The Black Tribune’s Ryan Sorrell goes from artist to activist

By Zoë Fisher

Ryan Sorrell records at a protest held in solidarity with the University of Missouri. Photo by Zoë Fisher.
Ryan Sorrell records at a protest held in solidarity with the University of Missouri. Photo by Zoë Fisher.

A trickle of orange leaves were scattered on the spiral staircase that led to Ryan Sorrell’s basement-level apartment, a few blocks from Loyola University Chicago’s main campus. Sorrell and I sat on two worn and cluttered couches in his living room.

The smell of hookah clung to the walls. On the table sat half-filled, open-capped Sprite jugs and empty liquor bottles. (He later noted his roommates are of legal drinking age.) Sorrell shuffled around his book bags and clothes and quickly apologized for the mess, in a slightly embarrassed tone.

This three-bedroom Chicago apartment was the antithesis of his childhood homes in the suburbs of Kansas City and East Lansing. Sorrell describes his neighborhood as “an upper-middle-class, white area.”

His mother, a CFO for Kansas City Union Station and father, an attorney for the federal government, afforded him opportunities like private basketball camps and classical viola lessons.

His cousin often teased him about his privilege. His earliest experience with race occurred when she taunted him and his two brothers for not being black enough. In response, Sorrell diligently researched topics like the civil rights movement and the Black Panthers.

“I love black people,” Sorrell says as his long, russet-colored fingers pause from fiddling with a stress ball, “I love being black.”

The organizations he participates in, such as Student Justice for Palestine (SJP) or Chicago Coalition for Minority Advancement (CCMA) reflect his appreciation for advocacy and culture.

But Sorrell’s most recent activism manifests itself in the online news source he helped found and now edits, The Black Tribune. The Tribune, unique in its field, is a student-run newspaper that focuses on people of color but is not associated with or sponsored by a university. Few other publications in the nation do this — Blavity is the most notable.

The new publication launched at a heightened time of race relations in our country. Stories such as the institutional racial injustice at the University of Missouri and the police-shooting deaths of Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd allow for the paper to cover police brutality and racism, especially in Chicago.

In high school, Sorrell was confident in his basketball skills but his highest achievements only included making it to districts before losing and being awarded Player of the Week.

Standing a little under 6 feet, Sorrell is lean and still athletic. In addition to varsity basketball, orchestra, the debate team and academics, another passion surfaced for Sorrell in high school: rap music.

His newfound interest was so strong that his academics suffered because of it. The balance between music and school came to a head again in college after he released a video called LUC Trap.

In the video, Sorrell rapped, “Got some Kush, try some of mine. Got some head outside of Mundelein,” on the scenic balcony of Loyola’s historic building. On YouTube, the edited and unedited versions together have reached over 22,000 views.

But the video received backlash from administrators and others because of its references to sexual acts on campus that they said undermined the college’s Jesuit values.

“People make assumptions about rappers,” Sorrell said during our interview as he adjusted the black-brimmed glasses on his face. “They think rappers aren’t smart and do bad things.”

“They don’t know you, bro,” chimed in Dominic Hall, the Black Tribune’s chief operations officer and Sorrell’s childhood friend.

Sorrell made the song two years ago, as a freshman, but he still fights to dispel rapper stereotypes after the video started to elicit judgments about his personality and intelligence.

Ironically, while he sat in Loyola’s student conduct department — an office he’s become familiar with — Sorrell discovered his favorite quote on a poster in the waiting room: “Never doubt that a small group of dedicated people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Sorrell declined to comment on his other visits to the department, citing the possible suspension he’s facing.)

Loyola moved to suspend Sorrell following a noise complaint filed during a Black Tribune meeting at his apartment. Petitions are now circulating on social media to repeal that decision.

Sorrell’s deep, groggy voice recalled the origins of The Black Tribune. “I was sleeping and I had a dream that I talked to Fredrick Douglas,” he says about a summer night  in July. “He told me that this was something that we needed.”

To Sorrell, the mainstream media is controlled by the oppressor — borrowing language from political theory — and the oppressor will never have the interest of the oppressed in mind.

The Black Tribune launched earlier this year with the tagline, “the blacker the paper the sweeter the news.” Hall says the paper is a product of Sorrell’s determination: once he decides to do something, he does it.

The Black Tribune aims to provide a diverse and “holistic perspective of society.” It covers news, politics, solidarity and lifestyle. Articles range from the representation of women of color in media to the colonial nature of the Blackhawks Logo. As editor-in-chief, Sorrell tries to ensure that the articles are free from any misogyny or homophobia.

Sorrell intentionally allows only people of color to write for the paper, with the exception of “white revolutionaries”— allies, who fight for Black liberation.

Since its start in October, the website has received just under 102,000 views. The site’s reach on Facebook quadrupled recently and engagement jumped more than 11 times. Sorrell attributes this to their coverage on the Missouri protests and the protest Loyola held on Nov. 12. Their close sources at Mizzou allowed them to break the story three hours before large media outlets, such as Al Jazeera, The Huffington Post and the New York Times, according to Sorrell.

The Black Tribune’s relationship with organizers allowed them into the safe space –an area blocking media — during the protest on Loyola’s campus but it also put them at odds with other media. Sorrell specifically told reporters from The Chicago Reporter, a news outlet focusing on race and poverty, that they could not enter the enclosed chanting circle. Later on, the Black Tribune contacted the Reporter to ask permission to use the photos they took, but the Reporter denied the request.

When asked why other news outlets weren’t allowed in, Sorrell said the organizers gave the Black Tribune special permission beforehand and even though the Reporter does good work, it was easier to say no to all media than to make exceptions.

The day of the protest, a continuously growing crowd of students chanted in a circle on Loyola’s campus to show their solidarity with the protests happening at Mizzou. Sorrell was in the middle, camera in hand, shivering.

Dressed only in a vest, his arms were exposed to the frigid wind near the same buildings shown in his LUC Trap video. Sorrell, usually in the front leading protests, was now in front documenting them.

The gray, unmoving sky mirrored the resolved faces in the crowd. In 10 years, Sorrell hopes to turn The Black Tribune into a multi-million-dollar media outlet.

But for now, he’s still an activist. While recording, Sorrell put his fist up in unity with the other students. Their chant, “Ashe! Power!” reverberated off Loyola’s buildings until it landed in the ears of the protesters and a hum of silence filled the circle.

Suspect arrested in U of Chicago threat

By Taylor Utzig, Editor

A UIC student has been taken into federal custody in relation to the threats made to the Hyde Park campus, Monday.

The suspect’s post threatened to kill 16 white male students or staff in retaliation for the shooting of Laquan McDonald on the University of Chicago Hyde Park campus.

The charges are pending, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Fitzpatrick in a DNAinfo article by Sam Cholke.

Gun threat closes U of Chicago campus, Monday

By Taylor Utzig, Editor

After learning of a gun violence threat to the campus quad at University of Chicago’s Hyde Park campus, University President Robert Zimmer has cancelled all planned classes and activities at the campus, Monday.

The University was informed by FBI counterterrorism officials after a threat was posted online by an unknown individual, which mentioned the “campus quad” at 10 a.m., according to a Chicago Tribune article by Tony Briscoe.

University of Chicago is bolstering campus police and security in response to the threat.

Loyola student assaulted on Winthrop

By Taylor Utzig, Editor

A Loyola student was sexually groped by an unknown male on the 6300 block of Winthrop after exiting the Granville Red Line station Saturday night.

The offender is described as male, dark complexion, 30-40 years old, and medium build.

An email from Loyola’s Campus Safety reports the following regarding the incident:

Loyola Community,
The Department of Campus Safety is writing to notify you of a criminal sexual abuse that occurred on Saturday evening, around 10:30 p.m., near 6310 N. Winthrop Avenue. The victim, a Loyola student, exited the CTA Red Line at the Granville Station, walked eastbound on Granville Avenue, and then northbound on Winthrop Avenue. While walking on Winthrop Avenue, the student was approached by a male and inappropriately groped twice. The student then ran towards Regis Hall, where Campus Safety was called. The offender fled westbound on Sheridan Road and is not currently in custody.
The offender is described as: male, dark complexion, 30-40 years old, and medium build. He was last seen wearing a white hat, dark jacket, light gray pants, and white Nike gym shoes.
Campus Safety is working closely with the Chicago Police Department on this investigation. If anyone has information on the incident, please call Campus Safety at 773.508.6039 or the Chicago Police Department via 9-1-1 or 312.744.8263.

‘Tis the season for Joyola

By Taylor Utzig, Editor

Loyola students are inviting the Rogers Park and Edgewater community to join them Thursday, Dec. 3,  in celebrating Joyola, an annual music celebration of the upcoming holiday season.

This year’s event will feature student musicians and performers, including Loyola’s Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble, Women’s Chorus, University Chorale, and Chamber Choir.

The event kicks off at 7:30 p.m. in the Mundelien Auditorium on Loyola’s Lakeshore campus. Visit the ArtsAlive blog for more information.

Trolley hits woman in Loop

By Taylor Utzig, Editor

A 42-year-old woman was killed by a trolley, while crossing the intersection at Michigan Ave. and Monroe St. on Saturday.

Police report that the woman was in the crosswalk when she was struck by the trolley.

She was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where medical staff officially pronounced her dead, according to a DNAinfo article by Joe Ward.

The Chicago Police department’s major accidents bureau is still investigating the incident.

Fire breaks out in Hancock

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 4.28.01 PM
Courtesy of Twitter

By Taylor Utzig, Editor

Smoke, flames and debris were all visible this afternoon around the upper floors of the John Hancock Center in Downtown Chicago.

A fire on the fiftieth floor was reported around 2:40 p.m., according to DNAinfo.

By 3:40 p.m. Chicago Fire officials declared the fire extinguished and that the cause of the fire is under investigation.

Street closures around the fire caused major traffic delays, especially as people make their way to the  Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.

Winter is coming

By Taylor Utzig, Editor

You might want to bundle up this weekend because the first snow of the season could be arriving.

Meteorologists are predicting snowfall between 2 to 6 inches in the Chicago area beginning late Friday morning and continuing into the day Saturday, Nov. 21.

The National Weather Service Forecast Office has issued a winter storm watch for the West and North parts of Chicago, where snowfall is predicted to be the heaviest according to the WGN Chicago Weather Center. 

Loyola may add Chinese minor

By Taylor Utzig, Editor

Students at Loyola University Chicago may be able to enroll in a Chinese language and culture minor by fall semester of 2016.

The Academic Council will meet Nov. 18 to determine whether the proposal will pass.

Hong Chen, Loyola’s only full-time Chinese language professor, has been the driving force behind the proposal.

Students have shown enthusiasm at the possibility of having a Chinese minor, including 16 pages of student statements expressing support, according to an article by Julie Whitehair in the Loyola Phoenix.