Growing up on Detroit’s east side, Carlo Sweeney was as likely as not to end up in trouble.
“There’s no reason I was sitting in a car that got shot 26 times and only got hit once and still lived. There’s no reason for me to not be in prison,” says Sweeney in a recent episode of “The Movement,” a new Web series from Mic.com.
The video doesn’t focus primarily on the violence Sweeney has experienced, though. Instead, it showcases how he’s transforming his struggling hometown. Sweeney, better known as Coach Khali, founded a boxing gym to give young people in Detroit a safe place to develop skills and find positive role models.
Sweeney is one of several people featured in the first season of “The Movement,” which highlights regular people working on remarkable solutions to America’s social ills. The series launched in January. ivoh recently got in touch with the host, Darnell Moore, to learn more about it.
Kara Newhouse: The title of your show is “The Movement.” How do you define that term?
Darnell Moore: This title is a way to stretch our imaginations. Right now we’re in the midst of what I like to say is an iteration of a long movement for black liberation in this country. The movement for black lives is part of a long history of fights for equality, equity, racial justice and so much else, economic justice. But I want to think about social movements as being interconnected. They have a shared goal, and they are catalyzed by people.
What I think these stories are trying to say is the people involved are not always the ones with all the Twitter followers, they’re not always the ones invited on panels on mainstream media, they’re not always the ones with the bullhorn. These are some everyday folk who may go without praise, without money, without fame, who are doing this work daily to make their communities better.
Newhouse: Do you focus on stories of progress in all your work?
Moore: Yeah, I would characterize the work that I do as offering counter-narratives, as really focusing on the muted voices who are often talked about in narratives but never talked to. I inevitably see the work of the pen and the keypad as, some folk call it activist journalism, but I tend not to use that. It’s journalism that’s not afraid to be honest. The perspective of the writer is transparent.
Newhouse: What is your relationship to social movements?
Moore: I’m from Camden, New Jersey. That’s important. Camden is a mostly black, urban, economically and politically devastated city that, when I was growing up, was known for its crime rate. My family is still there. My nieces and nephews walk the streets of Camden that I walked on. Whether it is racial antagonism, the ways the police encounter people on the street, forms of intra-community violence — there is no real distance for me from these issues.
As a journalist, I come at this as someone who’s been on the other side of the news reports, looking for someone to say, hey, there is another way to write about this city other than calling it a hood or ghetto. That’s how I saw myself represented. I always tell the story about my eighth-grade year: Miss Universe visited our school. We were very excited, got dressed up in red, white and blue. And the news report the next day spoke more about the trash that was lining the part of the school where we were at and the sort of spectacle of black kids, rather than this joyous experience. So as an adult who has a platform, it’s important for me to tell the other side of the story.
Newhouse: One of the episodes focuses on Camden, which you obviously have a connection to. How have you identified the other stories?
Moore: Our producer, Antonia Hylton, is a solid, brilliant, creative mind who really did the work of identifying stories. She came up with the ideas and we talked through everything from the approach to the people we wanted to talk to, and the way we wanted to do that. That is to say, not showing up in people’s communities with cameras and lights on without allowing them to feel connected and in some ways in control of how we’re interacting.
Newhouse: How much time do you spend reporting in these communities?
Moore: Anywhere from two to four days. I talk to everyone that we interview. We work together to come to an understanding of our taping schedule, who we’re going to talk to, why it’s important to talk to certain people, allowing them to ask questions — all before the camera gets turned on.
I talk about my life so they can understand where I’m coming from. We want their feedback, which means giving our lead interviewees space to say, “Hey, here’s a person you should interview.”
Newhouse: That’s pretty different from the traditional reporting process.
Moore: It’s really different, and I hope that comes across in the series as a connection and intimacy between me as an interviewer and interviewees.
Newhouse: It does.
Moore: Not only can the bodies of black and brown people and other marginalized people be violated, but so can their stories. For me, it’s really important to ask questions that allow people to talk on their own terms. Another thing you might notice in the series is that I do less talking. I give a narrative arc, but our video team is really good at centering the voices of those we’re interviewing.
Newhouse: In the episode about food justice in Native American communities, there was one shot where you were helping serve food.
Moore: I was there, and we had the chef on camera, cooking. For me, it did not even cross my mind not to serve in this way, because this native, indigenous community welcomed us. They fed us and they welcomed us, and that was our way of saying, “We see you and thank you.”
Newhouse: What common threads have you seen in the stories you’ve spotlighted?
Moore: In each of the stories, there’s something — a community concern, a social problem — that people are responding to, not for anything other than to bring about change.
Newhouse: Of the stories so far, which has stuck with you most?
Moore: The last episode, which was also the first one we recorded. This format is very new for Mic, so that first shoot was a testing ground. We followed Coach Khali, who opened up a boxing gym in Detroit for young people to come to box to be off the street. There was a nervousness on my part. I just remember spending so much time talking to the people we were interviewing, and I kept thinking “this is going to be the key.”
I was sitting before one of the young people I was interviewing, and she cried right on camera. I mean, crying isn’t spectacular, but for her to feel safe enough to be open in that way made me feel like we were onto something good.
Newhouse: Who is your audience?
Moore: Mic is a millennial-targeted media company, but this particular digital series is helping to expand it a bit more. It’s attractive to a range of people, especially people of color. Especially people of color who are also organizers, activists or socially aware. Policy makers and so forth. The Camden school district reached out to use the Cure4Camden video. The Native American food piece was shared through Indian Country, which is a really big media outlet there.
Newhouse: How will you know if the series is accomplishing what you want it to?
Moore: We want it to accomplish more than just views, to actually do things in the world. For example, Wanda James — who we featured in the episode on marijuana — I went back to Denver for a different occasion, and spoke to her, and that weekend was also the women and cannabis convening, and so many people had come because they saw that video. Or the organization that we featured in Camden has received so many emails offering help. These are the things I see as accomplishments.
Newhouse: Are there future topics that you especially want to cover?
Moore: I really want to do something on the life worlds of LGBTQ youth of color. Also, stories on gentrification, disability justice and the care of elders.
Newhouse: Is there a way to subscribe so viewers know when a new episode is out?
Moore: Every Tuesday when an episode airs, it goes right to the series landing page.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.