Tayo Giwa and Cynthia Gordy Giwa have been spotlighting Black-owned, Brooklyn-based businesses since the beginning of 2018 as an act of hyperlocal service journalism. We asked them about their approach to telling these stories and how the new momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement has impacted their digital publication.
Q: What inspired you to create Black-Owned Brooklyn?
A: We’ve always spent a lot of time walking through Bed-Stuy, where we live, and surrounding neighborhoods. During those walks we’d constantly stumble upon beautiful, interesting Black-owned businesses, and we found that most of them had not been written about in a substantive way, if at all. Black-Owned Brooklyn grew from a desire to know more about these places and to fill what was a clear void. Cynthia kept thinking “Somebody ought to be telling these stories,” before officially launching the project in February of 2018. While it started as a small act of hyperlocal service journalism, the project has since become an important documentation of the often overlooked contributions of Black people in gentrified Brooklyn. Our coverage has evolved from focusing only on businesses to also include beloved cultural celebrations and little-known histories.
Q: Your posts are so thoughtfully written. How do you capture the essence of these businesses so succinctly? Can you give us an insight into your process?
A: Our stories lean heavily into our interviews with the business owners, mostly just letting them tell their stories in their own words. When we sit down for a conversation with a subject, we’re intentional about walking in without any preconceived notions, staying open to surprises and steering clear of cliches and stereotypes. Since our content lives both on our website and on Instagram, where we typically post in threes, we identify the best three quotes or ideas from the interview and craft the write-up around that. It’s important to us that we get the story right, and we want the owners to feel like we captured their story in an authentic, thoughtful way.
Q: You’ve said that Black-Owned Brooklyn is not a comprehensive list of all the Black-owned businesses in Brooklyn, but a curated one. Do you have a rubric for how you decide which to include and which to leave out?
A: While there’s no rigid set of criteria — we pick what we like — there are two basic requirements:
- A business that we’ve experienced for ourselves. We personally vouch for everything we cover.
- A business with an interesting story: longstanding ties to Brooklyn, cultural significance, extraordinary products or services, an unusual origin story, exquisite presentation and attention to detail, among other factors we find compelling.
We’re also deliberate about choosing a mix of businesses run by women and men, young people and older entrepreneurs, gay and straight folks, trendy new spots as well as down-home staples, all representing the breadth of the Black Diaspora.
We believe strongly in our curated storytelling approach, as opposed to merely providing a list of businesses. Knowing who the business owners are, and understanding their backstories, make our readers more invested in their success and more likely to actually go out and support. We see this over and over again, and it’s exactly what we’d hoped to achieve — for these stories to be actionable.
Q: So often when talking about Black-owned businesses in Brooklyn the topic comes to gentrification. I know you try to take a different approach. Can you talk about your philosophy around that?
A: In gentrified Brooklyn, stories about Black people are often reduced to narratives about displacement and loss (that is, when our stories are not outright ignored). But our existence is so much more than that. Our goal is to document and amplify the joy, beauty, creativity, self-determination and love that we see every day in Black Brooklyn.
Q: How much has the new momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement impacted Black-Owned Brooklyn? How are you thinking about the future of the project?
A: We didn’t start Black-Owned Brooklyn in reaction to current events, as we’ve been doing this work since the beginning of 2018. However, uprisings over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others have increased attention on Black-owned businesses as an important form of economic protest — and that’s certainly brought more attention to our work. But that hasn’t changed our storytelling approach in any way. We’re really disciplined about sticking to our vision.