Toronto

Creator of popular Instagram account showcasing Black-owned businesses hopes support is here to stay

Kerin John says one of her biggest goals in 2020 was to support more local Black owned businesses. Not only has she achieved that goal ⁠— but she’s also brought hundreds of new customers to various businesses in the city as a result of her new Instagram account.

Black Owned Toronto amassed more than 40,000 followers over the last month

Kerin John, a Toronto photographer and graphic designer, launched an Instagram account in May to help highlight Black-owned businesses in the city. (Submitted/Kerin John)

Kerin John says one of her biggest goals in 2020 was to support more local Black-owned businesses.

Not only has she achieved that goal ⁠— but she's also brought hundreds of new customers to various businesses in the city as a result of her new Instagram account.

"Black business owners in general don't get promoted enough, highlighted enough; we have a harder time getting loans, getting customers, getting business," the photographer and graphic designer said.

"It's important to support us especially during this time."

From food, to art and legal services, the account posts photos of the product or the people behind it and a short note about the business, curating a collection of Black-owned GTA businesses in one spot.

The death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd last month was a call to action for many ⁠— sparking demonstrations across North America demanding an end to the systemic racism Black people experience and feel daily.

John says her page has grown quickly as people try to find ways to be allies to the Black community.

"The response has been amazing," she said. "I get messages every day from people thanking me for the resource and from the business owners I've posted saying they've gotten tons of business."

John says supporting Black entrepreneurs goes a long way  to helping the community.

"Shopping with us you help our families, you help us increase generational wealth, you help bring customers our way and flourish overall."

The quick success of the page means John has turned the project into her full-time focus, with plans to continue growing it and hosting events to bring these business owners together down the road.

Businesses thankful for the push 

For LA Burton, owner of clothing company Simplicity, the promotion of his product on John's page meant a lot.

"Her platform is amazing. It's helping out so many different people in so many different ways. It's bringing to light the different creators in the city that are working so hard," he said.

LA Burton says he launched Simplicity, a clothing brand, three years ago. In this photo a model is wearing one of his sweaters. (Submitted/LA Burton)

Burton has been mirroring those efforts through his own business over the last three years. He says he tries to shed light on other young creative people in the community through his brand.

"A lot of my models are people of colour. I like to uplift them because it's really hard to come up in the city so I like to bring them with me," he said.

Burton says the conversations happening right now are the perfect opportunity to bring talented people in the Black community forward. 

"For a long time there's been so many Black businesses that haven't gotten any attention," he said.

"It's important now more than ever because people are watching."

Aunty Lucy's Burgers, a smash beef burger shop, opened its doors in early June.

The owner there, Chieff Bosompra, says it was a risky time to open with COVID-19, but they were prepared and had a good business plan.

"It's been off to a great start," he said.

Chieff Bosompra opened Aunty Lucy’s Burgers during the COVID-19 pandemic and business is going well. He says he's developed a friendship with John since she promoted his smash beef burger shop on her account. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Bosompra says he appreciated that his feature on John's page was nicely branded and that the other businesses were all well represented.

"She was basically our first supporter in this whole time period; it really got the ball rolling for us."

He says he hopes the anti-Black racism movement provokes change in workplaces and brings more Black representation to boardrooms and executive roles. He also hopes his success inspires other entrepreneurs who are entertaining the idea of starting something new.

"I don't really think of myself as Black-owned. I just happen to be Black and I own it," he said.

"I'm just trying to lead by example and show that you can do whatever you try to do."

Looking to the future: Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce

Last year, the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce launched with a mission to empower, inspire and support Black-owned businesses across the country.

The organization ⁠— which has chapters across Canada ⁠— offers resources, hosts networking events and provides training opportunities.

"A lot of business owners sometimes feel isolated and alone," said Andria Barrett, president of the chamber. 

"Especially as a minority, it can be a disadvantage to be in business. We want to have a collective force and make sure everyone across the country feels united."

Andria Barrett is the president of the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce, which launched just over a year ago. (Submitted/Andria Barrett )

The chamber also has a directory of Black-owned businesses and has launched a website to help the community through the challenges of COVID-19. It's also hosting an ethnic food incubator program to help food start-ups grow. 

"You need to know there are other people out there that look like you that are doing what you're doing," Barrett said.

But looking to the future, Barrett says the chamber will be holding businesses accountable, as many have taken to social media to share their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The chamber is pushing for more concrete data collection of Black-owned businesses in various sectors.

"We're interested in knowing what your board of directors looks like. We're interested in knowing what your supply chain looks like," Barrett said, noting the Black community is underrepresented in a lot of industries.

"We're going to be watching everyone as the weeks and months roll out to make sure we are inclusive and tackling the anti-Black racism in our country."

Meanwhile, John anticipates she'll be keeping busy with her growing account, but she's also challenging people to follow through with their support even after the demonstrations stop.

"I just don't want this to be a temporary trend. I do want supporting Black-owned businesses and supporting local businesses in general to become more of a lifestyle." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Talia Ricci is a CBC reporter based in Toronto. She has travelled around the globe with her camera documenting people and places as well as volunteering. Talia enjoys covering offbeat human interest stories and exposing social justice issues. When she's not reporting, you can find her reading or strolling the city with a film camera.

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