Black Excellence: How one man’s bravery encourages truthful exchange about race in Canada

“We will never conquer what we are unwilling to confront.”
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Authored by Glamma Kimaiyo and Vicki A. Lee

There are some topics that, growing up, we have been told to avoid in polite conversation. Avoid politics, avoid religion, avoid sensitive topics — don’t detonate the landmines of social etiquette, we’re told.

As we get older, however, we realize just how vital open conversations about difficult topics are. They are awkward necessary evils. And more often than not, in the aftermath of those discussions, we realize that more effective communication could have prevented the conflicts we so vigorously try to avoid.

At an interpersonal level, a compassionate dialogue is conducive to social change because it fosters empathy and mutual understanding. At a societal level — although gradual and painstaking — it enables legislative reform and institutional change.

Conversations fuel action, and Kev Joseph, founder and host of the #LetsTalk Instagram Live podcast, is a staunch believer in the transformative potential of conversation. With the help of his guests — including Marie Holloway, Frederick Joseph, and Leo Rautins — Joseph demonstrates the magnitude and impact of sincere conversations with every episode, now over 150.

“#LetsTalk sustains uncomfortable yet necessary conversations about racism, privilege, injustice, inequality, mental health, and other socio-economic topics that have been swept under the rug for too long,” Joseph told INN24.

Kev Joseph founded #LetsTalk in 2020 (PHOTO: Courtesy of Kev Joseph)

“It’s imperative we continue to educate and encourage a culture of awareness surrounding the many challenges Black people face, to be treated equally and provided with equitable opportunities.”

Joseph is an accounting consultant by trade, with an employment history that includes the federal government as well as Fortune 500 companies. During the last 18 years, he has also worked as a “community connector,” contributing to youth mentorship programs and local initiatives in the Black community. 

Often drawing from personal experiences and interests, Joseph’s #LetsTalk considers how institutions and systems dovetail with other facets of our lives, such as the ways entertainment and sports can intersect with social justice.

Joseph and Marie Holloway, mother of NBA Champion Kyle Lowry (PHOTO: Courtesy of Kev Joseph) 

 

For the Black community, matters of racial justice are not simply conversations, Joseph said. 

“Black people, we are not involved in social justice movements. It’s who we are. It’s our lived reality,” he said. 

“Real-life experiences of microaggressions — sometimes overt aggression — manifest in daily situations while going for a jog, on the job, in the classroom, at the bank, within healthcare, and in the criminal justice system.”

With nearly two decades’ experience in the business realm, it seems only natural that Joseph would be a master conversationalist. On his podcast, Joseph tackles heavy-duty topics with tact and gravitas, making conversations around social and systemic inequities accessible and engaging. Each instalment of #LetsTalk is a masterclass in empowering discourse. 

This time, we put Joseph on the other side of the microphone and interviewed him about #LetsTalk and other ways he uplifts his community, including his Global Black-Owned Business Directory.  

INN24: What inspired you to start a #LetsTalk?  

KJ: I noticed that segments of our population were having isolated conversations on their own but not with each other. #LetsTalk was born out of a need for the space to have those uncomfortable conversations. Black people were discussing their feeling with each other, and white people were talking about issues amongst themselves. I wanted to help bridge the gap and started #LetsTalk to have constructive dialogue.

I was also inspired by Shenequa Golding’s essay, “Maintaining Professionalism in the Age of Black Death Is … A Lot,” which went viral and was even reposted by Jeff Bezos. She wrote about how Black people witness tragedies in our communities and suffer in silence because we don’t have safe spaces at work to express nor manage how we feel when we are trying to do our jobs. Since then, I have become good friends with Shenequa and have had her on my show multiple times. 

INN24: Tell us about the early beginnings of #LetsTalk.

KJ: My first ever guests were good friends of mine: Leo Rautins, former NBA player, Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, and his amazing wife, Jamie. I asked them because I thought it would be powerful to hear from different races and backgrounds speak about systemic racism, anti-racism, and issues of privilege. That first show was on June 11, 2020, and since then, I have done over 150 shows. 

INN24: What’s your favourite part of being a podcast host?  

KJ: I love the genuine connections that I have with my guests. When they offer me and my audience a glimpse into their lives. We can walk with them through a part of their incredible journeys and learn how they feel about what is happening in the world. 

INN24: You often tackle challenging topics few are eager to broach in casual conversation. Why is it important to have open, empathetic discussions about race? 

KJ: It’s important to have these conversations because we will never conquer what we are unwilling to confront. If we can’t look at ourselves in the mirror as people and as a society, how will we recognize that we have much more work to do? If neglected, these issues persist, they will continue to divide us, and we will never get closer to solutions.

INN24: Some people find the topic of racial discrimination, systemic oppression “uncomfortable” and thus avoid them altogether — what would you say to them?  

KJ: As much as conversations may be awkward or uncomfortable, they are a necessary part of the solution sourcing process, so I would encourage people to think about how uncomfortable or awkward it would be on the receiving end of consistent systems of oppression. These are systems constructed to stunt your ability to thrive, succeed, and enjoy a free, equitable life. I would encourage them to see things through the lens of a shared humanity because injustice anywhere to anyone is a threat to justice everywhere for everyone. 

INN24: On #LetsTalk, you facilitate “conversations confronting racism.” What are steps we can all take to confront racism in our everyday lives? 

KJ: I am often asked this question, and I always say the same thing: we all have a sphere of influence within our reach. So, whether it be on the job or in the grocery store, when we see examples of racism being exhibited, it is imperative that we call it out and stand collectively against it.  

More covert micro-examples of racism, when left unchecked, will manifest as larger issues. Be part of the solution when you see or hear something. Don’t just turn away from it. It can be a learning opportunity. 

INN24: You’ve had an exciting assortment of guests from different industries on your podcast. What are your own reflections on your conversations thus far?  

KJ: I have been very blessed to have some amazing guests from Canada, the US and Europe. It’s been an amazing experience. I think the prevailing theme that rings throughout is that everyone wants the same thing: to be loved, respected, treated fairly. Everyone wants the opportunity to excel based on merit and not on how they look, who they love, who they worship, nor where they are from.

INN24:  If you had to pick one, what’s been the single, most impactful lesson you’ve learned from #LetsTalk? 

KJ: If we just took the time to listen to each other and give each other the opportunity to express how we feel, we can achieve tremendous progress, healing, understanding, and growth.

INN24: Who are your dream podcast guests? 

KJ: Wow. Definitely Dr. Cornell West; Barack and Michelle Obama; Charlamagne tha God; LeBron James; Kamala Harris; Hilary Clinton; Justin Trudeau; Michael Jordan; Oprah Winfrey; Hazel McCallion; Trevor Noah; Angela Rye; the Honourable Dr. Jean Augustine; Prince Harry and Meghan Markle — and so many more 

INN24: What and who inspires you? 

KJ: I am inspired by community leaders and grassroots organizations that work to better our communities without fanfare nor the media attention they deserve. I’m inspired by anyone who has overcome great odds to never quit their dreams or let anything deter them from success. 

 

INN24: You are a community connector, what does this role mean to you? 

KJ: This means I value connecting people to other people or resources that can help them improve their lives. I am so blessed to know a lot of people in different industries, and I am always looking to be “the plug” — as the youth would say — to help other advance in their lives. It’s my greatest joy to help others win in life. 

 

INN24: The pandemic and the lockdown have made many feel isolated and alone — what are ways people can connect with their community and causes they believe in?  

KJ: There are many virtual resources produced by organizations to help people stay connected, with several committed to maintaining mental health and wellness during these trying times. A simple search online for causes you care about can lead you to Zoom calls and virtual events that will inspire you. 

Joseph was a guest on the Call Me Crazy podcast, where he opened up about his experience with grief and loss following his mother’s passing (PHOTO: Courtesy of Call Me Crazy)  

INN24: You established the Global Black-Owned Business Directory, with hundreds of independent businesses from a variety of sectors. What made you decide to create this resource? 

KJ: Although it’s not a new concept, I thought it was necessary for me to compile a comprehensive list of Black-owned businesses from around the world. That way, people can use resources, services, and products provided by amazing Black businesses who often don’t have the budget to market at a large scale. 

We have all industries covered. It’s beautiful to see that with anything you need, there is a Black-owned business that can meet that need if given a fair chance. We are also looking to have the directory turned into a mobile app accessible anywhere.

 

INN24: Can others contribute to this directory?

KJ: Yes, absolutely! Send an e-mail to info@kevjoseph.com with the business’s name, the description of the product or service, and the contact details, and our team will add it to the directory. 

 

INN24: Personally, why is it important for consumers to support local, Black-owned businesses? 

KJ: As the son of a Black business owner, I’ve seen first-hand how people take their patronage elsewhere because they feel Black businesses provide inferior services or products — which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s important for us all to dispel these myths. Supporting Black-owned businesses also creates job opportunities for those in our community and builds a stronger, more diverse society. 

 

INN24: What’s next for you? 

KJ: I am excited to have more amazing guests on my show! I am also looking to collaborate with brands and organizations to create programming and community outreach projects that support our communities of colour. 

A tribute to the #BlackExcellence hashtag, Black Excellence is a special INN24 series honouring the talent, innovation, and ingenuity of Black trailblazers who are weaving the tapestry of Black history today.

Wiki Production Code: A0689

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