15+ Organizations Cultivating Black Talent in Canada
While Black History Month is a time to emphasize and celebrate the history of Black excellence, it’s also a time to take action against the structures of inequality and systemic racism still standing today. Of course, while nearly every organization claims to be dedicated to the cause, performative solidarity and empty promises remain obstacles to progress. While February may be the official time of the year, we’re of the mind that every month should be Black History Month—that the fight to dismantle anti-Black racism, forge new opportunities, and uplift the community is an ongoing one that transcends a single moment in the year. As such, we’re highlighting a group of Canadian organizations whose actions speak louder than words—those who have committed to cultivating Black talent and empowering the community by way of mentorship, startup capital, and more.
Championed by power broker Wes Hall and The Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism, the BlackNorth Initiative utilizes a business-first mindset on its mission to destabilize systemic racism in corporate Canada. Supported by over 300 Canadian companies, BlackNorth is holding industry leaders accountable through a CEO pledge to create an equal power structure for future Black business leaders. Hall’s strategy has been to educate Canadian boardrooms about how diversifying the C-suite not only creates an equal playing field but improves a company’s performance.
Black Opportunity Fund
Founded last year, the Black Opportunity Fund (BOF) seeks to unite the Black community with philanthropists, businesses, and foundations to combat anti-Black racism in Canada. With an emphasis on promoting diversity in Canadian government, institutions, and businesses, BOF prioritizes creating equal opportunity for Black Canadians through initiatives in education, healthcare, entrepreneurship, politics, and various other avenues. The fund’s founders are attempting to build a sustainable pool of capital (with a goal of $1.5 billion by 2030) to back structural solutions to systemic inequality and, in turn, improve the quality of life for Canada’s Black community. So far, they’re making quick progress. The National Bank announced a $6.25 million contribution in February 2021 in support of the organization’s efforts.
15 Percent Pledge
The 15 Percent Pledge—originally a non-profit advocacy organization in the United States—now has a branch in Canada and is continuing on its mission to advocate for BIPOC-owned businesses and BIPOC people in the workforce. The pandemic has only further exposed the inequalities disproportionately affecting Black Canadians and the need to restart Canada’s economy in a way that allows everyone an equal chance to succeed. The pledge calls for Canada’s major retailers to support brands that are representative of the diverse Canadian population, advocate for existing BIPOC in the workplace, and commit to at least a 15 percent share dedicated to Black and Indigenous businesses.
Founded by La Mar Taylor, Ahmed Ismail, and Abel Tesfaye—known more widely as The Weeknd—Hxouse began as a Toronto-based incubator for some of the country’s most innovative creatives. Now, following its success, the trio has shifted its focus towards an extension named Black Hxouse, an entrepreneurial development and mentorship program aimed at championing Canada’s underrepresented BIPOC community. Backed by TD Canada Trust, the initiative accepts people of colour from age 18-32 with the express purpose of accelerating entrepreneurship through workshops, mentorship programs, and extensive business curricula.
Canadian Black Standard
A non-profit headquartered in Toronto, the Canadian Black Standard is both a networking and advocacy platform aimed at addressing the systemic barriers to the advancement of Black women in the marketing world. The organization seeks to elevate the standard of equality in the workplace, educate the community, and accelerate the industry by ensuring diversity. Still a relatively young organization, Canadian Black Standard also offers a variety of volunteering positions designed to both grow the program and help develop young Black women into tomorrow’s leaders.
While many may know Stephan James and Shamier Anderson as talented actors making their marks on Hollywood, the brothers are also the co-founding team behind B.L.A.C.K (Building a Legacy in Acting, Cinema, and Knowledge). The not-for-profit organization was founded in 2016 with the goal of creating opportunities for young and emerging talent and combating systemic racism in the entertainment industry through education, networking, mentorship, and more. In February 2021, James and Anderson announced the launch of the Bay Mills Diversity Fund, adding the entrepreneurial sector to their focus. A joint effort with their younger brother Sheldon and Bay Mills Investment Group, the fund will utilize $100 million (of which $15 million has already closed) to back early-stage startups with at least one full-time BIPOC founder.
We Are Womxn
We Are Womxn is an organization launching on International Women’s Day 2021 that aims to empower BIPOC and LGBTQ+ women entrepreneurs in the Canadian food and beverage industry. The organization is powered by both mentorship programs and financial support, most recently partnering with BlackNorth in a mission to end systemic racism in the food and beverage industry. By leveraging its grants, mentors, and initiatives, We Are Womxn is set to empower young Black women to view themselves as successful entrepreneurs while providing the tools to thrive in the field.
Black Innovation Fellowship
While Canada’s technology-driven innovation sector continues to flourish, underrepresented and marginalized communities aren’t offered an equal opportunity for success. Black entrepreneurs in particular face a variety of unique obstacles during the initial stages of a start-up, from having fewer publicly recognized role models to limited access to seed capital. But Ryerson DMZ’s Black Innovation Fellowship seeks to even the playing field by assisting early-stage start-ups build upon their initial success with the hands-on support needed to refine product development, build a team, and construct a viable sales strategy.
Code Black is a resource and communications network for the advancement of Black integrated communications professionals. By providing inspiration, guidance, and representation to young Black professionals, the initiative offers a wide variety of resources relevant to both veterans and newcomers to the field. Founded three years ago as an online community resource, Code Black has since expanded to include an events series and a podcast hosted by its co-founders that delivers further insight into the industry. At its core, Code Black aims to hold companies accountable for how their branding represents the Black community while providing resources to Black PR professionals.
Operation Black Vote
Dedicated to increasing the representation of Black Canadians in politics, civil services, boards agencies, and commissions, Operation Black Vote is defined by three pillars: education, motivation, and advocacy. The organization offers a wide variety of initiatives that range from educating Black youth about the election process to advocating for gender diversity in political offices. By raising awareness about the impact of underrepresentation, encouraging Black Canadians to run for office, and providing information about civic engagement, Operation Black Vote is changing the landscape for the next generation of Canadian politics.
Black Art Futures Fund
In support of Black-led arts and culture non-profits, the Black Art Futures Fund (BAFF) has supported 43 grantees with over $160,000 since its establishment in 2017 as a philanthropic initiative of Red Olive Creative Consulting. The fund’s leading objective is to work towards an equal opportunity Black artistic future that leaves no one behind. Through its grants and collaborative learning opportunities, BAFF seeks to amplify and strengthen the future of Black art in all demographics by offering both financial resources and an artistic platform.
Black Business and Professional Association
Founded in 1983, the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating equity and opportunity for Black professionals. The charity focuses on business, employment, educational, and economic development in the community, anchored by its core philosophies of “growth and change.” By facilitating access to both resources and industry professionals, BBPO seeks to encourage the pursuit of entrepreneurship, economic empowerment, and higher education, with its long-term goal being to build cross-cultural unity across the country.
Black Professionals in Tech Network
Designed to expand the advancement of Black professionals in Canada’s technology industry, Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN) has quickly become one of the most innovative advocacy organizations in the country. BPTN bridges the talent gap in the industry by providing Black engineers, sales and marketing professionals, and developers with access to senior executive sponsorship, industry training, and a strong peer network. Through its extensive network, BPTN looks to assist individual professional development while contributing to the growth of the industry.
Black Legal Action Centre
A relatively new non-profit organization, the Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC) provides legal aid services to low and no-income Black Ontarians. In its mission towards racial equity, BLAC has taken action to advocate for justice while educating those inside and outside the Black community on how to best combat anti-Black racism throughout the province. One of the main pillars of the organization is community engagement, utilizing its partnerships with individuals and agencies to provide representation, public information sessions, and a litany of other legal services.
Ontario Black History Society
Founded in 1978, the Ontario Black History Society is a charity dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and continued study of Black heritage. For decades, the society has worked to develop its own educational exhibits while instituting Black historical material into the curricula of Canadian schools. Through both a historical and contemporary lens, the society looks to engage Canadians with Black history through research and collaboration projects. The society asserts that building a better future for Black Canadians relies on celebrating Black trailblazers while acknowledging and critiquing past injustices.
Honourable Mention: Amplified Voices Art Series
Powered by Collective Arts Brewery in Toronto, the Amplified Voices Art Series has built a creative platform for marginalized groups to provoke challenging conversations surrounding racism and inequality. With a mission to amplify Black voices, the series is defined by its core belief that “creativity can help make the world a better place.” Additionally, the brewery itself has committed to financially supporting three charitable organizations involved in the art community in the Black Legal Action Centre Ontario, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and the Black Art Futures Fund.