How This App Developer Makes Your Life Better In ‘Small But Meaningful Ways’

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Everyone has ideas, but not everyone acts on them. A lot of us are even strongly passionate about those ideas, but yet we never realize them. This is why Robleh Jama prefers curiosity over passion. Jama is the founder of Tiny Hearts, an award-winning digital product studio whose apps have been downloaded over 6 million times.

Jama is soft-spoken and says that his purpose and approach to building apps is “to make people’s lives better in small and meaningful ways.”

At Tiny Hearts, Jama and his team built products for themselves as well as other companies such as Wealthsimple, Phillips and Shopify. In 2016, Shopify acquired Tiny Hearts, and onboarded its six-person production crew, including Jama. Jama now works at the e-commerce company as a Senior Product Lead, and he’s also now an angel investor helping other startups get off the ground. When Jama is curious about something, he obsesses over it; he wants to learn everything about it and is eager to take a hands-on approach, I talked to him about how this curiousity approach led to his success.

How did you go from a BA in psychology at York to building your own digital project studio?

I started running businesses while I was still at York. My friends and I learned about creating a digital product and building a community. The idea for Tiny Hearts was that I’ve always been a fan of starting things based on what I’m naturally curious about. At that time I was obsessing over the iPhone. It was the early days of iPhone and I was loving it. I wanted to not just be a user, I wanted to be a producer and a maker. And so I decided to make apps. And then it was like, I don’t want to do one app, I want to do multiple apps so I want to start a studio.

In an article you wrote, you said “if you’re just in it for the money, there are easier ways of achieving that” when talking about apps, so what drives your passion for apps and mobile products?

I like the word curiosity more than passion. And that’s something that drives me, being naturally curious. When I’m curious about something, I’m itching to learn more about it. I like doing it or building it or getting my hands dirty. It’s a combination of curiosity and the opportunity to be creative. And when I combine curiosity and creativity, that’s really when I feel like I’m in the zone. That’s the stuff that I get really excited about.

If you have the skills or are able to develop a product, there’s an output. And then that output goes out into the world and you can actually put it into people’s hands and people can be using that thing that you made. That’s always been my vision. Can I make things that are going to make people’s lives a little bit better? Can I make things that I want to see in the world but is also going to put a smile on somebody’s face. For me, it’s always been about my journey, things that make people’s lives better.

Growing up, I thought you had to be a doctor to help people then I realized I can actually make products that help people as well. And in that sense, that’s a tertiary benefit because it scales, right? A doctor can only benefit, for the most part, the patients they see and they can only see a certain number of patients. But when you make a digital product that goes out into the world, you don’t know who’s using it. Like right now, I probably have millions of people that are touching products that I made and I don’t know it. That’s the type of leverage you can get from making digital projects.

How One Man Went From Food Insecure to Feeding Over 8,300 People

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Did you know that about 4 million people in Canada are food insecure? Did you know that this country has a $49 billion food waste problem? Or that food waste emissions are 25 times more damaging to the environment than CO2 emissions?

I didn’t know any of those things until I sat down with the founder of B12Give, Tony Colley. B12Give (Be One To Give) is a for-profit social enterprise that delivers surplus prepared food from retailers to shelters and food banks. Tony was recently named a CBC Community Champion for his endeavours. He describes himself as an entrepreneur and an environmentalist but he didn’t always see himself that way.

Tony’s been a bartender, a dancer and an event manager at some of the hottest clubs in Toronto. He was ‘Tall Tony’. He’s also managed a multi-billion dollar real estate development portfolio as an analyst at a bank. But Tony’s also been food insecure with less than $300 to his name.

When I arrived at Tony’s apartment one cold February morning, he was in the middle of a cup of yogurt. I sat on the couch getting my recording ready as Dragon’s Den played on TV. Tony told me that he likes the show and hopes to be on it someday. I started our conversation by asking him to define food insecurity.

In a nutshell, it’s just a state of being without reliable access to or a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. There are 4 million food-insecure people in this country. Not all of them are homeless, a lot of them are the working poor. They get up every day to go to work, but they just don’t have enough food either to feed themselves or their children. in my case, nobody knew I was going through this, I didn’t tell anybody. In July 2016, my work experience consisted of 16 years with two national banks, four years as a business development manager for a nonprofit organization and two years as an entrepreneur. On the flip side, I’d been working weekends in nightclubs for 20 years. So I was working six days a week the entire time I was living in Toronto.

But on that day, in July 2016, I had $270 to my name, I had no job, I had a failed business venture and became food insecure. For the first time in my life at 44 years old, I had to apply for social assistance to have an income. And nobody knew. My mother knew because she’s my mother but nobody around me. My roommate didn’t know and she lived with me. So it was kind of crazy. I just hid it. She would go to work every day, she didn’t understand that I wasn’t eating breakfast, she wasn’t here. She knew that I was eating dinner every night because she saw me sitting here at this table and that’s all that mattered.

I decided to put my money towards paying my bills and I would just go without breakfast. And it was the easiest way for me. I didn’t expect to be food insecure but I needed to make a decision, eat or keep up appearances. And I decided to keep up appearances. So I just simply moved into another state of, I don’t know, I guess acceptance of where I was and what I was dealing with. It affects you mentally, I fell into a depression.

During this time, my sister didn’t know what I was dealing with. She knew that I was in a situation, but she didn’t know how bad it was. But my sister would always say, “If He brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it.” And so I said that to myself, so many times, throughout the process.

Was there a point of you recognizing that you were food insecure?

“I didn’t recognize it right away. I mean, I knew I didn’t have food anymore but my attitude was, “I’m just not eating breakfast.” That was it. I didn’t label it as being food insecure because I had never been food insecure. I heard the term before but I had never put my situation and food insecurity together. It didn’t hit me that I was food insecure until I read a story about food waste and saw the amount of food that Canada had. And within that study, it shared that there were roughly 4 million people who were food insecure and only 25% of those food insecure individuals were using food banks. So I was like, “Whoa, wait a minute. Should I be using the food bank?” But I didn’t want to walk into a food bank, I was embarrassed. I mean, I was too embarrassed to tell my friends what was going on so for me to walk into a food bank, it would have been me actually recognizing that you don’t have food.”

What are some of the things that you learned about food waste in Canada in terms of its impact on the environment and the economy?

“Well, right now we have a $49 billion food waste issue. And that’s billions. Yes, that’s annual. Right now 58% of all food produced in Canada is wasted. The majority of that, about 40% roughly is from producers and manufacturers. But typical households waste about $1700 worth of food every year. So that’s a lot of money.

Retailer food waste is 10% of our national food waste issue, which is $5 billion annually and this is the market that I’m targeting. 86% of that food isn’t donated or redistributed which means it’s going in the garbage. So that means they’re only receiving 14% of the surplus food that we have in this country, which is crazy.

I first read the article on food waste in April of 2017, six to eight months into being food insecure. I said out loud after reading it, “they should feed this food to the homeless.” We have so much surplus food, who’s gonna eat it other than people who need food? Then I never thought about it again.

In September 2016, I secured a part-time job working in hospitality for various catering companies. In September of 2017, I was scheduled to work an event with our largest catering company and at the end of a 12-hour shift, the CEO of the catering company offered me a job. Two weeks later, I was on-site managing my first event and at the end of that event, we had 100 box lunches left over. I was told to share the surplus with the staff and throw the rest in the garbage. And right away I was like, “wait, why are we throwing this food in the garbage?” So I was now witnessing the cause of our food issue right first hand in front of my face. It had never dawned on me before.

I couldn’t rescue all the food, so I just offered to rescue what I could that night and did so every event thereafter until July of 2018. And it was that moment that triggered a lot of frustrations, I was mad at myself for putting myself in this position. I knew that I couldn’t stop rescuing the food because I had been doing it now for eight months. All I saw was surplus food going in the garbage and I was like “No, no, we can’t do this.”

Image result for tony colley

Tony Colley. Photo courtesy of CBC.

When you were doing these food rescues, were you ever able to see the impact you were having on the people receiving it?

“There was one moment that actually stays with me because it was the moment that I, for the first time, saw a soup kitchen live in action. It was late at night and I was coming from our main kitchen at Carlaw and Lakeshore and I was always on my bike. So I would bike to work, then we would drive one of the vehicles to the event and they would have to drive back to the kitchen. I would always go to this one shelter because it was directly on my way home. One day I walked in, and I had one of those large black garbage bags and I’m going to say eight to 10 aluminum containers of food. I had already done rescues and already delivered to this shelter in the past but earlier in the day, this is probably close to 11 o’clock or midnight.

There were about 30-40 people spread across the floor all in sleeping bags. And there was a gentleman at the counter getting his cup of soup, and I walked in and I said to the lead “this is all surplus food from an event.” She said, “Oh, what’s in the bag” and I started rhyming off what was in it. And the guys’ eyes were like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe it, you’re a godsend.” She said, “all we have to give them tonight is the soup.”

And a couple of people started to get up because they realized there was additional food as I was pulling the food out of the bag, onto the counter. And it’s funny because one thing she said to me “was any of this vegan or vegetarian?” And initially, in my head, I’m like, woman this is surplus food. But she said to me, “The reason I asked is because we do have vegetarians here so we want to be able to serve everybody.” That’s something I never really considered or thought about before. But seeing the reaction from the gentlemen at the counter, her reaction, and then a couple people coming up and starting to “Wow” because they didn’t have anything else other than that styrofoam cup of soup.

I left and that was the first time I cried because of what I was doing. I got overwhelmed with the fact that their reaction was so sincere and so humble, that they just were glad to have food that wasn’t a styrofoam cup of soup. And I thought, “holy shit, look at what’s actually happening here.” Because I had never interacted like this. So it was the first time I saw that this is what real life is like for these individuals.

I wasn’t anticipating any of this at the time. It wasn’t even part of my psyche, it really wasn’t. I stumbled upon this. I tell people, and I still believe this to be true, I feel as though I was chosen to do this. Because food waste wasn’t a thing for me. I worked in events for 20 years at various nightclubs, People call me ‘Tall Tony’. I’m known as this tall black guy that worked the front door of most of, if not all of, the biggest parties in the hottest clubs for 20 years.”

Tony’s plan is to scale and build. Part of his five-year plan is to expand B12Give to cities outside of Toronto and across the world. Tony also hopes to include other initiatives under the umbrella of B12Give to address other social issues such as homelessness, education and social inclusion. 

Obama says Diversity is Needed to Solve Global Economic Crisis

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I was a teenager in 2008, 14 to be exact. I’d just started high school, my mother was teaching English in Japan and Barack Obama was running in his first presidential election. On election night, mom called the house to make sure that my sister and I were watching as the results poured in. She mentioned several times that this was a historic moment and she was clearly very excited. At the time, I didn’t know I wanted to be a journalist so news and politics didn’t interest me much. I’d heard Young Jeezy’s “My President is Black” and seen the now-iconic Shepard Fairey “Hope” poster but the magnitude of the night was lost on me.

By Shepard Fairey.

On Wednesday, the significance of Obama and his 2008 campaign dawned on me as I sat in the packed Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

More than 6000 people gathered at the “Future Skills: A conversation with President Barack Obama” forum hosted by the Economic Club of Canada and the Global Institute for Conscious Economics. A joint statement from the two groups read “The Economic Club of Canada & The Global Institute for Conscious Economics are dedicated to fostering a new economic dialogue in Canada that promotes equality, inclusion, and the voices of multiple generations around the same table.” To support that, the event boasted a 1:1 ratio, meaning that for every ticket purchased, a ticket was given to a young black leader under 30 so they could attend. One of the event’s sponsors Adidas, paid for 500 black youth to attend. The entertainment included Indigenous drummers and singers, award-winning Black poets Dwayne Morgan, Randall Adjei and Thunderclaw Robinson among many others.

With tickets going for as much as $275, the organizers were intentional about creating an event that was so opposite to the demographics that these events usually attract – rich and white. Instead, the crowd was filled with all different races and ages, economic and professional backgrounds.

Spoken word artists Randell Adjei (left), Dwayne Morgan and Thunderclaw Robinson performing during the opening address.

Kiana “Rookz” Eastmond, entrepreneur and founder of Sandbox Studios, a recording studio in Toronto, touched on the power and potential of young people as she kicked off the event with her opening address. “Shout out to all the young people here today because you’re not supposed to be here,” she joked. Eastmond shared a touching story of how she left home and dropped out of school at 16 then ended up creating her dream career, winning awards and eventually finding herself giving the opening remarks at an event featuring the first black president of the United States.

For Eastmond, the significance of the occasion wasn’t just about a personal accomplishment, it was about visibility. She said growing up in Scarborough, she never imagined living the life she lives now but now that she is, she wants to set an example. “The power of being seen means you have the power to amplify those that are not seen and cannot see themselves,” she said. The story moved Eastmond to tears and gave rise to thunderous applause from the audience. “It’s amazing what happens when people believe in you,” she said. “Take a moment every single day to think about that. Don’t leave here without opening the door for someone else,” she added.

That is the epitome of the audacity of hope. It’s the boldness to believe in your resolution and having the courage to support it in your thoughts and in your actions, despite the difficulty of the task or the discomfort it may cause.

Draft Rivals: Making Real Money With Fantasy Sports

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For millennials who choose the university route, most have their eye on the proverbial prize of a six-figure job. Most of them won’t get there, and those who do will hang on to it for dear life. Sam Newman Bremang, a self-described stats nerd, affectionately known as the “flat-top philosopher” is an exception.


In 2016 he decided to leave his management consultant job to start a mobile gaming company with two of his friends, Ian Clarkson and Lyndon Lee. They created 1UP Mobile Inc and “Draft Rivals: Fantasy Basketball” was born.

It’s been less than a year since its launch, but Draft Rivals has already gone global and is now played in 155 countries. It’s been downloaded more than 120,000 times. It is featured by Apple under ‘New Games We Love’ (Sports) and featured as a Google Play recommended sports game.

Draft Rivals is a mobile game for die-hard basketball fans but with a twist that separates it from the average fantasy sports game.

Fantasy 6 Sports Launches Draft Rivals: Fantasy Basketball

ByBlacks caught up with Sam to talk about his journey into the world of entrepreneurship and mobile gaming:

How is Draft Rivals different than other fantasy sports games?
Fantasy sports is a great idea but completely missing the mark with people who are younger, diverse, or female. So you look at who’s actually watching these sports and overlay that information with who’s playing mobile games and it’s the same audience. If you take fantasy sports and go beyond owning a player and merge it with mobile games and all the things that make it fun, addictive, and social you can appeal to this lost demographic, our demographic, and make something that’s really cool that they’ve never experienced before. That was the foundation. Because we’re outside of that core demographic we found a different way to do it that appeals to people like us.

So how does it work?
Instead of sitting around and picking players, you pick players by opening card packs, like when you were a kid, and that’s how you make your team. Instead of picking one team and having them all season you pick a team every day by playing a mini game against another player, and that determines your team for that night and the winner is chosen that night. We tried to make it in a way so that everyone can enjoy the game, if you’re a stats nerd, a hardcore sports fan or just in it for the social aspect.

How did you convince Ian and Lyndon to leave their jobs and pursue this with you?
Lyndon and I go way back. I was in high school with him and we’ve always thought of doing something together because I was into business and engineering and he was always into fashion, art, and more creative stuff. We thought those things complemented each other so when it came up he was ready to jump in. Ian and I were introduced by a mutual friend during undergrad. We decided we wanted to do something independent for ourselves and that was the crux of it. We talked and worked on things on a friendship level but the hard part was the sacrifices we’ve had to make for this vision. Lyndon moved from Oakville to Vancouver to live in our second bedroom five months after my wife and I got married. Then there are financial sacrifices, all three of us quit our jobs. I was on target to make about $250,000 this year (at my old job)—so we put a lot of ourselves into this. The base of this has been trusting in each other and what we’re doing. But those early days when you’ve just given up that salary, that’s when things are tough.

Sam and his team have also just launched a Major League Baseball version of the game. You can find both versions in the Apple App Store as well as Google Play.

Author creates emojis that inspire

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Simone Da Costa is a best-selling author and a recipient of a Woman on Fire award in 2016. In her new children’s book “I am Beautiful: When I Look at Me, I See…” Da Costa asks readers to find and embrace their own beauty by challenging society’s norms.


The book has been described as “powerful” and “inspirational.” Da Costa has now released a collection of emojis called “Beautymojis” based on the book, which are available through the Apple App Store. had a chance to catch up with da Costa to find out more about her book and Beautymojis.

How does writing empower you?

The thing about writing is that when you write the sky’s the limit. You can write about everything and anything. It’s your words and sometimes they come from the heart, sometimes you’re just making sentences but you write anything and say what you want to say and that’s where the empowerment comes from.

Of all the books you’ve written, which would you say is your favourite or are most proud of?

Oh no! I could never pick a favourite, that’s too hard. I enjoy writing and I love what I do so whenever I get positive feedback that just inspires me to write more books. It’s always really good to get good feedback because sometimes you doubt yourself, but when you hear that someone enjoys your book it lets you know you’re doing something right. Even before I started writing books I was a freelance magazine writer and sometimes I would think to myself “who would even want to read my article?” Sometimes you don’t see yourself in that way or you don’t think you’re good enough.

The Beautymojis are based on your book, “I am Beautiful: When I Look at Me, I See…” What can you tell us about the book?

I used to volunteer with young girls and they often struggled with their self-esteem and confidence because of their looks, or their hair. I also got it from looking at the world, at black girls and at black in general because I can only speak from that standpoint. There’s a lot of issues going on with young girls so that was an influence to write the book, to encourage them, inspire them and empower them. To let them know it’s okay not to look like this or have “this” type of hair based on what somebody else has. That’s where that came from and that’s also the message of the book; it’s okay to be yourself and love yourself the way you are. Somebody has to give little black girls a voice to say the things they need to say but might be afraid to on their own.

What’s something you think people need to understand about beauty?

There’s no clear cut or ideal version of beauty despite what Western media pushes. I think that’s one of the problems young girls have because they have these images of what beauty is supposed to look like with the long, blonde hair and blue eyes and they get confused. They think that’s what beauty is and that’s what they’re supposed to look like so they can be confused about who they really are and what’s expected of them

You can find “I am Beautiful: When I Look at Me, I See…” as well as Da Costa’s other books on her website. Simone’s blog also offers marketing, advertising and promoting for book, eBook authors, publishers, self-publishers and anyone interested in writing.

4KORNERS: To the ACC and Beyond

An abbreviated version of this article was published on

After a record-breaking season for the Toronto Raptors, their fans garnered a reputation for being  some of the loudest, most passionate fans in the NBA. Even Cleveland Cavalier superstar LeBron James took notice, praising the enthusiasm of the Raptors’ fans, describing the Raptors home court, the Air Canada Centre, as “an unbelievable atmosphere.” Part of creating the high-energy atmosphere at the ACC is the team’s official DJ 4KORNERS. 4KORNERS consists of an MC, Shorts, and DJ/producer Kap’n Kirk. 4KORNERS has been the Raptors’ official DJ for 11 years, earning 4 Stylus Awards and 4 TNC Awards as well as earning a reputation as one of Canada’s best DJ’s.

I had a chance to catch up with Kirk to talk about his career, the EP as well as his thoughts on the Raptors’ fantastic season.

How did you get into Djing?

It started by a fortunate accident as I was fooling around with my dad records. But I used to play a basketball, I was a star all throughout high school and I went to York University I actually didn’t make the basketball team. It kind of crushed me but it also freed up a lot of time. At that time I started to go to a lot of parties and I gravitated towards the DJ booth, I was captivated by the way they controlled the room. I thought to myself ‘if I’m going to be going to all these parties I want to be that guy—that’s the coolest guy in the room.” And I had all this free time that  I could now spend practicing DJing. I did a couple house parties and birthday parties and it grew into something that I loved and wanted to do all the time.

Inside and outside of music who are some people who’ve influenced you?

With regards to DJing, in the city there was Baby Blue Sound Crew, DJ Starting from Scratch, Dr. Jay and Cruise at the time. They were playing all the best parties and everything they did looked incredible and I wanted to get on their level. Beyond that my DJ idol is DJ Jazzy Jeff; he’s an incredible DJ and an incredible person and I’ve had the opportunity to meet him and work with him a bunch of times. He’s such a cool and down to earth guy for someone who’s so legendary and influential.

How would you describe yourself, as an artist or DJ?

There’s two different schools of DJs, there’s the purists: all about the technical aspects, who work with their heads down and it’s all about the technically difficult aspects of DJing and there’s the other school of DJs where it’s more about being an entertainer and more about crowd interaction. I find myself right in the middle. I love to interact with the crowd, I want them to party with me not just look at me DJing but at the same time I come from going to the record store to buy records and practising for hours, doing things that are unique and taking people through a musical journey.

When it comes to DJing and producing music what is the best piece of advice that you’ve gotten?

I’ve picked the brains of a few guys and they’ve all given me the same general advice: if you really wanna do this just don’t give up. There’s going to be a lot of pitfalls and times you think that it’s over but you just have to keep moving forward. I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind and that’s just the kind of person I am; almost positive to a naïve level.

Would you be able to give me an example of a time you went through something difficult or thought that you wouldn’t make it?

There’s a million of them. There’s that cliché ‘there’s no straight path to success’ and it’s the truest thing. One major one was I was the resident DJ at Guvernmet Nightclub  with my partner at the time and we were doing really well so they put us in  a bigger room with more promotions and we thought “we made it!” Then a curveball came a couple months later with a different promoter that they had brought in and we didn’t see eye to eye. The club ended up siding with the promoter. That left us without a job there, we got kicked out essentially. I didn’t think my career was over but now we had to start from square one and we thought “what are we going to do now?” But low and behold things worked out and other opportunities came up. From that I learned when one door closes another one or two open as long as you stay on course and believe in what you’re doing.

You’re releasing an EP, Changes, later this year, what can you tell me about the EP?
The purpose of the EP is to change people’s perspective of what 4korners is. Most people who know me know me as the DJ for the Raptors but I’ve put out some tracks that have gotten some traction, including one called “Twerk”  that every DJ in the world was playing and I wasn’t prepared for that, I didn’t have a follow up or anything so it got away from me. So the purpose of this EP is to show people I’m not just a DJ, I’m a producer, I’m an artist. It’s one thing to play the hottest songs in the club and it’s a totally different experience to play your own music. And Changes is the signpost to say this is who I am, this is what I do and things are changing as of now.

Was there something that happened to make you realize you wanted to play your own?
It’s been a gradual progression that a lot of DJ’s go through. A lot of DJ’s turn to production because when you’re playing the hottest tracks and the crowd is having a good time it’s an instant gratification. When I released the song a few years ago after a few days it had thousands of views on SoundCloud, my friend DJ Snake premiered it on BBC Radio, I got wind that Just Blaze and Skrillex were playing it, which was huge. From then I’ve had the bug and I’ve wanted to feel that all the time. Seeing people partying and having a good time to my music is cool because it’s like ” woah I made that in my house.” It’s such an incredible feeling I can’t not do it now, it’s the next step.

You‘ve said you want your music to take you to the four corners of the globe, are there any countries or festivals you haven’t played in yet but want to?
I want to play at all the festivals. In terms of countries, my top three have been Tokyo, Rio de Janerio and Sydney. I played in Tokyo and it was everything I thought it’d be so I’m working on Sydney and Rio. I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur three times which is a crazy party city, I always wanted to  go to Dubai and now I’m a resident DJ at a couple of clubs there. The four corners of the earth is a real thing and I’ve been blessed to be able to see a lot of things I’ve wanted to see and things I never thought I would.

What goals do you have for the year/season ahead?

As far as the basketball season, I want a ring. I’m not super surprised because I have faith in my team and I knew what we were doing was good but when you think about it we were two wins away from the NBA Finals. That’s unheard of for the Raptors, we’ve been knocked out in the first round all of best seasons we’ve had. So I expect to get to the finals and get a ring when we do that. As far as my DJ career, the next few months are about rebranding 4KORNERS as an artist, producer and DJ.

What was it like to be one of DJs playing at the 2016 NBA All-star game?
It was incredible and I really didn’t know what I was going to be doing until two weeks before All-Star weekend because all the decisions were coming from head office. Let’s just say they didn’t divulge the information in a timely manner., But it was good I played 12 shows that week including the game from clubs to corporate events, it was one of the craziest weeks of my career. To play at the actual game was nerve wracking and  incredible, I’ll never forget it.

How is DJing at a basketball game different than DJing at a club or festival?
It’s pretty much the same because you want to get adrenaline flowing and people moving and cheering. The main difference is at a game the demographic is as wide as it could possibly be so you have to cater to everyone. The team gives me complete freedom, all they ask is that I keep it clean and I make it diverse. It was challenging a first, I’ve always listened to a diverse range of music but to play that consistently without playing the same songs was difficult but now it’s like clockwork. At the club is where I get to play dirty and play for the room, I want to get the girls grinding and whatnot. I’m not necessarily going to play “Sweet Caroline” at a club but at a game if I play it at a game 20,000 people sing along.

Do you ever get song requests from the players for the warm up?
Yes during warm up I play for the players and ignore the crowd because that’s the time for them to get their game faces on. I know what they like so I always try to have some of that. And if there’s anything specific a player wants to hear I’ll get word of it. I know they’re in a good mood if they’re dancing and vibing with each other and ready to go.

Do you have a go to song for hyping the crowd up?
There’s always a few, like “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO, it’s a loud, happy , high-energy kind of song and everybody knows it. AC/DC “Shook Me All Night Long”, Bon Jovi “Livin’ On a Prayer”, these are anthems everybody will sing along too. In a club there are classics that never go wrong but every few months there’s a big song and I know I have to build to that. And everywhere I go people know I’m affiliated with Drake and the  Raptors so I always get an extra reaction whenever I play Drake songs.

With the rise of Drake, The Weeknd, PARTYNEXTDOOR and Jazz Cartier, where do you see Toronto’s hip hop scene going?
I feel like right now Toronto is on top and people are looking to Toronto to take their cues and see what’s happening. Anybody who’s anybody is collaborating with Drake right now because they realize he’s the most powerful voice in hip hop. Toronto is a budding seed and I think a lot of that is people seeing what Drake has done, what The Weeknd has done, what PARTY has done and they say “I can do this, I’m from here.” Now kids have people  they can look up to that are from here. Put it this way, the way that the Raptors have garnered a new generation of kids who want to be pro basketball players and now they’re seeing it with Christian Thompson and Andrew Wiggins who grew up going to Raptors games, it’s tangible. NBA Çanada has done a fantastic job of fostering a basketball community to let kids see this is our thing too we can do this. And the same thing is happening with music.

This past season was the best in Raptors history and people across the league recognized Toronto for their fans, even LeBron James was amazed at the atmosphere at the ACC. How proud do you feel to have been a part of such an electric atmosphere?
I feel it ever where now, people are starting to understand what’s going here and there are Raptors fans all over the world now because it’s a contagious energy. The presentation team, myself included, want to make sure people to have fun even if they don’t like basketball. I’ve been to other basketball cities and they’re not as fun and I’m not being bias when I say that. It’s a party here, every second there isn’t basketball being played there’s something fun happening  and it permeates everywhere, especially this year. I know this city used to be known as the “screwface capital” and has tough critics but if they back you they back you so hard. So seeing 5,000 kids outside the stadium for every game, we saw that, the whole NBA saw that and it just became a movement. You used to see everybody wearing Yankees hats and now in Italy and Spain you have people wearing Raptors hats and jerseys. It’s weird but I love it. I have nothing but love for so called bandwagoners because something exciting is happening, how can you not want to be a part of it.

Check out 4KORNER’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages and watch the video for “Told Me Shake It.”

Brothas from the 6ix

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Award-winning photographer Lawrence Kerr teamed up with Jeff Martin and the youth mentoring group “Brothas from the 6” to re-create an iconic photo with the hopes of inspiring young men in the community while challenging stereotypes.

Martin, the founder of Brothas from the 6, started off with a Facebook group to share stories of black men from the Greater Toronto Area. The purpose of the group is to highlight the accomplishments of black men in the community and provide positive images for young black men to look up to. For Martin, Brothas from the 6 is a “movement and” chance to “be a part of something big.” He came across the picture on Facebook and when he shared it, it garnered a lot of positive feedback so he and Kerr arranged to make it happen. Martin hoped the photoshoot would get the same kind of positive response.

“Our goal is to have as many men and boys as possible in the photo, as a symbol of unity in the black community and just to combat all the negativity you see in the media,” Martin told ByBlacks. 

As the men in attendance did interviews and talked amongst themselves they spoke about the power of  visuals and being able to see that their goals are achievable.

Leroy Wright, a member of Brothas from the 6 said “we really want to let them (young black men) know that you may come from the ghetto but you don’t have to stay in the ghetto and you can be a role model too,”

The event gathered dozens of men and their families as well as other black-focused mentoring groups, including the Lion’s Circle. The Lion’s Circle is a Canada-wide group, which was formed 11 years ago and is a “a peer leadership group for black men, helping them achieve their goals & and they want to become,” according to one of it’s founders Mark. A. Smith. Smith said the event and the photo were equally important for the public to see to in order to help dispel some of the negative stereotypes surrounding black men but also for the young men who have become accustomed to those stereotypes, for example baseball caps and pants down to the knees.

“It’s important within the black community so young men can see that they don’t have to carry themselves like that and even if they do you can still be eloquent and gentlemen so people don’t look at you and think ‘this is what you are.’

Mickey Hutchinson, one of the other founders of The Lion’s Circle hopes that the young men in attendance and at home will see them as role models in their lives.

“Know that (you) can grow up and be the kind of men (you) see,” he added.

Mickey also runs a right of passage program for teen-aged black boys called “Rope.” He says that he is able to act as a role model because of his upbringing and the people he surrounds himself with. According to Hutchinson, being a role model means acting respectfully and with professionalism.

Aaron Charles: Agent Of Change

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For Aaron Charles building a brighter future is like building a home—you need to have a clear vision, a solid foundation, a good team around you and the rest is down to slowly progressing.

Aaron, who came to Canada from Trinidad with his father when he was six-years old, has dedicated his life to building a better future for himself, his family and his community through his work as a real estate agent and motivational speaker. Aaron firmly believes that everyone can be the architect of their own future with discipline, the right mindset and a strong sense of self. Aaron is well-respected in the real-estate business but it’s been a long a journey to get there.

How has getting into real estate empowered you?
I feel like my mentality going into it was very different than most people, the people I would talk to would say “I want to make money” or I want to do this or that but my ‘why’ was the sense of ownership and having ownership over my life, creating an identity for me, creating a path for my family and creating a path for my community to show that it’s possible to own real estate. I know there are people in communities where home ownership is the last thing on their list because they’re worried about survival, paying bills, keeping food on the table. I wanted to break that mind-set. So when I was able to acquire my first property it was the biggest accomplishment of my life because I was walking on the path I set out for myself. And it’s been a great feeling ever since. What drives me is knowing I can change my life and lives of those around me.

In addition to working to benefit your community and your family, what other things or people inspire you?
Just being able to live life on my own terms. I’ve put in the hours, worked long shifts, had a lot of different jobs but my mind-set was always to escape the 9-5 conventional job. I wanted a platform to stand up on and inspire other people. I read a quote when I was younger “helping other people reach their goals will ultimately help you get what you want.” If I come across a new skill I want to share it because I like to see people come up together. These things trickle down to the kids and the positive energy spreads, they’re going to grow up thinking real estate and having those conversations and then they’ll pass that down. I work for a brokerage called “Dream Maker Realty”, that’s what we preach and that’s our mission; building generational wealth. We want to break the cycle we’re currently in because we can be financially literate and financially strong we just have to want it and we have to see it.

Why is giving back to people in the community something that’s important to you?
Giving back to the community is important to me because I am who I am because people have given to me; they’ve given me their time, ideas—big and small–, community support, the confidence I need to go out there and do this on my own so it’s only fitting I do the same thing. And I don’t want to just help one person, I want to help as many as I can. And since I’ve been helping others I’ve met interesting people, I’ve gotten referrals for business so the process really works. It’s part of the way I was raised, I come from a big family and sharing was a part of our routine, it doesn’t change. My business skills are the same as my life skills. I want to be the one to push the young members of the community to add real estate as an additional avenue to whatever they’re trying to do. Whatever you’re doing in life, keep doing it if you’re passionate about it but add a little real estate because it’ll allow you to leverage your business as collateral. It’s all about building your life and your business.

You can visit Aaron on his website and check out episodes of “Flipping Ridiculous” on Aaron’s YouTube channel.

Profiles, Standing on the Shoulders of Greatness: Zanana L. Akande

Profiles is a series of feature in collaboration with Lawrence Kerr Photography 
and The original article was published in full by
Zanana Lorraine Akande is a retired politician, dedicated community servant and loving grandmother.

Akande was born in Toronto in 1937, to parents who were teachers but immigrated to Canada from the Caribbean at a time when blacks weren’t allowed to teach. Zanana followed her parents footsteps and became a teacher –and later a principal– before she got involved in politics. She joined what is now the New Democratic Party and ran to represent the St. Andrew-St. Patrick riding in Toronto during the 1990 provincial election. Akande won the seat and was named the Minister of Community and Social Services by Bob Rae, making her the first black woman to be elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and the first black woman to serve as a cabinet minister in Canada.

Akande has received numerous honours for her community work such as the African Canadian Achievement Award for Education, the Award of Distinction from the Congress of Black Women and the Constance E. Hamilton award in 2004 for her work addressing equity issues.

Your parents were both teachers and came to Canada at a time when black people were not allowed to teach, did that at all inspire you to become a teacher?
Actually I hadn’t intended on becoming a teacher, I always wanted to go to law school but we had no money; there’s no fancy way to put it. I chose teacher’s college thinking teachers get off work at 4:30, I can take evening and summer courses to graduate on time, teach for a few years then go to law school. But I found out during practicum that I quite loved teaching and I was good at it so I succumbed to the seduction of teaching.

And what was the transition like going from a teacher, to a principal to running in the 1990 election?
Well It was a long time, I was asked to run by the NDP before 1990 and I was asked to run by another party as well but I was reluctant. I was reluctant the year I ran too, sometimes I wonder if I would have run at all if the election hadn’t been called in summer because I was a principal. But I decided I’d do it, I’d served on a committee and helped other people in elections. When they showed me the platform I said these are things I can speak to and I think are important and decided I could do it.

When you were elected you became the first black female to be elected as an MPP in Ontario, did that have any significance to you?
No, if I’m being truthful, well not for me. It was important for many other people and important to have achieved it but for me there were many black women who I knew personally who could’ve done a great job and the fact that we had to wait until 1990, well not waited just not able to be achieved, aggravated me. There had been others in the past who had been elected who, with all due respect, didn’t have the ability to do the job and didn’t have to struggle to get it. And women have our own history with fighting for the right to stand in office and run but once we gained that right many women went home satisfied with the possibility and didn’t run. That aggravated me but I had to accept it because the fact was mentioned a lot. I’m just disappointed it took until 1990.

Zanana is now happily retired, enjoying her free time with her grandchildren.


Meet Nikki Clarke: New president of the OBHS

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After 22 years the Ontario Black History Month Society has a new president. Nikki Clarke, former teacher, scholar and host of the Nikki Clarke Show, was elected in November last year replacing long-time president Rosemary Sadlier. Clarke has worn many hats in her lifetime, having worked as a host, publicist, teacher and a designer while also picking up academic honours from McGill University, Sheridan College and John Abbott College. She has also received numerous awards for her work including the BBPA Woman of Honour award and the African Canadian Women’s Achievement Award for her work in the community and excellence in teaching.

ByBlacks caught up with Clarke ahead of the OBHS’s annual kick-off brunch to talk about her as well as her new role.

I was browsing your Twitter page yesterday and came across a “2016 is your year” post, from a health and wellness standpoint what are some tips for making 2016 “your year?”

I think to establish 2016 as a powerful year it’s about stepping into your own and about authentic. It means accepting what you can’t change and making the changes you need to. I just turned 48 in December and I’m looking at the things that I’ve achieved and you start to make evaluations about how things are going, especially in January. In terms of making 2016 your year it helps to have regular check ups whether it’s physical, spiritual or with relationships. Having a proper channel of communication with the people you consider a part of your circle. Go to your doctor not to fix things but to prevent them from happening because that’s what doctors are there for.

It also helps to be grounded in the spirituality. We live in a fast-paced world full of distractions and instant gratification, we have to know when to tune out and listen to your inner voice. That, to me, is how you can make 2016 a good year.

You mentioned being authentic, what does that mean for you, who is the authentic Nikki Clarke?

Being authentic means tapping the true essence of who you are and recognizing your purpose and also to understand there is strength in vulnerability. My past has brought me to this place it’s part of my journey but my past doesn’t define my future. In the vein of authenticity it’s being able to understand the present, past and future and to be in agreeance with all of it. Being able to offer a part of who you are, to be transparent and not ashamed but empowered by your transparency.  That’s what authenticity is for me.

To me that response speaks to the objective and the message of your show.

That is the intention of the show, it started off to showcase local talent and give them a platform but as I grew as a producer, host and internally I think I became more self-aware that the things that I thought were important weren’t really that important and my priorities shifted. I started to invite guests from all walk’s of life to come in and share their “heart” stories, so we talk about their accomplishments but we also talk about some of the challenges and pitfalls they’ve had to overcome. So that’s the premise of the show; if you have a real story and you want a cathartic-release, we have a captive and receptive audience that is waiting to learn from you. Because I want to engage the community I want to have this format where you talk in front of the audience and share.

What are some things that motivate and inspire you?

What motivates me is my family. I have three children, two girls and boy, who are young adults right now and they’ve always motivated me to become a better person and to be an example of how I’d like them to be; productive citizens of the Earth, like how my parents modelled me. I also look to the communities young men and women, particularly in the black community, and I see so many needs–emotional, physical financial–with the opportunities I have it’s very important to give back.  Those are my motivational factors. When it comes to inspiration, I’m just inspired by getting up and being healthy. I pass it to my higher power, God is first in life for me and that is my inspiration.

After you were elected as the new president of the Ontario Black History Society I read that  you wanted develop programs that would be more engaging and empowering for youth, could you give me an example of what you had in mind?

I believe are the future and tomorrow so it’s important we develop and nurture them. And the way to retain the youth and keep their interest is to find out what their interests are, that’s what I mean by engaging; get to them from their perspective in a way that’s educational and inspirational. I’m formally a teacher and I know the best way for teacher’s to keep their students attentions is to find out what their interests are and facilitate that. Social media is a great way to reach people in a non-physical way. We’re thinking of an app that has information on black history and a Q&A, perhaps even games that would be a fun engaging learning experience.

Then there are the youth that want things that are hands on or have artistic abilities and want to do that to express themselves and keep the gaps closed between generations. The best way to do that to find out what these interests are is to talk so what I would to do is have a board member who is a youth, someone who’s in the 17-25 age range, to bring to us fresh ideas and a fresh perspective. I’m hoping we can learn from each other. It’s also important to me that we engage the French-speaking and Spanish black people in the community because I can speak these three languages and I’d like to see cooperation between these communities. I’ve seen it happen other places in Canada and it’s beautiful.

Switching focus a little, Black History Month starts next week, how do you think it should be celebrated?

Well I’m very excited because we’ll be celebrating the 20th BHM in Canada so it’s exciting time, there have been some great strides, though we still have much to do. I don’t think it should be a 28-day experience, at the OBHS we try to get out once a month and do something in the community, there’s a lot to celebrate and many unsung heroes. What we want to do is bring these people to light and to hep them because team work makes the dream work, we can help each other. I’m also very excited because last December I got a call from Mayor John Tory about the possibility of having a Black museum in Toronto. We sat down with community activist Gwyn Chapman and the Honourable Jean Augustine and we just sat and talked about ideas of what a Black museum would look like, who would it service and what would it have in it? And we’re hoping in the next year or two to really make this happen so my children and their children will have a place to go to that chronicles our history.

In addition to an initiative like the museum how else can BHM be made so it’s more engaging and more accessible to the whole community?

Well African-Canadian/American culture is part of International culture because there is not one place you can go and not see African culture touching them; whether it be through music, fashion, art, food and I think if we can continue in the initiative of sharing the pride that will make a difference in terms of people’s perceptions and in terms of our role in society’s culture.

For you personally, what have you learned or taken away from learning about black history and black culture?

Well to give you a little background on me, I’m Jamaican-born, I came to Canada with my family in 1970 and we lived in Montreal, which was the point-of-entry for immigrants from the Caribbean. With that early childhood experience of moving to a new country, with a new culture, new language–I had to learn French, Patios and English all at the same time. I learned how to get along very early. I also learned that yes I was different but I was very open to diversity. As an adult I understand how important it is to embrace who I am, walk in it and own it and also be open to other people’s culture. African culture is full of beauty and talent,  we have to be more proactive and invested in learning about it and sharing that, we have to embrace it, we have to work toward the greater good.

Lastly, what are some of the things you are looking forward to as OBHS president?

My three main points for the OBHS are the more engaging programs for youth, the second is the inclusion of the other languages and the third point would be to create more mentorship programs for young black women. I’m also very interested in continuing the conversation about the Black museum in Toronto. I’m really looking forward to doing more work in the community, doing more outreach not only in the black community but in any community interested in what we can offer.


This year marks the 20th celebration of Black History Month in Canada and the OBHS will be holding their annual kick-off brunch Jan. 31 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. This year’s brunch will be co-hosted by youth engagement specialist/motivational speaker Mawuli Chai and CityNews’ Tammie Sutherland as well as keynote speaker, the Honourable Jean Augustine. The night will also include appearances by Dr. Akua Benjamin and Kevin Junor.

You can order your tickets online at: