In 2018, at the end of a very difficult year, Shu Porter needed a break. Her mental health had taken a serious hit after being laid off from her job, and with different stressors starting to pile up, she felt like she was suffocating.
Porter knew she’d sunk into a deep depression. To restore some balance into her life, she took a trip to Jamaica. Although she was born and raised in the Caribbean, her vacation was a different experience. This time, she was soul-searching.
“I stayed at the crème-de-la-crème of resorts,” remembers Porter. “It was just luxury upon luxury… they did it all the way up for your girl.”
Sipping expensive champagne, fresh flowers delivered right to her room, and seaside massages were part of Porter’s daily itinerary. As she listened to the waves crash against the beach, her worries melted into the sea like the sand from the shore. Porter’s journey was one of self care and self reflection.
The experience was a powerful one, and it led to Porter wanting to recreate it.
“It just made me feel so bossy.”
Wanting to share the feeling of luxury, All Things Bossy Brand was born. Developed in January 2020, the company organizes luxury events that are specifically curated towards celebrating, empowering, and supporting Black women.
“I had such a great time, and it was such a good opportunity for me that I now want to go back and bring fifty more women.”
Porter is well-known as a Black Lives Matter activist in Calgary. She hopes to intertwine activism and business, making Black prosperity her brand’s sole focus. All Things Bossy Brand is how she supports not only Black lives, but also Black livelihoods.
Since childhood, Porter has had an intrinsic desire to help others. When the killing of George Floyd re-energized the Black Lives Matter movement in May, she channeled her need into creating the United Black People’s Allyship (UBPA), an organization that supports Black communities in Calgary.
This summer, Porter’s popularity skyrocketed after a video of her speaking at Calgary’s anti-racism hearing gathered over 7,400 views on the UBPA’s Instagram account. In the video, Porter directly criticizes Mayor Naheed Nenshi and city council for the failure of Calgary’s anti-racism hearing.
However, Porter explains that her experience as the face of the UBPA was challenging. Even as an activist, she was not immune to racism and misogyny. She admits being a Black woman who publicly advocates for anti-racism in a city such as Calgary eventually took its toll on her psyche.
“I don’t get shaken up easily,” says Porter. “One day it just all caught up to me.”
Her decision to step back came after a bout of anxiety and panic attacks. Constantly addressing racism in the public eye was traumatic.
“Black women are often told ‘you don’t get to be scared,’ or ‘Why are you talking about trauma?’ It’s like it’s foreign for us to be worried when it comes to ourselves,” she explains.
Nevertheless, Porter sees her experience with the UBPA as an important part of her life. Now, as a supporter of the organization, she is excited to see how systemic racism is addressed in Calgary.
Her experience with the UBPA also helped her with her own activism. Porter realized that All Things Bossy Brand was already addressing racism in an unconventional way.
“All Things Bossy is an organization where I can create luxury events that really celebrate Black luxury, Black joy. And when I say Black, I mean Black. It’s dedicated to Black women,” Porter explains.
The events create spaces that celebrate Black women through fabulous get-togethers, an elegant online presence, and fostering a sense of connectivity.
Attendees of an event listen to Black keynote speakers, support Black-owned businesses, and are encouraged to celebrate with other women. It’s a chance for women of all different backgrounds to dress up and feel luxurious, and be part of Porter’s growing community.
Porter says her business model was developed for Black women to feel a “sense of sisterhood.”
Porter also recognizes Black women are not one large and indiscriminate group. Instead, the All Things Bossy Brand strives to honour those differences, as well as their shared experiences.
Porter describes an All Things Bossy Brand event as something that all women can identify with and learn from. That being said, the company is her love-letter to young Black women everywhere.
“This is not to exclude other women, but you should know that, when you come to an All Things Bossy event, you are coming to celebrate Black women,” she said.
“If you have a problem with celebrating Black women, then All Things Bossy isn’t for you. That’s just what it is. You’re invited to the party, but just know who the party’s for.”
Porter believes that All Things Bossy events will continuously enrich people’s lives.
“The way my activism works is that I promote young Black women,” she says. “If I can influence more people to address social injustice in a more particular, specific, intentional way, I would rather do that than just stand on a platform with a megaphone.”
That kind of promotion is especially important in Calgary. After moving here in 2008, Porter felt there was a “lack of Black culture.”
“Instantly, I just didn’t feel like I fit in.”
That same feeling is why 26-year-old Femi Akinsanya attended Porter’s All Things Bossy Brunch in September.
Akinsanya, who says she was the “only Black girl in my grade, and one of the three Black kids in my schools,” felt plenty of emotions at that brunch.
“When I go to other events, usually I’m one of the few people of colour, let alone Black women,” says Akinsanya. “You never feel truly able to let your guard down.”
By contrast, Akinsanya explains that there was “a level of comfortability” that she had “never experienced within Calgary in [her] adult life” at the All Things Bossy Brunch.
“Coming to this environment and this event that is just filled with Black women of different walks of life, different experiences, different professions… this sounds cliché, [but] it really felt like a sisterhood.”
She described the most influential part of her All Things Bossy Brand experience as the celebration of Black women as a whole, but also touches on the diversity among the community.
“Even though we’re Black women, we’re not a monolith. We don’t all think, talk, speak, or do everything the same, nobody does. To see that all being represented in a single space, that there’s no one way to be and there’s no one note to success, was great. To see that, right in front of you, is a really beautiful thing.”
Akinsanya is looking forward to what the future holds for All Things Bossy Brand and hopes to be able to attend more events soon.
“Even though it seems kind of crazy in the world, there’s still some glimmer of hope for sure,” says Akinsanya.
Porter says those glimmers of hope are sometimes overshadowed by “trauma porn” – the stories of Black pain that often dominate online discussions.
Ultimately, news channels and social media accounts have capitalized off of racial trauma by constantly documenting horrific events through photos and videos.
Porter explains that she “has experienced Black pain for 29 years,” and she is well aware of racial injustice, so the online fetishization of trauma, specifically Black trauma, is a serious issue. After leaving the UBPA, she says “the minute [she] stopped posting about trauma” she lost followers on Instagram.
Nevertheless, Porter is committed to her mission to celebrate Black prosperity instead of pain, adding that Black lives “mattering” should be the bare minimum.
“You cannot say that you are for Black lives but not for Black livelihood.”
As a result, Porter says she changed her Instagram feed so “you’re going to see happiness. You’re going to see inspiration.”
“Normalize luxury. Buy that Hermès bag, buy the Chanel bag; do it, sis. Eat the lobster, drink the champagne,” she says. “Why should you always suffer? We’ve done it enough. Our sisters died so we could live the life that we live now.”
She explains that Black women deserve to be reminded that their livelihood is essential, and her lifestyle as a successful businesswoman is about setting an example for young girls everywhere.
“That’s how I advocate for Black women. That’s activism to me.”