The words “black” and “successful” are not often found together because of the negative stereotypes associated with blackness.
The stereotypes from popular culture are not only false but harmful.
These profiles of three very different people shed light on the importance of having successful black men and women in leadership positions.
Eddie Richardson – Founder and director of Genesis Basketball
Eddie Richardson is the president of Genesis Basketball, which is an NBA-affiliated club based in Calgary that provides high-level basketball training for youth, regardless of their socio-economic background.
Richardson’s mission is to provide equal opportunities for kids that come from all walks of life. By starting Genesis, he is making sure that financial barriers do not stop a child from pursuing their dreams.
“Being in Calgary in the ‘80s and ‘90s and playing basketball, there were not a lot of black people in the city. So there were not a lot of faces that I’d recognize and feel comfortable to turn to, so finding role models was hard,” he says.
Raised by a single parent, Richardson understands how it feels to have limited opportunities, especially as a black teenager pursuing a career in basketball.
Being discriminated against and called racial slurs by his peers did not stop Richardson from taking his basketball career to the top. As one of SAIT and Mount Royal University’s star players, Richardson had scholarship offers from universities in Canada and the U.S., as well as a pro offer in Germany.
After playing basketball for a little over 10 years, Richardson decided to transition from player to coach, founding Genesis in 2006.
“I got together with a couple buddies and said, ‘How can we support these kids?’ So we raised funds to support one team of kids and trained them up at a high level and as the years went on, one team turned into being able to train about 28 teams.”
Richardson’s success with Genesis Basketball has allowed him to have a seat at the table and become a role model for the youth.
He teaches his students that success is in their own hands.
“I’ve worked through a lot to get to where I am and I still have a lot ahead of me,” he says. “I hope that my story inspires others to never settle and to push through adversity because anything is possible.”
Joyce Okunsi’s - CEO of Joyce’s Closet Consignment Boutique
Joyce Okunsi’s love for fashion started when she was a little girl. She was often found playing in her mother’s closet or digging through her fashion magazines.
But it was not until eight years ago that she decided to shift careers and take her love for fashion seriously.
In 2011, Okunsi started her personal fashion and lifestyle blog, Tall Freckled Fashionista, which kickstarted her fashion career and allowed her to pursue fashion full-time.
Not long after launching the blog, Okunsi started styling clients. Eventually leading her to start-up her own business called Joyce’s Closet Boutique Consignment. An online store that provides personal styling, wardrobe consultation, personal shopping and offers dress rental services.
Okunsi, who was born in Nigeria, has styled clients like the U.S. Olympic bobsled team. However, her success has not come without hardships. She emphasizes the struggle to find herself in Calgary's fashion scene.
“Trying to become a stylist in the city was hard, no one looked like me, it was hard to find other black women in fashion in Calgary,” she says.
Although there were few role models Okunsi could identify with, she always had her mother to look up to who taught her to always be strong, ambitious and confident.
Okunsi, a mother herself now, continues to live by her mom’s teachings even when she feels like an outsider.
“In fashion, I faced many barriers. I had to work twice as hard to prove my credibility as a stylist. Because I am a black woman, I was excluded from many things that I should have been a part of,” Okunsi says.
Before starting in fashion, Okunsi worked for the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society where she helped resettle and integrate newcomers.
She says that the journey to success is not easy especially as a black woman, adding that there would be moments where you question your abilities and second guess yourself.
As a mother, Okunsi hopes that her hard work and perseverance will pave the way for her daughter’s future endeavours and that she will be judged by their skill set and not the colour of her skin.
She advises aspiring stylists to never stop pursuing their dreams in fashion.
“I used hardships as a way to keep me motivated so that I could create my path,” Okunsi says.
“I did not work hard to prove anything to anybody but to prove to myself that I could do it and I didn’t need their validation to be successful.”
Beni Johnson – Founder of 10 at 10 Music Culture and Media
Beni Johnson is many things — the founder of 10at10 (an event and media platform dedicated to promoting the hip-hop scene in Calgary), a graphic designer, a recording artist and a spoken-word artist.
Johnson was raised in Fort McMurray as one of the few black families in the community at the time. He knew at a young age that being black was different.
“People were racist in their ways. If something does not look like you, people get afraid of it, so it was a combination of many things,” he says.
Johnson never let the stereotypes define him or restrict him from doing things he wanted to do.
“Whenever I was given a job or a task I would always try to be the most educated on it. I never wanted to feed into the stereotype of being that unethical black kid,” he says.
“I was also on student council doing graphic design for the yearbook and I designed the football team’s website — all while I was a captain of the basketball team, the volleyball team and football team.”
At 20, Johnson moved to Calgary for post-secondary and went on to graduate from SAIT with honours from the new media and production program all while pursuing his music career. Johnson combines his love for hip-hop and his skills in design and production to promote blackness in a positive light.
“I think a motivating agent for myself was always trying to be the best representative for black people. We have so many negative stereotypes towards black people in general, so I always told myself that I wanted to be the opposite,” he says.
Johnson explains hardships as a black man in the working world will always be there. He hopes the work he does will show that facing difficulties as a black person does not mean you will not be successful.
Navigating the world while black is challenging Johnson says but one piece of advice to make the journey easier is to never shy away from your blackness.
“Own your blackness. Be that unapologetically black person so you can teach people how you want to be treated point-blank, period. That is the only way you can ever surpass negative stereotypes given to you as a black person.”
- By Badria Abubaker