Tra'Renee Chambers takes on social, racial topics
Tra'Renee Chambers stands out.
In a predominately white metropolitan area, where journalists and media personalities are predominately white, Chambers hosts the first and only show in the Portland area to feature a Black woman who is both host and producer.
A Tigard resident for the past 16 years, Chambers recently kicked off the second season of "Situations & Conversations w/Tra'Renee."
The weekly television program uses a talk show format while taking on topics of race and diversity — ranging this season from white supremacy to mixed-race families. Other topics include mass incarceration and mental health in communities of color.
The show airs from 10 to 10:30 a.m. Saturdays on Fox 12 Plus (KPDX), after being taped at HomePlace Furniture & Design in Portland.
The program is a combination of lifestyle features and community affairs, often "highlighting voices and concerns around disenfranchised people," according to Chambers.
Chambers, who holds a master's degree in social work and is a licensed mental health professional, said her past experience has helped her when she interviews people for her show.
"One of the tenets of social work is to meet people where they are and so when I'm talking with people, I'm actually trying … to listen more than I'm talking," she said.
For Chambers, it comes naturally to pay attention and be engaged, in keeping with the "active listening" approach on which she was trained in social work and mental health.
"I really do believe in the power of community, and people helping other people, and being of service to other people in whatever way that you can," she said.
At the end of Chambers' show, she reminds her viewers to "please take excellent care of yourselves. That's the only way you can take care of other people."
Chambers said those who aren't willing to meet people where they are in their lives constantly try to put them where they want them to be, "and that's not cool with me."
Before producing "Situations and Conversations" for television, Chambers previously hosted radio segments by the same name on both iHeatRadio's Z100 FM and on JAM'N 107.5 FM. She said those pieces were designed to fill a void in the Portland metro area.
From 2016 until 2020, Chambers was the host of KATU's weekday program "Afternoon Live." In that role, she won a Northwest Regional Emmy Award for Best Program Host/Moderator in 2017.
"I have been a radio personality for what feels like forever, and so jumping into television is something I always wanted to do, but I mean I never thought in a million years that in my first year of hosting a show, that I would not only be nominated but win," Chambers said. "That was crazy. Crazy good, but crazy."
When she received her Emmy, she said she didn't immediately display it on a mantle, instead keeping it in its box for the first few months. She said it was her children who asked about it. Feigning surprise, she asked them if they meant her Emmy.
"I told them where it was and they're like, 'That's not cool. You need to have that out,'" Chambers recalled.
When her second contract was up at KATU in 2020, Chambers decided she wanted to do something different. She still had the passion to turn her old radio show into something made for TV.
She said she has found that getting local guests to talk isn't that difficult. What is difficult, she added, is to "cram in all the things I want to talk about in the season."
Although she's still in her second season, Chambers said she's already thinking about and hoping for a third season, because she still has topics she wants to talk about.
While Chambers always has a couple of questions written down to ask guests, she lets the conversation evolve naturally.
"Most of the time … I may not even get to some of that, because I go where the conversation leads us to go," she said.
Chambers doesn't avoid talking about tough issues, either.
"That's what people are talking about," she said. "The problem is these kinds of conversations are not really being highlighted and fleshed out the way that I felt they should be."
She said her show provides a platform for those types of community conversations in a way that highlights her belief in what she calls the Five E's: elevate, empower, educate, enlighten and entertain.
One segment from "Situations & Conversions" last year featured two African American children and their experiences with racism and finding someone to advocate for them.
One child said that he was in a store where a clerk told him to "get out or buy" something. While the segment is painful to watch, Chambers, sensing the young boy's pain, quickly turned the conversation around to let him know how wrong that clerk was, making sure the blame was placed on the correct person.
Asked about the segment, Chambers said, "Somebody else can tell you about it, but hearing it directly from the mouth of a child, it definitely hits differently."
Meanwhile, an upcoming show will discuss the issue of critical race theory. While many people are talking about it, Chambers said some don't know what it is.
"You ask people, and they don't really know what it is. They just know that they feel some kind of way about it. It's like, 'OK, well, where's the educational piece in that?'" Chambers said. "You can feel how you want to feel, but can you have some education and make it make sense?"
That segment is scheduled to air this coming Saturday, Feb. 12. Chambers will host Shirley Jackson, a sociology professor at Portland State University.
Chambers is the mother of three girls, all in Tigard schools. Her older daughter, Bobbi Mackenzie, is a professional actor and singer. Her middle daughter, Madison Renee, is a professional dancer, having appeared in several music videos, including one for the band One Republic. Her youngest daughter, Aubree Taylor, is also an actor, having appeared in the series "Shrill," the former television show filmed in Portland, which starred "Saturday Night Live" actress Aidy Bryant.
(This story corrects a previous version about how long Tra'Renee Chambers has had her Fox 12 Plus show.)
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