'We needed our own place and here we are'

·3 min read

A program that will provide resources and support to Black entrepreneurs across Northern Ontario celebrated the official grand opening of its new office Wednesday, just months after first receiving funding to launch the organization.

The new downtown office, located at 73 Elm St., will house the Northern Ontario Black Economic Empowerment Program, which will support Black entrepreneurs and business owners across the region.

The program is the result of a $1.15-million grant the Afro-Heritage Association of Sudbury received from FedNor in March.

According to interim executive director Charles Nyabeze, the program will provide local entrepreneurs with resources and services that will allow them to identify and overcome obstacles in starting and growing their businesses.

“We needed our own place and here we are,” he said at the launch event. “It’s a place we can call home. A place where we can gather our strengths, a place where we can be visible, a place where we can invite people to come in and learn lessons that they otherwise might not know about.”

Nyabeze said the program will offer a variety of resources, including one-on-one engagement and networking activities, aimed at Northern Ontario's Black community. He said the team will be building up a network of partners, sponsors, volunteers and community mentors, all to assist clients looking to start or grow a business.

In the next two years, the Northern Ontario Black Economic Empowerment Program expects to work with more than 70 Black-owned businesses across the region.

“We’re not looking to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “We’re looking to leverage the existing assets that the provincial, federal and municipal government is invested in.”

“It is Northern Ontario’s first Black economic development program,” said Chantae Robinson, president of the Afro-Heritage Association. “We will see more support, more resources, and more networking available to increase the number of Black-owned businesses across the region.”

She added, “There’s a change of demographics that has happened over the last few years. And with that, we need to update and provide some support for our entrepreneurs.”

Sudbury entrepreneur Tonye Iti-Oriakhi said she’s seen how challenging it is for Black business owners to succeed in Northern Ontario.

“Even when some Black businesses start up, you always find a year or two later, they always shut down,” she said. “I think it is because Black business owners do not have mentors. They do not have places like this; programs that will take them from start to finish in starting and managing a business.”

She added that the Northern Ontario Black Economic Empowerment Program could play an essential role in addressing the gaps that hold business owners back.

“There’s no excuse anymore for people who want to start businesses here,” she said. “The problems are finances, money, mentors. This is the place to be. I will be here coming to seek guidance as well.”

Alongside the team behind the Northern Ontario Black Economic Empowerment Program and a number of local Black entrepreneurs, speakers included Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger, Sudbury MP Viviane Lapointe, Sudbury MPP Jamie West, and Anishinaabe artist and educator Will Morin.

“Today’s a remarkable milestone for Black entrepreneurs across Northern Ontario,” said Bigger in his speech. “We’re reminding constantly of the systemic racism, the obstacles that many of you face in growing your businesses, despite the contributions that you make to our economy.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

mjensen@postmedia.com

Twitter: @mia_rjensen

Mia Jensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star

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