The inside story of Raptors’ Black Lives Matter face masks

Fred VanVleet gives a candid answer when asked about his teams' feelings towards being doubted in the media following the franchises' first NBA championship.

TORONTO — All Nadia Lloyd has to do to find inspiration is look outside her window.

Blessed with the enviable view from her Liberty Village condo of the Toronto skyline, including a picture-perfect view of the CN Tower, the 45-year-old artist and designer uses the world around her to fuel her art.

But on May 25, when George Floyd was killed by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Lloyd found some new inspiration.

“After re-living a lot of my own experiences with racism after George Floyd was killed, my son and I talked about racism and discrimination,” said Lloyd over the phone Monday evening. “We decided together that we were going to design a Black Lives Matter mask that we would sell, and that we would contribute donations to BLM Toronto.”

This mask design is part of a larger Black Lives Matter collection — which includes T-shirts and other home décor and fashion accessories —that’s available to peruse on Lloyd’s website. She is donating $5 from every sale she makes from it to Black Lives Matter Toronto.

The collection has been available to purchase since early July and she’s raised just under $1,000 so far. But after a rather significant publicity boost Monday, she should expect to see that number rise significantly.

During the Toronto Raptors’ media availability after practice, both head coach Nick Nurse and guard Fred VanVleet came to the camera each wearing Lloyd’s face masks.

Nurse surprised the Raptors players with these masks earlier Monday, and they were well received.

“I’m the bearer of the gifts today,” Nurse said. “Nadia Lloyd lives in Liberty Village, which is where I spent a few years as a resident. Just wanted to support a local business, small-business owner, great artist. I think she did an amazing job.”

That neighbourhood connection played a big part in the Raptors getting their hands on the masks.

After Lloyd saw an article about the Raptors arriving at the NBA bubble in Florida with “Black Lives Matter” emblazoned on their buses, she posted to the Liberty Village Facebook group asking for a way to get in touch with the team so she could donate some masks and help spread the message.

Within just a few hours, Nurse’s wife, Roberta, responded to Lloyd with encouraging words and a purchase order.

“‘We love what you’re doing and we love the message that you’re trying to get out there, and the fact that you’re a small business and local designer, and we want to support you,’” Lloyd recalled Roberta Nurse telling her. “‘Nick and I would like to order these masks from you to give to the players.’”

A little more than two weeks later, the masks arrived in Orlando and made their way to the Raptors’ faces, much to the delight of Lloyd.

“The world is big, but it’s small at the same time,” said Lloyd. “I think people are really appreciating the story behind the design as well. Our hope, my son and I, is that the design will engage people in conversation.”

A bi-racial woman, Lloyd grew up in Montreal and Toronto. She has experienced her share of anti-Black racism, including being called the N-word by both children and their parents when she was just a grade-schooler.

Lloyd doesn’t believe her nine-year-old son has experienced any racism yet in his life — and she’s hoping he never does — but made the difficult decision to educate him on what she and other members of their family have been through.

“It was a really, really difficult conversation to have with him. It took me literally three days to build up the courage to have it,” Lloyd said. “I felt like I needed to be so careful in how I position things. I need to get my message across clearly. I also don’t want to instil fear in him of the world that we live in, but awareness was really my goal.

“So when I finally got the courage, [he] and I had a good half-hour conversation. He asked questions, I answered, and then I said to him, ‘I think that we should take our experience together and design a mask that will help other families and other people to have these conversations as well.”

This mother-son heart-to-heart sparked the design process, with the colour scheme being a major focal point.

“We decided to keep this mask black, white and grey because we felt it represented us,” said Lloyd. “My father’s white; my mother’s Black. My son’s father’s white; my son is Black and white. So even in the design of the mask we decided that the colours needed to represent us.”

And the mask’s signature piece, the fist rising up in the background of the Toronto skyline with the CN Tower blending in with it, represents the power of multiculturalism within the city of Toronto, Lloyd said.

“Placing the CN tower on top of the fist is a visual that says Toronto is coming together, having these difficult conversations, asking the right questions, listening and doing it as a community — doing it as a big family.”

Lloyd’s been making masks nearly since the pandemic started, beginning with re-purposing cushion covers that featured the Toronto skyline. This led to a flurry of emails from front-line workers searching for personal protective equipment, and she was more than happy to help out — to date, she’s donated over 1,000 masks.

Eventually, Lloyd’s work caught the attention of Toronto mayor John Tory, who now exclusively wears Lloyd’s mask designs during public appearances, including in his Twitter profile picture.

Lloyd is a good example of what it means to turn a negative into a positive. Where many saw hopelessness the last few months, she saw an opening to give back and create dialogue, all while pushing herself creatively.

“I know a lot of people are now finding themselves having lost the reality they [had pre-pandemic], but I do see this as an opportunity to see if there’s any way you can recreate yourself in ways that speak more to your soul and your heart,” said Lloyd.

“I feel that I’ve done that with the masks. Not only do I get to have my art out there now, I also get to be creative. I get to be helpful with the donations that I make [and] get conversations started around important topics.”


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