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The Montague sisters support the Black community in Hamilton with their open access list of Black-owned businesses

On June 2, social media users from around the world shared a black square with the hashtag #BlackoutTuesday in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The day was supposed to be a moment for individuals to reflect on recent events surrounding racism and police brutality.

Among them were Ashleigh, Alexandria and Abygail Montague, three sisters from Hamilton who created the @BlkOwnedHamont Instagram page to share their list of Black-owned businesses in the Steel City. 

The Montague sisters started Blk Owned Hamont to encourage others to put their purchasing power toward the Black community. Not only are these purchases a way of supporting these businesses, but it can also be considered a means of protest against ongoing racial injustice and inequality. 

According to Google Trends data, there have been multiple peaks of searches of Black-owned businesses since May 2020 in Canada. Alongside the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, an increasing number of people are seeking ways to show their support. 

 

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“Since people really are on this momentum of seeing that Black people actually do matter . . . We wanted to highlight these Black-owned businesses and show them to all of Hamilton,” said Alexandria. 

It felt natural for the trio to create the open-access list and get involved in activism due to their strong roots in volunteerism and leadership that their parents ingrained in them from early childhood. 

“It is our duty, if we are part of a community, to contribute back to the community,” explained Alexandria. 

“It is our duty, if we are part of a community, to contribute back to the community,” explained Alexandria.

Ashleigh, the eldest of the three, is a McMaster alumna who graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Commerce. During her time at McMaster she co-founded Canada’s second Black-focused sorority, Nu Omega Zeta, which is still active on campus today

Alexandria, the middle child, recently graduated from the creative industries program at Ryerson University. Throughout her childhood and career she has been an active and recognized member of the Hamilton community because of her roles in various charities.

Abygail is the youngest of the trio and is currently the president of her high school’s student council. Like her sisters, she has also been an integral part of organizations such as the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, The Jamaican Foundation and Hamilton Caribbean Women’s Groups

“My parents always made sure that we were involved in learning about our heritage from a very young age [through] different types of groups . . . so I always felt like I was well-versed [in] and learning about what volunteerism was from a very young age. Now I’ve taken that with me and turned it into a leadership position,” said Abygail. 

“My parents always made sure that we were involved in learning about our heritage from a very young age [through] different types of groups . . . so I always felt like I was well-versed [in] and learning about what volunteerism was from a very young age. Now I’ve taken that with me and turned it into a leadership position,” said Abygail. 

In 2015, the sisters also co-founded a non-profit organization called Janus Skills 4 Success, formerly known as Sisters 4 Sisters. Their goal was to create leaders for the future. Abygail is currently the president of the student-led executive council of the organization. 

With their business list alone, the sisters have already made a significant impact on local Black-owned businesses. Businesses on their list have gained new customers and consumers are continuing to reach out to them to find new businesses to support. However, the sisters’ unfaltering zeal for community service has compelled them to go beyond simply highlighting businesses. 

 

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To strengthen their efforts to celebrate, showcase, explore and support the Black community, they are also conducting a consumer survey. The goal of the survey is to better understand how to help Black-owned businesses become more sustainable long-term. 

The survey investigates how consumers interact with and perceive Black-owned businesses to identify factors that can be addressed to improve them. For instance, they’ve found that consumers don’t see heavy online presence from some of the Black-owned businesses in Hamilton so they wish to work towards implementing solutions to make them more digital and accessible to their clients. 

“We’re hoping to . . . [figure] out how we can come together as a community to provide that support that Black businesses need. How do they get funding? How do they build their human resources to have the capacity to grow businesses here? What other help do they need?” explained Asheligh. 

“We’re hoping to . . . [figure] out how we can come together as a community to provide that support that Black businesses need. How do they get funding? How do they build their human resources to have the capacity to grow businesses here? What other help do they need?” explained Asheligh. 

The sisters have applied for grants to fund and expand this research and hope to conduct broader market research on the business’ experiences as well.

With the data they have collected, they hope to organize classes and seminars with guest speakers for Black-owned businesses. The funding for this initiative will come from their merchandise which was recently launched on Oct. 21 in partnership with Hamilton business Witly

 

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Their best-selling item is their facial mask. The mask features their logo, which was designed by a Black-owned business, Public House Studio

Since the launch, they have received wonderful support from their families, friends and the community. They hope their merchandise helps to spread their message, celebrate the Black community and bring more attention to their open access list. 

The Montague sisters have a digital event planned for November. With the holiday season coming up, they are brainstorming ways to promote Black-owned businesses and are considering creating a gift guide or Advent calendar.

Even if people aren’t able to support financially by purchasing from Black-owned businesses, they urge students to reshare their posts. They also encourage students to reach out to their page if they are an emerging Black entrepreneur or have a favourite Black-owned Hamilton business they wish to promote.

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