Notable Native: Shawn Taylor

By Features Editor

Shawn Taylor has noticed a troubling trend in her hometown of Alton, Illinois, a small town about 300 miles south of Chicago where black men are dying as young as 50, often leaving a heartbroken family without a source of income and a leaderless community behind.

Taylor, a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Detroit Free Press and the president of Treetop Consulting, a media consulting firm, decided she needed to bring attention to the issue. As these men die, fewer are left to fight inequality in the community, epitomized by the longstanding struggle with Alton’s police department to hire more black officers. She began shooting and self-funding her first documentary, “Gone Too Soon: Alton’s Endangered Black Men,” in June to examine the socioeconomic impact these deaths have on Alton through two of the town’s most distinguished families, the Caffeys and the Carmens.

Taylor is trying to raise money for her self-funded project through an Indiegogo campaign that launched Aug. 8 and runs though Sept. 22.

The Chronicle spoke with Taylor about her film, the Indiegogo campaign and the families of Alton.

THE CHRONICLE: What inspired you to make this film?

SHAWN TAYLOR: I always noticed that black men in my hometown die young and there’s just a lot of death. I’m lining it up so people can see the connection between the families, the church—which is where people deal with all of this pain and all of this loss—and then looking at the people who are still there. A burden that [is] sometimes placed on them because there are fewer to stand up and fight for equality in the community. There’s been a long-going dispute with the police department over its lack of hiring African-American police officers. There are two on a force of 60. You’re hearing about the same thing going on in Ferguson, Missouri, which is just across the river.

Why did you focus on the Caffey and Carmen families?

The men I will be focusing on who have died are connected to these families in one way or another: classmates, church members, best friends, neighbors, husbands and wives. The Caffey family is known for its contributions to the community. Bernetta Caffey and Tom Caffey have been mentors of young people in the community and their three sons are active [in the community] as well. Billy Carmen was one of two black construction company owners in Alton. His death had a tremendous impact because Alton, as racially mixed as it is, still deals with issues such as employment opportunities.

How are you approaching your first attempt at a documentary?

I have been given the opportunity to work with a production company in Chicago; they have a program for diverse voices [and] diverse films. I would like to be a part of that so I can really dig in and learn more about how to do this. In the meantime, I’m watching a lot of documentaries and thinking about whether I like this style or that style.

Do you expect to raise all $35,000 through your Indiegogo campaign?

It’s a tall order to raise $35,000. The great thing about Indiegogo is if I don’t hit the goal, at least I get something. I’m funding this out of my own pocket at the moment.

What message are you trying to convey with this documentary?

I want people to care about and value the lives of black men. This country has a serious devaluation problem as it relates to black men. We’re seeing it in the police shoot- ings [and] why it doesn’t happen to any other racial or ethnic group. I also wanted to start a conversation about how they can better care for [and] protect themselves. Men who are civically involved who do well for their families, I want them to also think that doing well for your family and for your community also means taking especially good care of yourself because we need you.