Introducing: Erin Dunham

If, like me, you live in Paris, Ontario, you probably know the Arlington Hotel. But do you know Erin Dunham?

Erin is the Co-Founder and CEO of The Other Bird Restaurant Group . The Other Bird owns our beloved Arlington, as well as five Hamilton-based restaurants: Two Black Sheep, BurroThe Mule , Black Sheep Snack Bar , and Rapscallion Rogue Eatery. Recently I touched base with this busy lady and learned a bit about what makes her tick.

Who is Erin Dunham?
Erin Dunham is a CEO, a writer, a friend, a wine connoisseur, a lover of good food and better conversation. Erin Dunham does not take herself too seriously, but takes her dogs very seriously.  

Where are you from?
Hamilton, Ontario, baby!

How did you start working in the restaurant industry?

When I was 13 I started as a dishwasher at the Philip Shaver House in Ancaster. And I’ve been in it every since.

Were you always interested in the restaurant business?

I was, but I spent my entire life trying to get out of it. Historically we’re all under-appreciated, treated like second rate people and underpaid. But it turns out, I love what this industry has become.

As a businesswoman, what drew you to Paris?
The opportunity to own the Arlington. We always wanted to do a boutique hotel, but we didn’t think it would be for another five years. The opportunity presented itself when the current owner came to us. When we saw it, we fell in love with the town and it was the easiest decision we ever made.

What’s next for the other bird?

By the end of this year, we are planning to expand to another city and we’re partnering with a local band to open a cool concept in Hamilton which I think everyone will love. That will happen in the next year.

Is there a chance Paris will get a taco restaurant?
There is never a zero chance of anything with us.

If you weren’t a restaurateur, what would you be doing?
I would be a writer and painter on the coast of France.

What do you like to do to unwind?
Mostly, because of how I was raised in the industry, I drink and hang out with my friends and talk about nonsense. When I think about having alone time or down time, what I think about doing is writing and painting and having philosophical conversations and walking my dogs on beaches. But there’s no time.

If you’d like to keep up with Erin, be sure to follow her on Twitter.  

Making HERstory: The Photographers

The brainchild of Emily Mills, How She Hustles is a women’s network that’s been thriving for nearly 7 years. Their events are a celebration of sisterhood. Bringing together women of diverse backgrounds, How She Hustles encourages women to connect, and enjoy each other’s company.

In December, Ms. Mills announced that she was working on a project called HERstory in Black. Back then I didn’t know any of the details. I only knew it involved an act of faith that hadn’t yet been actualized. Since that time, her vision has been made plain: HERstory in Black is a digital photo series celebrating 150 Canadian Black women. It is now featured on CBC Toronto’s web site. Further more, this week, the women who participated in the shoot for this historic series will also be profiled via CBC Radio, and the CBC News Network. 

HERstory in Black is meaningful to me for many reasons. The first thing that comes to mind is representation. As Bee Quammie recently pointed out,  usually Black Canadians are taught about Black American role models. Meanwhile, our community’s trailblazers have always been right here at home. They deserve to be recognized.

Furthermore, it’s incredibly empowering to see people who look like you succeeding. Watching their progress can give you faith enough to believe that all of your dreams are possible. When I see so many Canadian Black women out there, at their best in diverse industries, I am overcome with joy!

So who are some of the people who helped turn this project into a reality?

Allow me to introduce you to two gifted photographers.

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Photo credit: Ebti Nabag

A graduate of Ryerson University’s graduate program in Documentary Media, Ebti Nabag is a visual artist who works with photography, video, and installation. Her work is motivated by stories from the average human. Nabag’s previous exhibits include Movement in Tradition: Tobe (2016), Vitiligo at the AGO (2015), Intersections (2014) featured at the Contact Photography Festival, and I Am Not My Hair (2012).

She hopes her documentations serve as bridges between people.

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Photo credit: Leilah Dhoré

In 2013, Leilah Dhoré made her debut in a collaborative photo exhibition called ‘Exposed: Telling Our Stories Through Our Lens’. She is also the proud recipient of Gallery 44’s David Maltby Award. Leilah is currently majoring in Photography at OCAD University, with a minor in Art and Social Change. She continues to explore how her identity — and various layers of life experience — influence her creative mindset.

These young women shot all of HERstory in Black’s gorgeous photos. Recently I asked them about their involvement in this extraordinary project.

Tell me about your journey into the world of photography. What inspired you to get started?

Ebti: I always knew I was a creative person, I just didn’t know how to express myself creatively. I could draw but I wasn’t the best at it and it didn’t come as naturally for me as it did my classmates. It wasn’t until I took a year off after my bachelor’s degree that I picked up a camera and decided to really explore the art of taking photographs. That was about 7 years ago. A few years after that I decided to get a formal education in Documentary Media, film and photography. Documentary photography has been my main interest since then.

Leilah: I grew up with an artsy mom who encouraged me to explore various art forms. My creative childhood lead to being accepted into the Visual Arts program at Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts. I had to pursue my interest in photography outside of school through youth programs, which is how I discovered analog photography. The process of learning how to take analog photos and develop them in a darkroom furthered my appreciation for the medium and that’s where I found a passion for it. From there I decided to apply to OCAD University and I am now an undergraduate, third year Photography major.

What was it like to take these photos and capture 150 women for HERstory in Black?

Ebti: Insane! Looking around the room alone was extremely overwhelming. Some women I recognized from television, theatre, poetry shows, etc. Seeing women from all walks of life and hearing their stories after I captured their group photos was empowering.

Leilah: I really just wanted everyone to feel comfortable in front of the camera and to be happy with the way I captured them. I was a bit nervous at first, but I was so overjoyed to feel everyone’s energy. We were all excited to meet each other and be there together. Being in a room full of so many brilliant, beautiful, Black women is a really intense and powerful experience in and of itself. It was a really fulfilling experience to meet and document black women on so many different career paths, especially having grown up without seeing a lot of that kind of representation.

What do you hope people will see when they look at the images from this project?

Ebti: That we, Black women, are glorious. These photos are a documentation of our existence, our stories, our greatness, and I really believe they should be archived. Often times Black women are misrepresented or not represented at all, and this project puts all those misrepresentations to rest.

Leilah: I had always struggled to navigate the intersections of my blackness and womanhood and understand what my place is in a society that doesn’t appear to value black women. From celebrities like Beyoncé to millennials taking over the internet, black women have created our own platforms to express that we are realizing our own brilliance even if the world hasn’t. I believe this project is documenting just that. Aside from highlighting the diverse amazing things black women are accomplishing in Canada, I really hope people are able to recognize the shared power that brought us together and understand why this kind of project is so important.

I’m often blown away by the way a single photograph can tell a story.  What sort of stories did this experience reveal to you?

Ebti: Two things. One: there is no limit to what women can do when they unite. Two: I couldn’t help but think of how empowering, encouraging and reassuring hearing the stories of these women would have been for me at a young age, especially as a young Black woman growing up. That room really screamed “the sky is the limit”! Young Black women need to be exposed to these positive representations of Black women.

Leilah: The individual photos have a different storytelling purpose from the group photos for this photo series. I believe they capture the diversity amongst black women and function to show us who each woman is as an individual. The group photos show us what black sisterhood and community can look like and the amount of passion, love, and energy that goes into making a project like this happen collectively.

HERstory in Black is bound to influence and inspire other women. Tell me about someone who inspires you.

Ebti: My parents. My father grew up in academia. His work ethic, drive and achievements are things I look up to. My mother on the other hand has always been a housewife. Her welcoming heart, kind soul, and love for people easily brings tears to my eyes.

Leilah: It’s difficult for me to just name one individual. I have a particular appreciation for women who defy respectability and live as their authentic selves. There are women who spent their lives giving to their communities, and the ones who are passionate about dismantling the oppressive systems that were built to hold us back. I’ve also come to appreciate the women who aren’t the productive, educated, executives that we are told we should aspire to be. The ones who still give themselves fully and love themselves anyways because they don’t allow an inherently flawed society to define their worth. I see myself in these women’s struggles and successes; they remind me of the love and passion that drives my ambitions.

Suppose you met a young woman who wanted to go into photography. What advice would you give her?

Ebti: This is definitely biased advice, but it would be to document the stories of those who are unseen in the media, whose stories will never be told. I think telling those stories are what bridges humans together, and that’s what I try to do with my photographs.

Another bit of advice would be, differentiate yourself from the rest. Photography is so broad. Once you figure out what you like to photograph, go back and see if there is any pattern in your work and let that be what makes you stand out.

Leilah: There’s so much I could say. I think it’s important to know you don’t have to pursue a higher education to be any type of creative. Not everyone has the privilege of growing up with a family who supports their creative ambitions like I have, so I’ve always encouraged others to pursue what makes them happy. Even if you don’t think you have the means to pursue photography or that you face too many barriers, I honestly believe that if you put your intentions out there, doors will open and opportunities can come to you unexpectedly.

Many brilliant successful creatives even find ways to create opportunities for themselves. The internet is full of resources and learning materials, and Toronto has many free programs available to youth. Depending on the type of photography projects you want to produce you can access funding through grants.

Thank you again to Ebti Nabag, Leilah Dhoré, and of course, Emily Mills. Be sure to follow @howshehustles on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for more on HERstory in Black. Above all, be sure to stay tuned to the CBC this week for more programming on this incredible initiative.

Coming Soon!: CaribbeanTales International Film Festival

Caribana may have finished, but in Toronto, the celebration of Caribbean culture isn’t over. The city is home to CaribbeanTales, an organization devoted to sharing stories from people of the Caribbean diaspora. The CaribbeanTales International Film Festival begins in September, and runs from the 7th to the 17th of the month.

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A few days ago I spoke with its founder, Frances-Anne Solomon. Ms. Solomon is an award-winning filmmaker of Caribbean heritage. A writer, producer and director in film, TV, Radio and New Media, her career includes a 13-year tenure in England with the BBC as a Television Drama Producer and Executive Producer. In 2000, she returned to Toronto where she continued to create her own projects, and in 2001 she successfully launch the first CaribbeanTales project.

Today, CaribbeanTales has grown into the CaribbeanTales Media Group — companies that produce, market and sell Caribbean-themed audio-visual content across the globe.

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Frances-Anne Solomon and John Reid of Flow, CaribbeanTales’ leading partner.

Frances-Anne Solomon’s passion for telling Caribbean people’s stories is palpable. Listen to her speech from the launch of this year’s Festival.

 

Ms. Solomon’s words left me feeling energized, and eager to preserve my cultural roots.

Our chat began with her revealing what sparked her interest in film, as well as the story of CaribbeanTales.

When I was growing up in Trinidad there were no stories about me anywhere. We learned about the kings and queens of England and history, and we learned about Shakespeare and Jane Eyre…I had to become an adult before I learned about slavery. It was only much later that I realized that we resisted slavery—that we had this incredible journey as Caribbean people coming from all over the world, and it really transformed my life.

I remember learning this from a therapist: If you see yourself as a victim or you don’t have a sense of the beginning of the story, then that determines the ending. Whether there’s a happy ending or a tragic ending has a lot to do with how the narrative is perceived.

I became passionately interested in storytelling and I was drawn to film. Then I worked at the BBC for many years. I got to see how the developed world could have an organization that created, produced, marketed, and sold to a rapt audience its own stories about themselves. I saw how that created national pride and individual pride—a concept of empire and power. I really felt that we in the Caribbean needed to have those sort of narratives, and mechanisms for the transmission of those narratives folded into our culture.

In 2001 after I left the BBC I started CaribbeanTales with that goal of creating an organization that would create, produce, market, and sell Caribbean stories, of Caribbean people—Caribbean narratives of all kind.

Originally we were making programs, and in 2006 we started the festival because programs we were making were not getting seen.

In 2010 we started CaribbeanTales Worldwide Distribution. I realized it wasn’t enough to make films and show films, it was also necessary to be able to sell them, so that we as filmmakers and storytellers could have sustainable careers.

Then in 2013, we started our online platform: CaribbeanTales TV. We also have an incubator program which is a hub of development and production.

Now the whole project has is beginning to take off, and that’s very exciting.

 

Twenty-sixteen marks the festival’s 11th year. How has your vision for CaribbeanTales evolved?

My journey has been very much one of an individual—from being a story-teller, and a filmmaker to being someone who is interested in creating and changing the world—to provide a kind of essential service for people in our region, so that our stories would have a way to be made, distributed, seen, exchanged, and monetized, in a sustainable way. That has been an evolution for me from being an artist—somebody who has a passion to tell and see stories that touch me.

I think being part of a global movement, our stories matter. And that is not just personal—it’s political, it’s economic, it’s logistic. And it’s ultimately transformational.

 

What’s on its horizon for Caribbean tales?

More.

I think the global climate has changed, with the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s very inspiring to see young people taking up the torch that our ancestors in the Black Power movement from the 60s and 70s and the Civil Rights movement have carried—picking that up and kind of saying “Enough now, we need equal rights. This is a human rights issue…”

That has changed the narrative.

Also, #OscarsSoWhite has really thrown a light on the lack of representation of women and people of colour in the global landscape. That has a resonance in terms of us telling stories in the third world so that the narrative is different. There are opportunities now that I feel are ripe for the picking; we’re very excited for the future.

 

I understand that this year’s theme is Caribbean Love. Could you please share some of your thoughts on the subject and the ways it’s explored throughout the CaribbeanTales Festival?

This year, we felt that a lot of our history as Caribbean people and people of colour internationally, has been one of brutality, violence, and exploitation. It’s really important for us to acknowledge that at the end of the day it is love that has allowed us to survive and continue to connect with each other. Love, in a way, is the answer. We need to remind each other constantly that through love it is possible to heal, grow, and build.

Under the CaribbeanLove banner, our opening night gala, Diary of a Badman, focuses on women of colour creators.

We always do a focus on Trinidad and Tobago; I come from Trinidad and there’s a lot of amazing work coming out of there now. This year’s evening is called Trinibego to the Bone, about Carnival and different cultural events.

In Migrant Tales, we look at diasporic stories of Caribbean people—those of us who come from the Caribbean and live abroad permanently. A lot of people people call it “immigration” and “migration”, but I like to use the word, “expat”. We do come from somewhere, and that identity is important.

Then we have Love Thy Neighbour, which is a night when we look at a lot of dark history: we look at drug trafficking, abusive behaviour, different mental disorders, even possession—a lot of darker themes. The overall theme of this night is, “How do we look past this? What is the way to show sympathy to the darker elements of society?”

Then we have LGBT Love. It’s been our commitment every year for the past 5 years to throw a light on voices from the LGBT community across the Caribbean. For us, queer rights are human rights.

And then, Revolutionary Love showcases five short films about Black Canadian activists.

We have a strand called #BlackLoveMatters, which is a twist on #BlackLivesMatter, focusing on the power of love to heal Black people. Its focus is on Black love within families, specifically fathers and sons, mothers and children—those love relationships and what they mean to our community.

Animated Love is our animation night. We have a whole feature which is about struggles for emancipation.

Our closing night is Walk Good, which is focusing on a number of Jamaican films and celebrating Jamaican culture—both music and religion.

 

CineFAM, a word from Haitian creole meaning “films by women”, is an initiative designed to support women of colour creators.

In addition to the material from your opening night, you’ve also launched CineFAM. Could you share some of your thoughts on the importance of women as creators within the Black community?

As a woman of colour creator myself, that’s the area that has been the most difficult to get support and build a career because women’s work is invisible, and women, due to sexism are excluded from being creative leaders. We’re not allowed to do that. We can be supportive. We can be the power behind the man, but we cannot stand up and say “I am a woman creator.”

I think fundamentally it has to do with sexism. We don’t get support as creators—women of colour. And it’s that point, where racism and sexism meet, that has totally destroyed our ability to be seen as the incredible creators that we are. Meanwhile, quite often if you look at the work that women are doing in terms of creating community and creating business and creating the world, it’s unbelievable. Women are powerful.

We have some great examples in our community of women who are able to break through, like Ava DuVernay and Amma Asante. There are also women in other areas as well. Incredible role models for us.

I wanted to, first, create awareness of the power of women creators—the extraordinary talent of women of colour creators, and also create a network for women of colour creators. I feel this area is the one place where we don’t get support.

 

If someone could only see one film at the CaribbeanTales festival, what would it be, and why?

I think I’d say 50 years of Black Activism, because it features 5 incredible stories of people in the Canadian landscape who have really made a difference. They’re completely unknown to the wider community, but they’re amazing people. Each one of these films is written and directed by a Black woman, and the executive producer is a Black woman, and the originator of the project—Akua Benjamin, who is an incredible leader—is also a Black woman.

Just on its own, that project stands as a testimony to the power of women as creators, leaders—powerhouses in documenting, in acknowledging, in creating, in producing, in breaking ground, and changing the narrative.

 

How would you like your audience to feel after their experience at the festival?

Inspired, powerful, and connected: Our life, our love, our festival.

 

For further information on the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival, including its scheduled screenings, be sure to visit their web site