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New business directory amplifies BIPOC owners, Guelph Black Heritage Society says

The Guelph Black Heritage Society has launched a new BIPOC business directory to promote businesses and amplify the voices of those behind them. The directory is named for Viola Desmond, the Nova Scotia civil rights activist, who was a businessperson herself.

Directory named for Viola Desmond, who ran Desmond School of Beauty Culture

Alexis Charles, CEO of Shyne Body Butter in Guelph, is seen in this photo from July when she showcased her products at the opening of the Ms. Meri Mak Boutique in the city. Charles' business is one of many listed on the new Viola Desmond BIPOC Business Directory launched by the Guelph Black Heritage Society. (Tiffany Mongu/CBC)

A new resource from the Guelph Black Heritage Society will promote local businesses whose owners are Black, Indigenous and people of colour and help amplify their voices, says the group's president.

The society has launched the Viola Desmond BIPOC Business Directory and president and treasurer Denise Francis says she hopes it will lead people to shop locally.

She said the society has heard from people, especially newcomers to Guelph, Wellington County and Waterloo region, that they wanted to support local businesses but were unsure where to start.

"People would ask us for referrals: Do you know a hairdresser, do you know this person or do you know that person? And so now, by being able to collate all this information in one easy search engine, weren't able to help the community and we want to help improve this long term success of our local BIPOC-owned and operated businesses," Francis said in an interview with CBC News. 

The directory lists businesses beyond the local area, though.

"When we started spreading the word about starting this project, we were amazed that people were wanting to be included from afar and not just in our little Guelph-Wellington area," she said.

Francis said it was also important to them to keep the directory free for the community to use and for people to list their businesses. She said there's often a fee for listing your business on these kinds of directories. 

"We feel it was necessary in order to help promote our community and to amplify our voices and our businesses, we needed to try and do this as a service. And so that's why there is no fee for the organizations that wish to register with us," she said.

Named for civil rights activist

The directory has been named for Viola Desmond, who many people know as a civil rights activist and whose face is on the $10 bill.

But Francis said they chose Desmond because she was also a business owner. She was a beautician and mentored other young, Black women through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture.  

"She was a trailblazer in so many ways and that's why we thought this is also, you know, not just to honour her, but also to try and spread her story a little bit more because first and foremost, she was a businessperson. And that's why we thought it would be a good connection," Francis said.

The society also received permission from the Desmond family to use the name on the business directory.

Other initiatives

Kween, the heritage society's executive director and social justice initiatives co-ordinator, said in a news release about the directory that it was an "opportunity for the global majority to have access to promote themselves and get visibility."

Kween added, "This helps amplify our voice, our message and it is completely free. So, in the words of Viola Desmond, 'This is for you.'"

Francis said she hopes the whole community embraces this project and others the society has taken on, including the educational initiative Change Starts Now and the Flora Francis Memorial Library of Black Literature, which was launched earlier in the year and is located at the society's Heritage Hall at 83 Essex St. in Guelph.

"Last year, the world shifted and the whole sort of Black Lives Matter movement, it was not just a movement for us. It is our lives and we have to try and keep on in the people's consciousness of the social justice initiatives and the other projects that we're working on," she said.

"I want people to continue to support the Guelph Black Heritage Society and our programs and our activities and let us know what are the other services that they're looking for it because they want to work together and really try and to be a  community organization that's not just for the Black community, but for the community," said Francis.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

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