What started two years ago as a project to spotlight overlooked Black-owned businesses has blossomed into one of the hottest digital publications about our borough.
Bklyner first met Black-Owned Brooklyn, operated by husband and wife team Tayo Giwa and Cynthia Gordy Giwa, in April 2018, two months after launching their Instagram site. At that point, they had already reached 2,000 Instagram followers. Today, that number has skyrocketed to more than 38,000 people.
“There’s been a hunger for this information,” Cynthia said about the publication that features the borough’s Black-owned businesses and chronicles Black cultural life. “People are really fired up about supporting small businesses and Black-owned businesses in Brooklyn. Not only Black people but people of all races.”
Although the site focuses on Black-owned businesses, its tone is positive and not reactionary about the effects of gentrification on the business landscape, Tayo explained.
“We encourage people to support Black businesses but we’re are not guilt-tripping them,” he added. “We’re saying, look at these businesses and consider them as well. I think that is part of the big following.”
So far, the couple has featured more than 200 businesses and 20 cultural events, local histories, institutions and organizations. The list includes a history of Medgar Evers College, the Panamanian Day Parade and the Soul Summit.
“We see ourselves as cultural documentarians in changing circumstances in our community,” he said. “We want to create this body of work that will stand the test of time.”
A lot of the excitement centers on their stories and photographs of cafés, swanky bars and boutiques, just to name a few of the diverse types of business they spotlight.
“We actually go to the businesses we cover and eat there,” Tayo emphasized. “We want to be able to stand behind what we are talking about. We want to know, is the food good, is the service good, what’s the environment like?”
For the Giwas, this is a family project. The couple brings their 9-month-old daughter with them to visit businesses on the weekends. It’s an opportunity for their child to see her community and engage with neighbors at an early age.
But don’t call their project a business. It’s more a labor of love than a business venture.
“People are always asking us ‘how are you going to monetize it?’” Tayo said. “For us, we just love doing this work. We’re providing a service to our community. We found our beat and we’re just doing it.”
They run a tight schedule with the goal of posting one article per week. Most of the work is done early mornings and late at night after coming home from full-time jobs. Cynthia is a journalist who now works as a marketing executive. Tayo, a media and technology lawyer, is the photographer on the team. Co-founder Glenn Alan, also a photographer, left the team in early 2019 to pursue other interests. That’s when Black-Owned Brooklyn publicly acknowledged Tayo’s role.
The couple hesitated to predict the growth of Black-Owned Brooklyn five or 10 years down the road. They’re more focused on the present and pursuing their passion.
“We hope people see the Brooklyn that Tayo and I see,” Cynthia said about folks who visit their site. “We want them to see the beauty, self-determination and rich culture. Our hope is that we give people something to read that delights them and makes them feel better about their community.”