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Business and activism go hand-in-hand for Sask. brothers who say future looks 'Blacker and brighter'

The Mthembu brothers Mandla, left, Thabo, centre, and Tiro, right, say activism and community have been close to their hearts since childhood. Now the brothers provide community support and outreach in Regina through activism and business.  (Richard Agecoutay/ CBC News  - image credit)
The Mthembu brothers Mandla, left, Thabo, centre, and Tiro, right, say activism and community have been close to their hearts since childhood. Now the brothers provide community support and outreach in Regina through activism and business. (Richard Agecoutay/ CBC News - image credit)

For the Mthembu brothers, activism and community involvement has always been a central part of their lives.

Tiro, Thabo, and Mandla Mthembu were raised in Maple Creek, Sask., southwest of Regina. Their mother was a church leader who was heavily involved in the community. They often watched as she provided meals to people who needed them.

Their father was a freedom fighter and political refugee from South Africa during apartheid who immigrated to Saskatchewan in the 1980s.

They said the teachings from both parents have influenced the work they do in the community today as activists, organizers, and entrepreneurs.

"We were very heavily influenced by progressive politics and the understanding of being an active member of the community," said Tiro.

The Mthembu Brothers reflect on the teachings they learned from their parents as they sit inside the Hampton Hub. Their mother was a church leader and father was a freedom fighter. They say their parents heavily influenced their work as activists.
The Mthembu Brothers reflect on the teachings they learned from their parents as they sit inside the Hampton Hub. Their mother was a church leader and father was a freedom fighter. They say their parents heavily influenced their work as activists.

The Mthembu brothers Thabo, left, Mandla, centre, and Tiro, right, reflect on the teachings they learned from their parents as they sit inside the Hampton Hub. (CBC News)

Thabo and Tiro opened The Hampton Hub in Regina in 2022, after previously owning a food truck in the city. The restaurant was named after Black Panther Party member Fred Hampton, whom the brothers also cite as an inspiration behind their activism.

The brothers use the restaurant as a space of giving and teaching, often hosting 'Teach-in-Tuesdays' to help bring awareness or highlight critical issues in the community, with this month's teach-ins tied to Black History Month.

"It's always been in our roots to create a space. That is something that's been very uplifting for us," said Thabo.

He said the space is an obligation and commitment to create a more "just society" within their community.

The Hampton Hub restaurant in Regina is used as a community space for advocacy and teaching.
The Hampton Hub restaurant in Regina is used as a community space for advocacy and teaching.

The Hampton Hub restaurant in Regina is used as a community space for advocacy and teaching. (CBC News )

Growing up Black in Saskatchewan 

The brothers' love for community often came with feeling isolated within their own. They said growing up in a small town on the Prairies, there were times they were treated differently because of their Black and mixed-race background.

"Being Black on the Prairies in a small kind of rural town, we represented a lot more than just ourselves a lot of times. We weren't the norm — there weren't a lot of people that looked like us in our town," said Mandla.

"It was sometimes seen as almost like we're a mistake or something different," Thabo said.

The Mthembu brothers pictured with their father. The brothers say they were often treated differently growing up Black in a small town in Saskatchewan.
The Mthembu brothers pictured with their father. The brothers say they were often treated differently growing up Black in a small town in Saskatchewan.

The Mthembu brothers pictured with their father. The brothers say they were often treated differently growing up Black in a small town in Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Tiro Mthembu)

But the brothers hope that they're able to help change the narrative for other Black people and people of colour on the Prairies through their work.

"Every day, this community gets Blacker and brighter, and we want to continue to shine light and showcase the love that we have for our Black identity," Tiro said.

Creating a new experience on the Prairies 

For Mandla, showcasing love for the community has taken the form of outreach in the form of volunteering with advocacy groups and working with those who are unhoused.

"We've been trying to form avenues of ways that we can take care of each other and provide things that maybe are really hard to get for some of the people living out there," he said.

He said his brothers have also provided food and breakfast from their restaurant to people living in encampments.

The work that they do as community members is a responsibility that can not be ignored, said Thabo."People are dying, people are screaming for help," he said. "Sometimes it's not even a choice — we have to do this. There would be no option for us to sit on the sideline."

Tiro described the ability to do that work as deeply rewarding.

"It's a real joy to hold space for community and advocate and we don't take that lightly."

(CBC)

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.