, when you flip this scenario around, it’s rarely a priority. Not because it’s not important, only because it seems unnecessary. You know, why would the majority ever have to come to understand the minority?
Is there anything else you want to make sure people know about InCOLOR?
I just want to strongly urge everyone to check it out and show support. Also, we are always open for contribution from EVERYONE. In our efforts to lift up the minority communities within our area we in no way aim to de-prioritize the majority. It’s all about diversity and the inclusion of everyone.