February is Black History Month, a time dedicated to celebrating the rich culture, traditions and contributions of Black Canadians. Black-owned businesses are a critical part of our economy – and our nation’s future.
Purolator recognizes and celebrates the immeasurable achievements of Black people and Black entrepreneurs throughout Canada’s history. We recently asked Black small business owners to reflect on the sources of inspiration that drive their vision, resilience, and success. Below are some of their stories.
As unconventional as it may be, my point of inspiration for Black History Month has not come from a historical figure or movement. It’s actually someone in my family who has been instrumental in shaping how I view my creative ideas as a professional. While I often mention that I have an aunt and an uncle who both inspired me to pursue my love of fashion, it’s another uncle who focused my view of being a professional creator and navigating my industry while staying true to my aesthetic and vision.
“…instead of trying to be what I’m not, I made my own lane – and it has served me well.”
Clement Ishmael, currently the World Wide Music Supervisor of Disney’s Lion King, is an accomplished composer and writer who has stayed the course during difficult days of trying to get ahead in an industry that didn’t necessarily support Black creatives. From his early days of transposing the musical score (by hand) as the Assistant Musical Director to becoming the one in charge of its musical worldwide presence, Clement never stopped pushing. He didn’t stop fighting to get certain positions that should have rightly been his. I watched that closely and learned.
“Produce quality, more than anything else, people will gravitate to that. Not everyone, of course, but at the end of the day there will be a group of people who want it – and they will be your customers.”
I’ve been inspired to learn as much as I can about my craft on an ongoing basis, the industry and how to stay true to my vision. In this way, when the doors open for new opportunities, I don’t feel like I’m selling myself short. My process and business model isn’t the norm in this field and many people questioned it when I began, so instead of trying to be what I’m not, I made my own lane – and it has served me well. Thanks, Uncle Clement, for paving the way for many Black small business owners and creatives like myself.
Claire CarrerasWhite Rhino Bags
There are so many incredible women of colour who throughout history and present day have achieved great things. Many have influenced the mainstream and many have had to struggle to be recognized as pioneers in their industry.
Take, for example, April Walker and Misa Hylton who are revered in the fashion industry but whose struggles to get there are detailed in The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion, a documentary shining the light on the struggles of Black visionaries in the fashion industry.
I have also been incredibly inspired by Madam C.J. Walker’s story and journey to becoming a self-made millionaire and activist.
Madam C.J. Walker was orphaned at a very young age and was not formally educated. She came from nothing and started her business with nothing but a dream.
Recognizing what she and others have had to overcome in order to be recognized, appreciated and taken seriously in their fields of expertise has motivated me in ways that cannot be quantified.
Knowing the struggles and the perseverance that others have endured to achieve their dreams reminds me that I am not alone in the challenges I face. It gives me great strength to know that I too can be the woman, the small business owner, the leader that I was born to be if I just stay true to myself and never give up.
“Achieving success as a small business owner starts with believing in yourself and your worth.”
Achieving success as a Black small business owner starts with believing in yourself and your worth. These are the women of colour who inspire me and remind me every day that life is what you make it.
Small business ownership is often unpredictable, isolating and uncertain. Their stories give me the courage and the confidence to keep growing, to keep building and to appreciate the journey to success.
Trevor SilvertREv Clothing
Reflecting on Black History Month, an inspiration for me has been Malcolm X. Seeing his biopic and reading his autobiography allowed me to realize that no matter where you come from or what your past looks like, it is never too late to be the best version of yourself and to be able to add value to the world.
“…it is never too late to be the best version of yourself and to be able to add value to the world.”
Throughout his life, Malcolm X continued to evolve and grow with the more information and experiences. Either through travel or study, he was always recreating himself. This is a refining process that we all go through when we get out of our comfort zones.
This constant idea of experience and evolution has inspired me to become a lifelong learner, pursue a degree at Dalhousie, travel to new places around the world, and constantly meet new people; all of which allow for breakthroughs in life and business.
One of my favourite quotes by Malcolm X is, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” I believe this statement is a perfect analogy for life and business. With the increasing rate of global changes related to societies and technologies, it is going to take constant education for us to keep up with, and be prepared for future challenges and opportunities.
Once I began my career supporting children and youth with behavioural and cognitive challenges, my passion for helping families grew. I yearned to become an entrepreneur, an opportunity to use my expertise to empower and assist families.
Still, for many years, my thoughts of doubt and fear paralyzed me. “Can I, a Black woman, wife, and mother, and make it?” Madam C.J. Walker (first female self-made millionaire), Kathrine Johnston (NASA mathematician), Emily Mills (How She Hustles founder), Susan Walker (Naturopathic Doctor, Earthtones Natural founder), and Tracy Moore (Canadian television journalist, Cityline host) are just a few of the Black women who genuinely inspire me.
“These Black women endured a tremendous amount of hardship, but they never gave up; they persevered and unapologetically pursued their dreams.”
In 2012, I finally decided to get started and write my business plan. Today, I can proudly say I’m the Founder of Cornerstone Family Services and Creator of Reward’um™, the first re-stickable routine chart. When I’m experiencing defeat, rejection and frustration, I think about the Black female trailblazers that have paved the path for me. These Black women endured a tremendous amount of hardship, but they never gave up; they persevered and unapologetically pursued their dreams. Their stories have taught me to dream big, always shoot for the stars even when I feel I am a small fish swimming in a big pond. I won’t let rejection deter me from moving towards my goals.
Lastly, I am reminded that failure is inevitable; what’s important is that I learn from it and keep going.
Supporting Black History Month and Black entrepreneurs
We encourage all Canadians to support Black-owned businesses in their communities. During Black History Month celebrations in February, and every month of the year. Thank you for making Canada stronger!
To learn more about Purolator’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, download our most recent Corporate Social Responsibility Report.
Note: Opinions and content contained in these submissions are those of the contributors only; and not those of Purolator.