Nikita Brown: Untitled and Organic
The founder of the “Bramptonist” website discusses youth engagement, empowering young women, and the possibilities of both an LRT and a University in Brampton
Interview by Paul Edward Costa
There’s an endless amount of desire on the internet without a strong will to act on that passion. The net has always been popular place to voice grievances, hopes, demands, and dreams, but few actually attempt to mold those wishes into reality, which is what makes Nikita Brown such a fascinating and inspiring local figure in Brampton. She is the founder of the news website “Bramptonist” (http://bramptonist.com/) and has consistently engaged with local issues, both political and cultural, in an effort to make a positive change in a city she loves as well as to empower the youth therein. I spoke with Nikita in the studio of Shannon Moynagh on the second floor of the Beaux Arts Gallery in downtown Brampton amid a series of paintings titled “Untitled (Organic)” hanging on the walls. Read on to learn more about the exciting work Nikita Brown is doing in Brampton…
What pushed you to create the Bramptonist website?
The base reason why I started Bramptonist was to engage people in local community. Two years ago there wasn’t really a central place to find out about interesting stuff that was happening in Brampton, so first and foremost I wanted to started that conversation and consolidate information coming from all these different sources, and put it into a nice pretty package where people could access art, culture, food, and recent news and events happening in Brampton. The second thing is that I really wanted to foster city pride. Brampton has always gotten a little bit of hate, so I really wanted to change perceptions of how people view this city. If we really want to make this city better we have to do it ourselves. I really started Bramptonist as a way to shift that perception by covering awesome and good things about our city—things we love without knowing at times. The third reason was to create something that would give young people tangible experience in the creative economy because we’re kind of suffering in that way. When I was in my last year of university I was looking for an internship in communications in Brampton and couldn’t find one. That was my third goal, to give young people—because it’s run by people under thirty—opportunities to build their resumes and build their portfolios.
What have been your biggest setbacks? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge has been balancing that [Bramptonist] with a regular job. A lot of young people find themselves in situation where they are working full time and they are balancing their passion on the side and are trying to make that a full time thing, so that has been a challenge. Some nights I’m up really late and that balance isn’t working out so well for me, but I think overcoming that has been easy when I look at the things that I’ve achieved so far just in doing it part-time or on the side. It’s been really successful, so that’s really driven me to wanting to make it a full time thing and keep going.
What are your memorable moments and memories from North Park?
I spent a lot of time in the art classroom and in the tech hallway. It’s interesting that I am where I am now because so much of my last year was spent in media studies, desktop publishing and yearbook, so that has really shaped how I am going today. My friends and I loved those classes and spent a lot of time getting to know the tech and arts teachers. I want to say hi to Mr. Chilton [recently retired]—he’s just the best. I spent a lot of my last year for two semesters being the yearbook editor along with my best friend.
How has your education influenced or not influenced your career?
My high school and my university education has influenced what I do for Bramptonist and my regular job because it’s communications: I started my love for digital communications in grade 11 or 12. That led me on my journey to school where I studied Media and Communications. That’s where I’m working now and where the skills that I use to run Bramptonist came from—those classes in high school. Those are skills that I further developed in university, so I am happy that I did those things.
What do you wish you had been told as a young girl in school? Tell me more about your involvement and interest in the “Be You” campaign you took part in at Bramalea City Center.
I would definitely say that—having gotten older and wiser—I think that I wish had been told at a younger age that you don’t have to fall into the confines of a 9-5 job; a passion can make you money, but you have to work really hard at it. That stereotype doesn’t fit everyone’s life or everyone’s way of doing things. I wish I had been told that earlier because I am not a 9-5 person. Obviously I work 9-5, but that is not my prime time of thinking or being creative or making things happen at all, so that’s a challenge for me. I wish I had been told that earlier instead of trying to fit into this boxy that I’ll never fit in.
“Be You” was sponsored by Bramalea City Center and Big Brothers, Big Sisters. It brought together young women who were doing really interesting, cool ambassador-type things in their community and who are thought of as leaders in their own right. It was a really interesting experience for me because it’s hard to perceive your success as success while you’re living it, so it’s interesting to see that people thought I was successful [laughs] cause I feel like I’m still working at being successful. It was cool and interesting for me because I ran workshops on women/girls in leadership. I started Bramptonist, and am the founder, and you don’t meet many women CEOs or founders. It was really cool to talk to the girls about being strong and being a leader by taking the steps to do something, making it happen yourself, and not relying on other people to make it happen.
The workshops were interesting because I feel my topic was for an older demographic, so it was interesting to have conversations with the girls about that. It was good. I hope that the discourse around being a girl/woman are starting to change. I think the media is getting the point that it needs to change and it seems to be. The concepts were not new to them. They understand women can be leaders now. It’s just the encouragement and reinforcement of that that needs to keep happening.
How will a Brampton University benefit or not benefit the city?
I think it could be really, really good for Brampton to have a university and that vibrancy that comes with having an innovation hub, and universities are innovation hubs: they bring talent, they bring creativity, and all those things. That is a really central idea for Brampton, moving forward, because we haven’t really figured out how to harness that. We have some innovative spaces like the Maker Space or Lab-B, but we’re not there yet. We’re not figuring out how to keep talent here. So I think a university is a great way of having the talent stay in Brampton, instead of fleeing to Toronto. But I think it also has to be executed well. We want it to transform Brampton, but that comes with planning and being done right.
What can Brampton learn from international cities you’ve visited?
I think Brampton is so sprawling that it’s hard to connect these little silos of people, and one thing I love about Europe (and especially Barcelona) is the walkability of everything. It’s so easy to interact with other people because everyone walks everywhere and it’s awesome. I love that about there, you really kind of interact with your environment a lot better. You find little places you can hang out in that you can’t find if you are just driving in your car from point A to point B all the time. I would love for Brampton to adapt a stronger attitude or a more friendly attitude towards walkability or bikeability.
Brampton in some ways is still trying to figure out its identity. When you go to a city you can feel how it is, you don’t get that in Brampton yet, and I think we still have a ways to go to really feel that culture I guess you can say.
What has surprised you the most about the Brampton LRT debate you’ve been covering?
What has surprised me the most is the lack of care from our municipal leaders because it was record engagement. The amount of people who showed up to city hall and wrote letters to council was the most amount of people who have ever engaged with any given in topic in Brampton, ever, literally ever, and the even more encouraging part of that is a lot of the people who engaged in this conversation were youth in favor of the LRT, so I am still baffled that despite the fact that sixty people delegated to City Council and fifty were in favor of LRT—so many of them young, so many of them wanting to figure out how they could keep their foot in Brampton and not have to move or leave for other opportunities elsewhere—and they were able to look at those people and say “no, we’re not going to do this, we don’t care what you have to say or want, we are not going to do this.” That has been the most surprising thing because I have always been under the impression that your leaders in general should represent what the people want and they should make decisions for the people, and that was not the case in this business.
What excites you about this city’s future? What scares you?
What excites me is that young people are really leading the charge in changing Brampton. People have bought into that narrative of “Brampton’s lame” so it’s cool to see that people are challenging that narrative and are willing to put in the work to change that narrative. What scares me is our municipal leaders; you can only do so much as a citizen. You can get people to show up to the Rose theater in favour of an LRT but city council can still say no, so that’s terrifying, that we have a municipal government that doesn’t necessarily represent what the people want.
For what are you most proud of Brampton?
I think I am most proud that the culture which is emerging is being led by young people who saw a need to change things in Brampton and are actively working to change it. They aren’t being paid. They’re not elected so they don’t have an obligation to the public. They’re doing it because they want Brampton to be better, they want Brampton to be successful, and they want to be able stay and live here, so that’s really, really encouraging.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
About the Writer: Paul Edward Costa is a writer and spoken word performer who has published fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in “Timber Journal”, “Entropy”, “Thrice Fiction”, “Emerge Literary Journal”, “The J.J. Outre Review”, “The Eunoia Review”, “The Bramptonist”, “Alien Mouth”, “REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters” and others. He has work forthcoming in “Mannequin Haus”, “Literary Orphans”, and “Bonk!” He is the founder of the ongoing “Paul’s Poetry Night” spoken word series in the Greater Toronto Area. His areas of interest are illusion/reality, minimalism, surrealism, genre fiction, weird fiction, the grotesque, and the absurd. At York University Paul earned a Specialized Honors BA in History and a BA in Education. He is also a high school English teacher with the Peel District School Board.