Ebony Marie Chappel is an activist who makes a difference through storytelling. She knew she wanted to be a writer from the very beginning, and started her journalism career after college at the Indianapolis Reporter. While she rose through the ranks from intern to editor, she was constantly pursuing side projects. She made a tumblr to share her poetry and writing, and became involved with radio as well. Now she hosts a radio show, Eye on the Community, and uses her platform to tell the stories of those who often don’t have a chance to share them– from sharing the work of grassroots organizations to discussing issues of mental health in the black community. Chappel is now working at the Indiana Donor Network, traveling around the state to educate people of color, and people in the LGBTQ+ community about organ donation.
Chappel is constantly thinking of new ways to use her creative skills to impact her community. We talked to her about how far she has come, and what’s coming up next.
Julia Bluhm: How did you first get interested in journalism and media?
Ebony Chappel: I was a writer from the beginning. I didn’t know what a journalist was until I was in about the third grade. We had a speaker come and do a convocation at our school. I remember the smartest kid in class, Zachary, was sitting next to me. I remember the speaker was talking about different possible careers we could aspire towards, and said, “somebody in this room someday is going to write a story that’s going to change the world.” And then Zachary pointed at me and said, “yeah, that’s you Ebony.” That was crazy to me, because that dream seemed so big and so huge, but it intrigued me. So I pretty much poured everything that I had from that point forward into this world of writing and media.
JB: How did you start hosting your own radio show?
EC: There was this show called, “Indy Speaks” with Cameron Riele, and I wanted to get a quote from Cameron for a story I was writing. He said, “why don’t you just come on the show and we can talk?” So went on the show, I got there are 6:30am on a Sunday, and it was great. He eventually left, and that’s when I started hosting Eye on the Community. It will be a year old on March 16.
JB: What kind of stories do you like to share on your show?
EC: The stories that I like to tell are the ones that often go untold. I like to try and shine a light on things that people wouldn’t necessarily know about. We talk to a lot of grassroots organizations and initiatives that are trying to make a difference in the community– those people don’t always get the attention they need. I also just want to talk to the friends and neighbors who are trying to make our community better. It could be anyone from a high school student who’s standing up for what they believe in to someone working in politics, like we had Dana Black on the show. I talked a lot with her about what it’s like to be a black, queer woman involved in politics. I’ve also had a local therapist come on the show, to talk about the issue of mental health in the black community. You know, people of color are exposed to so much trauma. And they don’t always know the resources available to help them stay well throughout what they’re experiencing. So, I want the show to be a resource to tell stories and help educate.
JB: Do you identify as an activist?
Chappel: Absolutely. I consider myself an activist. It’s important to remember that in activism, everybody has a role to play in pushing the movement forward. So, I see myself as a supporter. I can use the resources that I’ve gained to help provide leverage and momentum. Also, you need somebody to tell the stories. Think of Ida B. Wells. I aspire to get to the level of Ida B. Wells. She was definitely an activist, but she did it through news media. She talked to people across the country and told their stories. That’s definitely activism, and that’s what I am aspiring towards.
EC: What has been fulfilling about working for the Indiana Donor Network?
Chappel: I lead the multicultural outreach program for Indiana Donor Network. I go out and I educate people of color and people in the LGBTQ+ community about the miracle of donation and transplant. It’s so important to me, because a lot of these people know nothing about donation. There’s also a big disparity that exists– people of color make up 60% of the national donor transplant waiting list. That’s a major issue.
In addition to telling people about donation, I help educate about health disparities in general. It’s been really interesting, because a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community don’t think they can donate. Because men who have sex with other men, regardless of how they identify, aren’t allowed to donate blood, so they think they can’t do organ donation, but that isn’t true. We tell people, “hey, over here we’re not discriminating that way. If you want to donate, you can.”
JB: What are you doing next?
EC: I’m working on a couple of projects. I’m going to be hosting an event on April 5th at Hoy Polloy art gallery. It’s going to be an artistic exploration of the health disparities that affect black women. We’re going to feature local artists, and have health care providers there as well. I’m also working on a photography exhibition about black fatherhood that is coming out later in the spring.
You can listen to Eye on the Community every Sunday morning at 7am, on Hot 96.3. For more information, follow Ebony Chappel at @ebonythewriter on all social media platforms.