In Washtenaw and across the country, residents’ options for independent local news have dwindled as corporate media conglomerates grow. In a year of COVID-19, the first county prosecutor’s race in decades, and key public decisions on everything from affordable housing to policing, barriers to engaging in local issues have serious consequences, especially for Black, Latinx, and other communities of color who are often misrepresented in corporate media.
Enter Progressive Black Caucuz, a new podcast in Washtenaw’s BIPOC-led media ecosystem that includes other online outlets such as The Alex Thomas Show and Contacto Michigan Radio.
“Progressive Black Caucuz is about building community,” says podcast creator Krystle Dupree, who lives in Ann Arbor. “It’s about making issues accessible.” The podcast format reflects this commitment, with guests coming on the show for a free-flowing conversation with Dupree and co-host Tara TBean Johnson. For example, a recent episode featured a local judge who is also an unemployment lawyer.
“While I was going off on my policy rants,” laughs Dupree, “Tara was asking this guy really specific questions about unemployment benefits because she’s having problems with her own unemployment checks.” Dupree, who works as a Community and Youth Coordinator at Avalon Housing, believes the podcast “tells community people that it’s okay to ask questions. It provides information for people who don’t have a way to ask those questions, for folks with families and jobs who might not have time to attend a public forum.”
Podcasts such as Progressive Black Caucuz are an important form of community media, writes journalism professor Juliette de Maeyer in her article, Podcasting Is Shaping Democracy. According to de Maeyer, “Podcasters act as storytellers … allowing them to take their audiences around unexplored territories that listeners can experience, and maybe care about.”
The first episode of Progressive Black Caucuz (originally called Sex, Dope, & Politicking) aired in May of this year, after Dupree put a microphone and other equipment on a credit card to create a recording studio in her living room, then got a micro-grant to take the podcast online.
The idea for a podcast was sparked by a friend she often debates regarding politics and theory. “I think we were arguing about critical race theory,” recalls Dupree, when her friend said, “You should do a podcast!” “At first I thought ‘nobody wants to hear me.’ But then I realized that I could partner with someone and make it a really useful resource in the community.”
Dupree’s commitment is rooted in her life journey. Dupree, a solo mom who identifies as a Black, Muslim, demi-sexual woman, was born in Detroit, but ran away from home at the age of 16. On her own as an emancipated minor, Dupree finished high school in Battle Creek, couch surfing at different friends’ houses. “I really got hold of myself during that time,” says Dupree. “I knew that I wanted two things and that I would have to fight for them: I wanted a college education and I wanted to help people.”
After high school Dupree planned to go to college, but was sexually assaulted on her way to meet a university recruiter. After that incident, Dupree stepped back from school for a time and went to work, holding down multiple jobs at Burger King and a casino. But Dupree never lost her college vision. After much thought, she enlisted in the Army and was later sent to Iraq. Joining the military “was a necessary evil,” says Dupree. “I didn’t have any options. It was the only way I could get an education to help the people I wanted to help.” In December 2019, Dupree graduated from the University of Michigan with a master’s degree in social work and launched the podcast four months later.
Dupree believes her life experience and her education guide her well in the podcast. She points to the most recent episode, called “Unusual Healing Space”, where she and two other members of a mixed-gender sexual assault support group talked about how they are learning to heal individually and collectively from their trauma. Dupree feels proud that “Unusual Healing Space” attracted the podcast’s largest audience so far and created a safe public space for a deep and complex public conversation.
Dupree believes Progressive Black Caucuz provides accessible community education at a critical historical moment. She is inspired to see people taking to the streets in protests, and hopes to deepen their understanding of the issues. Paraphrasing Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, Dupree says that political education helps people know “why they doing what they doing.”
Dupree is passionate about serving residents in Washtenaw and dreams that Progressive Black Caucuz might go statewide someday, reaching people in other communities “who may not be activists, but who want to influence change through their friends, family, and community.”
Julie Quiroz lives on the east side of Ann Arbor and recently launched New Moon Collaborations. She is the editor of the anthology Untold Stories of Liberation & Love, a book of poetry by Ypsilanti-based women of color. Stay tuned for her next entry in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.