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#NotablePeople: Creator of Black Owned Toronto Kerin John

At just 23 years old, Kerin John has grown her platform exponentially in a matter of weeks of launching it.

What does this say? That not only is her page amazing but that it’s very very important. The newfound conscientious wave to consume more responsibly and support Black-owned businesses has presented an opportunity for Kerin to be an aggregator and cheerleader of sorts, featuring products for all types of people, by all types of people, in the Black community. It was an honour to sit, learn, listen and commiserate with Kerin.

So before we get started, how are you living, it’s been quite a few weeks. 

I’ve been good, albeit up and down, you know? My community has been very, very positive, but the second I get out of my Instagram bubble, and see everything else that’s going on, it’s ups and downs, emotionally speaking. There is so much good happening, and actual change occurring. This is the first time I’ve truely seen and felt a real change. Statutes are being taken down, and people are actually shopping black-owned. I see so many good things happening.

I think – to that point – that real and radical change always occurs as a result of something tragic happening. Like the Civil War – it took a whole war, for real conversations to be had. And subsequently, history also teaches us that the growth – although good, is going to be really painful. I’m sure like myself, you’re probably simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted from this revolution. 

Yeah, it’s where you just have to persevere and seize the day. 

I think it’s super dope. So for those who don’t know, can you tell us a bit about your job?

I run an online platform called Black Owned Toronto. It’s a community dedicated to promoting black-owned businesses in the city, in the surrounding areas.

How long have you had this platform for?

So I started a little over a month ago, but it’s only blown up since about a week and a half ago.

It’s incredible. And it’s just going to continue to be on an upward trajectory. How do you find these businesses? Was it your own purchasing experience or have people reached out to you? 

I’ve found several of these businesses through my online research, through word-of-mouth and people, either recommending that they have their own business or know of a business they’d like to share.

Although it’s only been a few short weeks since this all began, what sparked your interest in venturing into this space? 

At the beginning of the year, one of my resolutions was to start shopping more black-owned. I did this whole Instagram story about it and I was like, “guys, I’m only gonna buy black-owned.” And as I was trying to start accomplishing that goal, it was actually really, really difficult to find black-owned businesses or figure out what businesses in the city are actually black-owned. Cause sometimes if you go to a Caribbean restaurant, it may be, you know, Caribbean people, but the restaurant itself is actually not black-owned. There are a lot of little things that you don’t really notice until you start trying shop; it’s really difficult.

Even hair care brands that we buy are not black-owned. A lot of the beauty supply stores that we go to are not black. So I created this platform as a way to find more black-owned businesses and be a resource for them.

So what do you do with your time outside of Black Owned TO?

I’m a graphic designer, which is why my page is really pretty. 

[We both laugh] It really is.

I also do photography, in addition to my regular job. I’m a visual merchandiser and I also work at Sephora, so I have quite a few jobs. 

That’s the way to go. I think having that skill set you have always lends well to doing brand marketing. I saw your page and I was like, this is beautiful. What advice would you give somebody who’s looking to break into the industry, especially Black women, like yourself?

I’d encourage them to go for it because actually starting and doing the research, picking it up, and maintaining it can be very time consuming and difficult. But go for it and try to do it in a way that’s your own and put your personality into it. I feel like putting little touches of me in everything that I do with the page helps as well. A lot of people have been asking you, are you going to do this in New York? Are you just going to do this here? And it’s just like, I’m, only one person and I don’t live in these places. So I encouraged people to do this in their own cities as well.

I’m excited to see where this is going to go ‘cause it’s going to be good. What is your long-term goal with this?

I think I’ve already hit the overall initial goal, which was to see the page grow as much as possible, which it has. And then, I want to have a good relationship with all these business owners that I have posted about, because I am invested in their growth. Overall, I just want to help these people grow successful businesses, and so far so good. 

For a long term goal, I do want to have a black-owned Toronto business convention where people can set up, for example, “a booth” to sell their products. I make it my business to check up on all the businesses I feature, and see how they’re doing. And all of them have received amazing business. 

Incredible, that’s so great. What’s the best advice that you’ve received?

It’s not necessarily advice, but one time, I posted some of my work on my Instagram page and one of my good friends was like,”good job.” And I was like, “oh, it’s light work.” He then said, “there’s no such thing as light work, everything we do is heavy.” That really, really stuck with me. So I guess it’s not necessarily advice, but it’s just something that I heard that kind of keeps me going. Everything we do is heavy.

Yeah. That’s good food for thought. You have to give your all, and what you do has weight and meaning. How do you think this new wave of awareness and activism of the injustices in the Black community will shape your industry, and the platform you’re creating? 

I think there’s a lot of education that needs to happen. A lot of systemic change needs to happen.

And what areas have you already seen that will change in the Black community specifically, thus far? 

I feel like a lot of people are going to feel more encouraged to start their own businesses because now more than ever, we’re getting so much support. And I said this earlier in my Instagram story on Black Owned TO, that I don’t want this to be a trend. I want it to be a lifestyle; supporting black-owned businesses and local businesses in general to be something that we’re more conscientious of. So I hope that’s a change that comes that we were just more cautious and shop more locally. 

I hope that we do more research on the brands that we consume the most. We should support, regular people, you know? I feel like a lot of wealth just goes to large corporations and there’s so much of it that can go around, you know; more evenly. So I hope that’s a change that comes and I think that it’s already happening. 

We cannot wait to see it. What adversities have you conquered so far in your life? 

I feel like growing up black, in general, is very difficult A lot of the times we don’t talk about the type of PTSD we go through. Such as the type of images that we constantly see, even from a young age, having to explain to our younger cousins or siblings or children what isn’t easy to see. Going through those emotions every single day is hard on its own, and then finding ways to work through that and still try to do something positive for the community. It’s hard.

Anything exciting coming up? 

Merchandise dropping on July 3rd, my birthday. Tees, hats, the whole thing.

We love to see it, Kerin.

Danai Mushayandebvu

Danai is usually scrolling through Instagram in search of new restaurants, things to do and places to be. While she has no formal dance training whatsoever, she hopes to be part of a professional hip-hop troupe someday. You can follow her escapades @dnizzler