When Tianna Edwards went to the Black Luck Collective’s vigil for George Floyd on Tuesday, Jun. 2, 2020, she said she was surprised to see so many other Black people from the Kingston community standing in the crowd around her.
“I really saw how many Black people actually live in Kingston,” she said. “We were all looking at each other like ‘where have you been?’”
A life-long Kingston resident, Edwards said her father has always joked with her that ‘Black people hide in Kingston.’
“We’re not visible,” she said, “but we’re here.”
“A friend of mine who is a part of the Black Luck Collective had sent me a message asking if I knew if there was a list that exists, to highlight Black-owned businesses in our community, for those who want to support, show solidarity,” she said.
“I had actually had quite a number of people messaging me and asking me this question. I didn’t have the list, I didn’t know of a list. So I figured it was a good way to have people share, and be able to show themselves in our community, to stand up and say ‘I’m here.’”
“Representation is very important,” she said. “It’s important for people and their kids to be able to see that the Kingston landscape is a lot more diverse than it may seem, by saying: ‘Here are all these wonderful places that are owned by Black people in Kingston.’”
There are currently 32 businesses on the list. Edwards said she has only listed businesses that she knows want to be included.
“I don’t want to force exposure on people,” she said. “I’ve had people ask ‘Aren’t you concerned about sharing businesses, saying they’re Black-owned, for any ill-intent?’” Edwards said her hope is in fact to build solidarity and a community around business owners that could overcome any such adversity.
“My long-term goal is to extend this list to include businesses owned by Indigenous and People of Colour in our community, but we are going to start here,” Edwards wrote when she shared the list on social media on Sunday, Jun. 14, 2020. “This is an opportunity to support the movement, locally.”
Speaking out on Keep Up With Kingston
This is not Edwards’ first step into the conversation about race in Kingston. On May 30, 2020, she published a blog post titled Being Black in Kingston, which has been shared at least 529 times on Facebook, retweeted 42 times, and liked by many of Edwards’ 6500 Instagram followers.
It appeared as protests against the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 energized a movement to end police brutality against Black people and, by extension, systemic racism in general.
“When I wrote that, it originally was a rant, really, to bring things home,” she said. “I was feeling frustrated with people just associating what was happening with the south and the states, saying ‘Wow, that’s terrible there, but things are great here!’”
“After I wrote that piece there were so many people in the community who reached out to me and identified with what I had said, or shared their own experiences,” she said.
Some have speculated that public support for the movement to end systemic racism could wane, as the action shifts away from marches towards less exciting, legislative and bureaucratic procedures.
Edwards said she thinks Kingston has the energy to sustain a long-term shift and support for the movement if the messaging is consistent.
“The Kingston culture is a lot of people who are kind of in denial about where Kingston sits on the spectrum of inclusivity, and being a safe space for people of colour,” she said. “It’s a lot of white people saying to each other that they don’t see racism. But, of course you don’t. It’s exhausting when I think too hard about it.”
She added “There’s been a lot of positive response to the list and the [blog] post, so that just shows that there’s lots of room for growth, people who want to change,” she said.
Edwards also thinks young generations are well-positioned to bring about that change.
“I am hopeful that there is a generation coming up now that is going to know better and to do better,” she said.
“My mom was saying ‘when we were kids, when we were younger, we were just told to be polite. To not speak up, because that’s the way that you fit in. Just shut up because you don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable.”
Edwards said she does not share those views, and speaks openly and happily with her white friends and their children about race and diversity.
“As I said in the blog, I’m over making people feel comfortable and being polite,” she said. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, including hundreds of supportive comments and messages from teenagers thanking her for speaking up, she said.
It’s a big step for a writer who admitted that, up until Saturday, May 30, 2020, said she had refrained from including pictures of herself on own her blog, for fear of alienating her audience.
“Unintentionally I opened a can of worms,” she said. “I can’t just now write one blog post on being Black in Kingston and then ignore any activism after that, and go back to sharing my food photos.”
She said she has experienced some pushback from followers. “I shared something this week on the concept of defunding [the police]. A lot of people were really positive. A couple people [responded] ‘I’m gonna unfollow you.” To them she says “Well, this is just the beginning. If you want to unfollow me, then go for it.”
“I am still going to enjoy sharing [my previous content] because I still am going to eat food.” she said. “I also think that a lot of people have started to follow [me] because they see the potential. If it means that I can open some eyes, and be more transparent and try to help along the movement from this specific space, then I’ll do that.”