To challenge us to look at Black stories and culture beyond February, Tianna Edwards is working to demonstrate Kingston’s capacity to cultivate a place for Black folks.
Born and raised in Kingston, Edwards is the founder of “Keep Up with Kingston,” a blog dedicated to exploring Kingston, sharing her love of food, and re-discovering love for her hometown. She also works at Queen’s as an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Coordinator at Yellow House.
Growing up, she said she loved school but was aware of the role she was assigned: the designated Black girl. It was that presumed role that built her interest in the narratives surrounding Black people in Kingston—specifically that there weren’t any.
In the 2000s, the only stories she and her white classmates were told about Black folks were through the Black Entertainment Network and rap culture. It was this one-sided image of Blackness that forced Black folks to either fit into this narrative or be misunderstood.
“Black culture is not only rap culture. Black people are normal people and that is our experience,” Edwards said in an interview with The Journal.
Once Edwards graduated high school, she was excited to leave Kingston and got out very quickly. She reflected on her experience in Kingston and the perception of Black culture being pushed by Black media companies at the time.
“At the time, the only reference was Black music, but I didn’t like to perceive myself through that lens. Looking at Black media companies, I found myself asking why it is not nuanced,” Edwards said.
This formed the building blocks of her undergraduate thesis, which was on the misrepresentation of Black culture through Black media.
There was a massive shift in Black representation following the rise of social media and the election of former U.S. President Barack Obama, according to Edwards. She said there was an opportunity to openly challenge that narrative and build a nuance to Black culture.
“That changed and opened the opportunity for the narrative to expand. This was 2009, there wasn’t representation of Black people that aren’t rappers […] It has come leaps and bounds for Black people that get to be represented.”
Edwards came back to Kingston after 10 years outside the city. When she thought about returning, she wasn’t sure what Kingston would be like.
She built “Keep Up with Kingston” as a way to fall back in love with Kingston. She loved the Toronto food scene and started looking for the go-to food blog for Kingston. Upon learning there wasn’t a blog, Edwards was inspired to create a blog to inspire re-discovery of Kingston as an adult.
While Edwards said she has no major goals for the blog, she does have a section dedicated to her passion: the Black community in Kingston. On her blog, she has a list of Black-owned businesses she encourages her readers to support, for example.
“[The list] encourages people to bring the February-ness all year round. People should keep these businesses in mind when they’re trying to find ways to support,” she said.
”It is not just about allyship, but [it] means that Black folks can see that Black people live in Kingston.”
Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Edwards had an overwhelming response from people asking about her experience and what they could do.
“A lot of people reached out to hear my experience. I told them that this is bigger than me and it’s a lot of people’s experience.”
Edwards is continuing to fight the misrepresentation of Black culture through her master’s in Cultural Studies. Through this work, she asks different questions, and focusing on who is telling the stories on Black culture, as well as the role of colonialism in that narrative.
Her research asks why people only know certain things about Black culture, and who is pushing the current narrative. It’s now her mission to dismantle white supremacy in education to expand the possibility of that narrative, especially now as a mother of two daughters.
“Cultural studies is about curiosity and digging a bit deeper. It focuses on the root of decolonizing education and perceptions and who is telling stories, which is completely different.”
Edwards’ graduate project is working on a podcast highlighting Black folks living in Kingston. The goal is to fight the narrative that Black people don’t live in Kingston.
Speaking to her work at Yellow House—a safe place on campus for QTBIPOC students—she said spaces like it didn’t exist on campuses when she was applying to university.
Through Edwards’ role, she helps plan events and communications to help cultivate community and show that QTBIPOC students belong at Queen’s.
Edwards’ favorite part of her job are the events, and she’s excited to be able to work on more events once she returns from leave.
A previous version of this article stated Tianna Edwards is the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigeneity Coordinator at Yellow House. She is the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Coordinator.
A previous version of this article stated Tianna Edwards’ blog is called “Keeping Up with Kingston.” Her blog is called “Keep Up with Kingston.”
The Journal regrets the error
Black, black history month, City of Kingston, Interview
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