“That wraps up the Detroit attitude. We don’t need someone else’s approval; we’ll do it ourselves.” #P2P Vol. 6: Tifini Kamara
Tifini Kamara is a 23-year-old entrepreneur attending Central Michigan University with a plan to take her love of journalism and admiration of music into Detroit to help reignite the spirit of the city. A West Bloomfield, Mich. native, Tifini spent years thinking she wanted to move out of state and tackle a new challenge before she finally realized that home was where her heart is.
Now that she’s found what motivates her, she and her friend Leah have established an initiative called Never Say Die — creating independent film projects to tell the story of Michiganders from all around the state. For the individuals they feature, it’s a chance to get exposure and join a community of Michiganders doing great things. For Tifini and Leah, it’s their opportunity to combat the negative press the city of Detroit gets by telling the stories that the media aren’t here to discover on their own.
Getting off the ground.
What’s your personal stake in the city of Detroit?
“If you would have asked me in 2009 or 2010 if I cared about living in Michigan, I would have said no. I couldn’t wait to get out of here. But then I moved to New York, and I found myself talking more and more about Michigan. I felt like that experience was necessary.”
Why is that?
“Moving away, and then coming back, helped me have this passion for Michigan that I didn’t really have before. I always had this negative attitude. I came to realize that I wanted to stay here for at least a little bit.”
What is it that makes you want to stay?
“I think Never Say Die was that final thing that made me feel like this is the place I want to be. It forced Leah and I to spend a lot of time in places I wasn’t really familiar with. I said ‘This is cool. It’s like a smaller, more intimate New York.'”
In what ways is it similar to New York?
“It has some of the characteristics, the movers and the shakers, and people who are reinvigorating the city. If it wasn’t for them, I may not have felt the same way. There’s a lot of people in their 20s and 30s who are bravely buying up property, going into co-working spaces, because now is the opportunity to take that chance. They’re doing cool stuff.”
People getting things done in Detroit reminds you of New York?
“Yeah. I feel like if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. People used to say that about New York, and it’s still very true. But I feel like the odds are against you in Detroit because people have this negative attitude, especially if they’re not from Michigan.”
The attitude that Detroit is falling apart?
“I guess. There’s this attitude here in Detroit among everybody that’s kind of like we can’t do it anywhere else, we’re going to do it here and we don’t need you. We don’t need your help. We’re doing it anyway. I like that. I call it the Detroit attitude. It’s something I ask people about all the time when I interview them for Detroit Lives. Everyone has their different opinion on what that is, but for me I think it’s all about this independence. It’s the spirit of the people around me that make up my passion.”
So, how do you define the Detroit attitude?
“I think the best way to define it is that we’re hardworking people. No matter what socio-economic background you come from, you have to fight hard to make it here. There’s this attitude that if someone else is not going to help me do it, I’ll do it myself.”
The “Do it Yourself” attitude.
“The D-I-Y attitude is nothing new, but it’s especially true in Detroit because there’s a lot of resources available but at the same time there’s not a lot of resources available. That wraps up the Detroit attitude. We don’t need someone else’s approval, we’ll do it ourselves.”
What is Never Say Die?
“It’s a platform for storytelling using the Internet. We have big plans to become a huge form of media, but everything we do is approached with a journalistic foundation. You’ll see that more with Detroit Lives, where you hear about a person’s particular story. We do music projects also, but they’re much more atmospheric.”
Detroit Lives and Never Say Die exist together?
“Never Say Die is the name of the business, but Detroit Lives is the name of a specific segment where we interview Detroiters who live, work and play here. They’re influential in their community.”
How does Never Say Die play into that spirit of Detroit?
“I think the fact that we create our own projects has a little bit of that attitude. For example, every project we come up with has been in-house. No one is telling us what we should do. We don’t have to answer to anyone.”
How does it work?
“These projects are Michigan made. Our recent collaboration with SMPLFD clothing is Michigan-centric. The clothing is created in Hamtramck, the people who are behind it are Michigan natives. They’re from here. The music was created by Michigan-natives. The crew is from Michigan. The location is in Michigan.”
How do you find people to participate?
“One thing that is crazy to me is that you can ask someone to be a part of a project and they instantly say yes. I just call people asking for places to shoot these interviews and they just quickly say yes. People we ask to be interviewed are happy to be interviewed. We pay for a lot of our own things, like gas, food, everything that goes with producing something like this.”
What do you get out of it if you’re not making money?
“We don’t make money because we don’t have a client coming to us asking us to do this. We decided to do this for an entire year as a foundation to create all of the passion projects we’ve wanted to create. Then, we want to turn our ultimate goal into a reality.”
What’s that ultimate goal for you?
“Leah and I are both passionate about journalism. We want to incorporate that and music into what we want to do. We would love to have the resources and the money to have a space where we could do in-house recording of music with influential artists who come to town. We’d like to do in-house interviews there, too. We want this space to be abstract. We want to have writers, we want to have in-house photographers, so that we can tell stories that are relevant but different.”
Different from what?
“You can go to CNN for traditional news, but with Never Say Die you get alternative news about things in your community that you care about but are not being reported on. We plan on telling more stories that go deeper. We want to do it all. We want to become a journalistic platform in a way that resonates with a generation of people who care about the things in their community.”
Will you work with anyone in the community?
“My stance is this: if you come up to us and say that you really want to work on a film project, then I’m going to say yeah and take your word for it. But if you show us it’s not a priority, and you’re only kind of trying to be a part of something, you won’t work with us. We take this very serious. We may not be making money on it, but it’s still our baby and it’s our foundation period. We want to leave this first year with the mindset that we created great projects that were meaningful to us and other people.”
That’s a good goal to have when you’re getting started.
“We also think it’s really cool that we work with mostly women, which is rare especially in the film and music industry. Women don’t get a lot of credit for the things they do — in the film industry especially. You pretty much have to be related to someone or be half-naked to get some sort of critical acclaim. We’re not saying we should be getting any awards or anything, because that’s not our primary goal. We just think it’s awesome that 9 times out of 10, there’s us girls and maybe one guy who is a camera operator.”
Would you like to work with more women?
“I would really like to be able to work with more women. I say why not? There’s plenty of creative women out there and it’s a great opportunity. We’ve produced quality work so far, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t.”
Is it your way of paving the way for other women to get involved in their community?
“I wouldn’t say we’re trying to pave the way, but I think it’s more like a challenge that we’d like other women to accept. My perspective is there are plenty women out there who should be working with us or working on projects like this. There’s a market for it. Why not work together?”
Willing to fight to stay alive.
What do you do for Never Say Die?
“My role at Never Say Die is that I’m the producer, so any of our projects — Detroit Lives, Living Room Sessions — are ideas we come up with, Leah supports them and we figure out how to shoot them. I find the locations, I find the talent, I set the schedules, I get the lunch or dinner, I make sure the staff is where they are, I keep the time on set. Leah and I edit everything together. I do social media, blogs, things like that.”
How do you do all of this while you’re still in school?
“It can be hard. I have a lot of late nights. A lot. Leah and I fight with each other sometimes, but we have to get stuff done. We have a deadline and we have to do it. We get it done no matter what. For me, it’s hard but for Leah it’s harder.”
Why is that?
“She’s in graduate school and she teaches, so she has a lot more on her plate.”
How do you stay motivated?
“We know we may have to get together and edit, but we’ll have a beer or something so we can relax. You figure out what you’re passionate about when, even while you’re trying to rest, it gets brought back up again. It’s always on our minds. The only way to balance it is to just do it.”
Do you feel like you’re getting an early start on your career?
“I do and I don’t. I feel like I’ve been trying to do something since I was 18. Now I’m 23 and I’m doing something closest to my passion so far. Is it my ceiling? No, not yet. But there are things that I find I’m starting to be more satisfied with.”
You’re finding what makes you happy?
“Sort of. I’ve never really felt like the things I used to do were worth bragging about. I had two internships in New York. I was getting a lot of connections, meeting people, going to Fashion Week, rubbing elbows with celebrities. I never felt satisfied doing all of that, though. Especially since I wasn’t getting paid for it. So, now I’m doing things for no money at all. I’m actually paying to do them. I feel like I’m in the right place right now. I don’t have this immensely impressive job title right now, but I’m doing it because it’s important to me and I think it’s important to my community.”
How did the idea for Never Say Die even come about?
“So, one day I’m reading Dark Rye Magazine which is a really cool publication that is very cosmopolitan. I’m seeing all of these cool things about Detroit companies, people doing cool things in the city that I didn’t even know about. I found it fascinating. I found this blurb about a letterpress shop in an alley in Eastern Market. I came to my friend Leah because I really wanted to interview people who are in Detroit.”
What did you come to her about?
“I asked her if I should hit up the people from the letterpress shop. She’s getting her master’s degree in video production, so she told me I should be a producer. That was the first time I ever really considered it. It was like a ‘Eureka!’ moment. So I contacted the people at the letterpress shop in the summer and they told me they had an event coming up.”
You spoke directly to them?
“Yeah. They were on this remote island where they said they never got any cell service, but on the day I called they randomly had service. They’re like ‘Yeah we’d love to do this! Also, really weird that we’re even talking to you because we’re in this remote island and no one can ever get in contact with us.'”
Oh, that is pretty neat. Great timing.
“I thought that was cool. I felt like it was meant to be. So we get to the event. Leah’s recording, I’m walking around, meeting people, doing my thing. Then I’m in the alley and I meet someone else who I thought would be cool to interview. And that’s how it started. We didn’t have a name for things, we didn’t know why we were doing it. We just knew we wanted to shoot things about Detroit. And this was right around the time Detroit announced its bankruptcy, so we felt it was our duty to share these stories.”
So your initiative is to reinvigorate the spirit of Detroit?
“Yeah, in a nutshell. We really want to create stories that are meaningful from people who are here, working in this city every day with something to contribute. That’s part of the first project we ever created, which is called Detroit Lives. We felt it was appropriate because things in the city were very dramatic.”
How do you mean?
“People were looking at Detroit like it was going to be Ground Zero. When the bankruptcy thing happened, a journalist had pointed out that big name media were doing a long-distance reporting situation instead of coming here. We felt like we owed it to the city to share some good stories from people who live here.”
Makes perfect sense.
“Yeah. Ever since we came up with the name, we mentioned to people that we needed a logo and a mascot. We got responses the next day from a friend. He sent us something and it was perfect. So, every since then we’ve depended on outsourcing for things and it’s worked. It’s important to us. Collaborative outreach and collaborative projects is what we’re all about.”
On Detroit Lives.
“When we were shopping around telling people about the project, people would say ‘You know there’s a company called Detroit Lives, right?’ We’re like we know, but it has nothing to do with that. So, we released the project and added that to our F.A.Q. saying ‘Yes, we know. That’s a company, this is a project.’ We felt it was appropriate because it was a play on the fact that people thought Detroit was dying. We couldn’t think of a more appropriate name.”
On people fleeing Michigan for big cities.
“Some people just want to move because they think there’s only crap work here. There’s some crap here, but a lot of it isn’t crap. You may go to Los Angeles or New York City, but there’s a lot more white noise to compete with. There may be less crap there, but there’s a lot more competition and attitude.”
On Michigan helping Michigan.
“In Michigan, and Detroit especially, a lot of places are not only coexisting but supporting each other. They’re writing about what’s happening at local spots, they’re tweeting about it, they’re asking how they can help. It’s pretty cool.”
Your mascot is the dog, right?
“Yep. There’s a blurb on our website about our mascot, Sir Never S. Die. I don’t really know how that started, but it kind of just did. That’s just our mascot. It’s the dog you see everywhere. The blurb is about him, but it’s pretty much an homage to Detroit. It’s pretty simple. Never Say Die is, right now, simply music and video projects. We try to add atmosphere to our storytelling. In the future, we’d like to become a bigger platform for journalism but with a twist. We want it to be more specific to our community. We want to have a co-space with like-minded individuals. This is it. This is pretty much Never Say Die in a nutshell.”
Do you think Never Say Die is catching on?
“If you look at our videos, we stand behind them. Do they have an insane amount of views? No, they don’t. But our personal goal, and when we feel happy, is when we get 100 views on just one video. We’re happy, we celebrate. We don’t want to set unrealistic goals for ourselves. If you took the time out of your day to watch something we created that you may not even care about, thank you. Thanks for spending the time and checking us out.”
Tifini’s story is a part of #P2P, a recently launched blog series that profiles the choices, risks and lifestyles of influential people I come across. For more on my personal journey with #P2P, subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter or subscribe to me on Facebook.