The federal government is investing over $1.9 million to help a Hamilton-based organization form a network for Black-led businesses in southwestern Ontario.
The exact dollar figure is unclear, but the money from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario will allow Empowerment Squared, a non-profit group that helps newcomers in the greater Hamilton and Windsor areas, to create the Southwestern Ontario Black Business Network.
Helena Jaczek, the minister responsible for FedDev Ontario, said the network will include advisory services, mentorship, entrepreneurial training and networking opportunities to help Black entrepreneurs thrive.
She said the investment will also help create at least 80 new jobs and help 275 Black entrepreneurs.
Empowerment Squared executive director Leo Nupolu Johnson said the effort will help support communities that have been disproportionately impacted during COVID-19 and throughout history.
"As the Black community … there are two sides to the challenges we face, one side is the fighting side and the other is the building side," he said in a press conference in Hamilton on Tuesday morning.
"We stand up and fight against injustices … but I'm pleased we can be partnering with the Canadian government to draw some energy to the building side, which I believe has been neglected for far too long."
The announcement comes as the pandemic has hit people of colour harder than other populations.
A report from Hamilton public health in 2020 showed roughly 51 per cent of people who got COVID-19 were people of colour, despite people of colour representing about 19 per cent of the city's total population.
'Diversity gap' in supports for businesses
Yvonne Pilon, president of WEtech Alliance, is helping Empowerment Squared carry out the initiative. WEtech is a Windsor-based agency that supports businesses and it will take a leading role in helping businesses in the city.
Pilon said there's a "diversity gap in the supports that entrepreneurs in our region have."
She said "Change can only happen if we work together and uplift aspiring and existing black entrepreneurs in our communities. If we want to expand the economy and truly build back better, we need to invest in Black businesses."
Claudius Thomas, who spoke for the Windsor-Essex Black Entrepreneur and Professional Advisory Committee, said the announcement is a "great start."
"Let this be a beginning point to say it gives us an opportunity that Black businesses … have a place where they can go and feel represented … and they can trust," he said.
Ashleigh Montague, a co-founder of BLK OWNED, a Hamilton-based non-profit that supports Black-owned businesses, said young entrepreneurs run many of those businesses and need more support.
"As a Black entrepreneur, I can say I am excited for the potential of this funding and look forward to this continued productive relationship with the Canadian government and future supports," she said.
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.