Brandon Gonez is betting on himself and pushing storytelling to new levels through his recently launched YouTube news series, The Brandon Gonez Show. After leaving his former position as a well-known CP24 broadcaster, Gonez started his weekly news and entertainment program this January. The YouTube series presents a mix of news segments, entertainment, local business coverage, and good new stories, mixed in with Gonez’s light-hearted energy and distinct Patois expressions, coming from a Jamaican-Canadian background.

Gonez’s vibrant on-air personality is captivating audiences of all communities by bringing real representation and relatability. Paired with his authentic personality, the host is making a commitment to telling genuine, authentic stories and is highlighting narratives in communities that otherwise may be overlooked. One of Gonez’s segments, ‘Your Voice,’ provides a platform for people in various neighborhoods in the city to express their unedited views about the world around them. 

Gonez recently spoke with us about the rewards and challenges he’s experienced so far in creating The Brandon Gonez Show during the pandemic and his hopes for the series in the future. Complex Canada’s Alex Narvaez caught up with the host to talk about his reasons for starting the show, the importance of covering diverse and representative stories, and his proudest moments in covering the news.

First of all, congratulations on The Brandon Gonez Show. I feel like that must have taken a lot of courage and a lot of processing for you to make the decision to start your own show. What has this run been like for you so far?
I don’t know if I can actually describe it in words because it’s like having a baby—and I’ve never had a baby before. But it feels like having a baby and you’re just kind of nurturing it and trying to see it grow up where it can kind of walk by itself, you know? And so you’re putting every single thing that you have into it; your blood, sweat, and tears. Fortunately, I have such a great team alongside me that’s really pushing this forward. And we’ve been really, really fortunate and blessed and lucky to have the support of the city and people right across this country who have subscribed, they’re sharing, they’re liking, they’re commenting. And it’s like, I look back and we launched a month ago. And, you know, what we’ve been able to accomplish is kind of surreal. So we’re hoping that momentum is going to continue throughout the remainder of the year. 

Well, we’re happy to put the spotlight on a show like that too because we love what you’re doing. I know it must come with challenges; it’s a huge undertaking. You’re doing your own news show. What are some of the challenges you’ve come across and how have you pivoted? 
We’re setting our own narrative and we’re building this new framework that has never been done before in this country. So, we’re trying to basically blaze this trail in this forest and cut down these trees. For example, funding location and the types of stories to cover—how do we do that if we’re based in Toronto? Plus, you add on this pandemic that’s preventing us from traveling and you have this stay at home order in effect. So, all of these different things are being thrown at us at the time that we’re just really trying to get our wings to fly. That’s been a big challenge; COVID-19 has probably been the biggest challenge just because we want to make sure that we’re following the rules. We have so many stories that we’ve been pitched that our viewers have sent to us that we want to cover, but we have to cover those responsibly. So, we’re trying to figure out all of those things and at the same time make sure that we can earn some dollars.

“For the Black community and minority communities, ownership is something that we don’t talk about enough. Like, ownership of our work and what that means.”

Absolutely, man. What would you say is the mission of The Brandon Gonez Show
The big mission is really to provide a platform for people to hear their stories told authentically and in the most genuine way possible. I feel like especially for young people, whether you’re a Gen Z’er or a millennial—I even hate to categorize people like that—but a lot of people don’t like to watch the news because they find it really negative. They say it makes them feel a little bit depressed. So, we just want to provide a platform where you can still get information, but you can also laugh at the same time. Like, you can still leave smiling and still feel like, ‘OK, I got what I needed to get. I know what I need to know, and I still feel good about life.’

I want to go back to CP24 for a second because everyone that I’ve talked to is like, “Why did Brandon leave?” But I want to hear it from you. What was going on in your mind that made you make that ultimate decision to leave?
2020 was a heavy year. You know, I think for everybody it was a massive eye opener, a huge eye-opener in terms of like, ‘What do you actually want to do in life?’ There’s so much more I wanted to do to give back to the community. And the only way for me to do that was to branch out, bet on myself, and to create something. And one thing I do want to touch on is that, you know, for the Black community and minority communities, ownership is something that we don’t talk about enough. Like, ownership of our work and what that means. And so that was something that I really wanted to make sure that people understood: that you can be an owner. You know, far too often we hear people say, “Why isn’t this platform covering this the way that we want to see it covered?” or “Why do they take this angle or this approach?” Well, we can say that over and over again and we can call for more diversity on screen and behind the screen. But at the same time, if some people or place or platform shows you who they are, you have to believe them. You have to believe them, right? And you have to then make the decision: Are you going to start something up for yourself? Are you going to support something that is going to achieve that mission that you’re so aiming to see happen? And then move in that direction. 

Can you give me an example of a situation that you’ve been in recently or in your past, in your career, where you felt the need for more control over narrative? 
For example, let’s say we’re talking about crime in the city and all the time we’re going to the same neighborhoods just to cover the crime that’s happening there. But we never get to the root cause of why is this happening here? First off, right, let’s talk about the historical context here. Let’s talk about the economic context here. Let’s talk about the fact that you’ve kind of just squished everybody into one place. No opportunity, there’s no way for them to get around. There’s no opportunity for growth. Education opportunity is not there. You’ve taken away government support, like, all these different things, and we never get down to the root cause of the problem. So then all you see is the end product of despair, destruction, and anger and all these other things. And then people are like, “But these people should just do better. They should just strap up their bootstraps and be better.” But there’s so many other factors at play. And so for me, it’s far too often that I would always feel like I would have these chains around my throat or my voice where there’s so many things I want to highlight here so people can fully understand why sometimes things are the way they are in certain neighborhoods. And so that was kind of always ate at me, especially over time as the community was more and more reliant on that type of storytelling. And I just felt like I wasn’t able to get that or provide that.

I’m a Scarborough native. And similarly to what you’re saying, Scarborough catches a terrible reputation in the news. It’s true. It’s very important to be able to control the narrative or at least present an alternative narrative to the public so that they can see a different part of a community. How do you feel that The Brandon Gonez Show is doing that in Toronto? 
Our first episode, I felt so proud watching it because in one of our segments, which we call, ‘Your Voice,’ and this is that segment where we step out of the studio, we go into different communities and neighborhoods, and we pass the mic over and we hear from people themselves. And we went to Jane and Finch for the first episode and we allowed people there to really explain to us how they feel about their neighborhood and what they love about their neighborhood. And it was literally the first time, I can’t even tell you how many messages I got, that people were like, “I’ve never seen this side of Jane and Finch.” Because as soon as you hear Jane and Finch, 99.9 percent of people are going to think something negative. But let me tell you, 99.9 percent of the people that we talked to when we were at Jane and Finch told us something positive. So, how are we seeing those two different realities? That’s not right. That means that we’re not getting that authentic representation and storytelling that we need in this city and that we need across this country and that we need in the world in general. 

What would you say is your proudest moment covering the news? Maybe it’s a story that you’ve covered. Maybe it’s a moment that you had on air. What would you say is your proudest?
One of my most proud moments was covering the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. And knowing that after every hit that I would do, every live hit, protesters and even anti-protesters who were there that didn’t necessarily agree with the protests would come over and they would say, “I respect what you just did there because you presented both sides, but you presented it really authentically and you weren’t overhyping things and you weren’t dramatizing things. You were just telling the story as it is and also providing a perspective to people who don’t always have the microphone to tell their story.” And so after every day, no matter how heavy those stories were, I always hope I did the community justice and the city justice in terms of really understanding why this is taking place and why this is so important.