The popular restaurant chain partners with Zero Gun Violence Movement in innovative program
At 24 years old, Marcus Davenport is president of Sunrise Caribbean Restaurant, the largest Caribbean restaurant chain in Canada; it has been under Caribbean-Canadian ownership since it was launched in 1995. Together with his father Lance Davenport, who co-founded the business with partners Kenneth McFarlane, Morris Kenlock and Everald Robinson, Marcus now oversees the growth and operations of the 24-unit chain of restaurants spread across the Greater Toronto Area.
Marcus indicated he co-manages ten Sunrise locations with franchisees, ensuring that they learn every aspect of their businesses, while meeting all the expectations of a classic Sunrise operation until they are able to stand on their own. Last Tuesday he met The Caribbean Camera at one of the Pickering locations to give us a sense of Sunrise environment.
Sitting across from Marcus was Louis March, the founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement (ZGVM). March is a 30-year veteran volunteer community worker and advocate in the African Canadian community.
March was moved to address gun violence among Black youth which reared its ugly head for the past three decades and continues unabated to this day. While the veteran community worker admitted that the task is not easy it could be summarised in this way: “to end the scourge of gun violence across the GTA and to channel the young Black community participants in legitimate pursuits and towards meaningful and productive lives.”
The connection made between Louis and Marcus can be said to have occurred when both men were thinking along the same lines at the same time.
According to Marcos, “I felt that previous management of the brand [Sunrise] took the money and just enjoyed themselves with it; everybody wanting a house, a car everybody, vacations etc. They never really seem to want to give back to the community that has supported them; and the only way for us to grow is as a community. It seemed to me that what we get from our customers, we should give some back to our community.”
“So I called Kofi Addo, Marcus’s assistant in the technology area] and I told him that I wanted to make a change in the community. We wanted to do it because as the company gets bigger we didn’t want to do anything as a corporate move based on having money that you need to write off or anything like. We just wanted to give it to the community.” Kofi who knew Louis (he calls him Uncle Louis) for may years made the introduction.
Knowing the many reasons why the youth of our community have found guns so attractive leading of course to the violence we read and witness almost daily, Louis said simply, “well we have to show them a pathway…the thing is that young black kids seem to like going into business, all of them want to start their own thing, but they don’t have the acumen on how to manage a business….so I thought that we have to bring it to them.” That’s where Marcus fits in.
“First”, said Marcus, “we bring to them what they need to know to start the business, and then once you see that one could actually do it you give them the financing. So instead of us taking the money to do other little things, you take the money that you are collecting and you give it to the kids so that they can start their businesses. Do you know how difficult it is to get a loan from the banks as a Black person? It’s close to impossible. So what we have to do is to create a positive environment and you got them because as soon as they see it [the better material life] and they realize that they can have this without resorting to dealing drugs. Many have ideas that they pick up from social media seeing how people get successful starting a little YouTube business.”
For instance, kids who have a business idea but may not have the seed money “I come in with the seed money; and I’m not bringing problems without solutions.”
Louis March’s ZGVM has been interfacing with governments at every level, community organizations, and service clubs; gives talks in schools; runs summer camps, basketball tournaments, anything that would help lead our kids towards productive and legitimate pursuits. So Marcus at 24 years-old would be an ideal role model and ready to invest in the community.
For instance, the funds that ZGVM receive from a number of sources including from Sunrise, went to reduce the cost of making summer camps affordable to parents or to buy school supplies stuffed into backpacks or for bursaries for children who want to acquire a post-secondary education.
Marcus says that he believes that funds must be given directly to young, budding entrepreneurs who have a good idea. And even if they fail initially, they could be given another chance and receive the right type of business help until they succeed. So he is not averse to writing them a cheque.
Louis adds, “we have to show them that they could be set up to win. We need to coach them so that they can have that type of success because once you change one child, that kid is going to go on and say that Sunrise Caribbean gave me $5,000 and they’re going to help me.”
Marcus says his plan is to gather students together and tell them about the program, and then choose the students who have the best ideas and reward those who have the best grades. Although bad grades would not necessarily rule them out, good grades will serve as a motivator. “We take the top picks and we say okay these are kids that we want to allocate funds to, so let’s start working with them on a business plan. I will give them the money on a needs basis; so you have your business plan; need a lease, first and last month rent, you need inventory. We will help you with that….I’m at that point where the child should have everything they need to get be successful.”
To be sure, this is not a magic wand that will turn the tide on gun violence. In truth, it is about one element of the many programs provided by ZGVM, but it’s a generous, sensible and unique program that has every chance to succeed. The Sunrise – ZGVM project should be encouraged and supported.