The concept and design elements of this Black Cultural Centre is based on the work of our Founder Donna-Mae Griffiths. Donna-Mae’s work, social location and lived experience have inspired this remarkable initiative of economic development. She immigrated to Canada with her family from Trinidad and Tobago.
The Black Cultural Centre will be a large multi-sectored building with dedicated space available to host community, corporate and private events, along with visual and performing arts.
The Cultural Centre will be a hub with access to board and conference rooms, a suite of offices for Black professionals such as real estate agents, accountants, lawyers and/or non-profit administrative offices, mandated for black entrepreneurs seeking a co-working environment.
The Cultural Centre will have a mandate to lease space to Black retailers or commercial enterprises such as a black authored bookstore, a natural hair salon, a bakery, a restaurant, a dance studio, a clothing boutique, a childcare centre or a car detailing service.
Black Canadians need cultural centres in the GTA for a plethora of reasons but primarily to establish and preserve communities of practice, affirm identity, scale innovation and build a legacy for future generations.The population of the GTA is 7 million constituents and over 442,000 are Black residents. The abundance of leadership, resilience and tenacity amongst Black communities is a testament to our Ancestors and it is our aim to build a cultural centre that conveys this.
It is our aim to continue with the cost benefit analysis and review of regions;
Our search for a facility has been in the east end of the GTA, between Scarborough and Ajax. This will allow for east enders of the GTA with a significant percentage of Black Residents access to a cultural hub.
All the aforementioned stats support our community consultation process and will inform the development of the space.
The space we have identified; 42000 sq ft building at 601-Westney-Rd-S Ajax, Ontario, Canada, situated in the midst of residential, retail and commercial properties.
The Black population in Canada is diverse; it includes communities that have existed for generations, as well as more recent immigrant groups who are diverse in terms of ethnicities, languages, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations, and countries of origin. Despite these differences, a common feature of the Black experience in Canada is anti-Black racism–across time, regions, institutions, and various areas of social life.
Despite the significant contributions of Black Canadians systemic discrimination and anti-Black racism are barriers to generational wealth and institution building. The Black Cultural Centre aims to mitigate the aforementioned. Anti-Black racism is rooted in Canada’s history, through its colonialism, slavery, segregation, and restrictive immigration practices. This history set the stage for the experiences of subsequent generations of Black Canadians, and more recent Black newcomers, by laying the foundations of anti-Black racism that persists to this day (Owusu-Bempah & Gabbidon, 2020). Anti-Black racism is evidenced through systems that produce and perpetuate different outcomes for Black people in comparison to most other Canadians: decreased opportunities for educational success, reduced employment, access to capital, career advancement opportunities, increased rates of poverty and unemployment. (DasGupta et al., 2020; Owusu-Bempah et al., 2021).
Africans and people of African descent have had a long history of bringing their gifts and talents to Canada starting with the first known African man on Canadian soil – Mathieu DaCosta. Just as the widely recognized interpreter and navigator helped bridge the linguistic and cultural divide between the early French explorers and the Mi’kmaq people, Black entrepreneurs in Canada have also had to navigate a predominantly white business and labour landscape.
One of the early pioneers in this journey was Thornton Blackburn, who founded Toronto’s first taxi cab company in the 19th century. He and his wife Lucie were former slaves who escaped from the United States to Canada through forged papers. They were active in the underground railroad and their taxi business allowed them to support other escaped slaves arriving in Canada. The Blackburns’ story is a testament to the power of Black entrepreneurship and how it can help the Black community achieve freedom and independence.
Another key figure in the journey of Black entrepreneurs in Canada is Hugh Burnett, who fought for fair employment practices in the mid-20th century. Burnett was a community organizer who formed the National Unity Association in Dresden, Ontario, to advocate for an end to the rampant and legal racial discrimination facing Black Ontarians. Burnett and the NUA successfully lobbied the province for the creation of the Ontario Fair Employment Practices Act. The act barred discriminatory hiring practices, a landmark achievement that was the first of its kind in Canada. The principles of this act continue to stand today as the basis of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Black Canadians have played a significant role in shaping the laws and principles of justice and equity that exist in Canada today. Despite these important contributions, Black entrepreneurs in Canada continue to be some of the least to benefit.
Black entrepreneurs today face consistent obstacles as they navigate the complex and often challenging landscape of business ownership. They comprise 2.3% of Canadian businesses and gross $1.9 billion annually (DBPA Survey 2022). Yet despite their talent and ingenuity, many face a lack of access to capital, exclusion from lucrative business networks and as the DBPA survey found, 86% have not been able to grow beyond four employees. But like the Blackburns, many are determined to succeed and create a better future for themselves and their communities.
The economic fallout from the pandemic and inflation crisis has hit the Black community particularly hard, with Black Ontarians experiencing higher rates of poverty, lower employment rates, and lower income levels compared to the rest of the population. Moreover, Black Ontarians have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with Black people 6.3 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 infections relative to White Ontarians.
The past few years have publicly highlighted the systemic inequalities that the Black community in Ontario has long faced. According to 2016 Census Data, Ontario is home to slightly more than half, 627,715 or 52.4%, of the total Black population in Canada. According to a 2021 survey of Black business owners in Canada, 75% indicated that they would struggle to find $10,000 to support their business.
Furthermore, 24% of Black Ontarians qualify as “low income” and the employment rate of Black people aged 25 to 59 is lower than in the rest of the population. In 2016, the employment rate was 78.1% for Black men and 71.0% for Black women, compared with 82.6% and 75.5%, respectively, for their counterparts in the rest of the population. Several other municipalities, such as Ajax, Brampton and Windsor also have significant Black populations. Furthermore, 21% of the Black population aged 25 to 59 lived in a low-income situation, compared with 12% of their counterparts in the rest of the population.
We share this data because more than ever Black communities, Black entrepreneurs, business owners and non-profits require leadership and solidarity. Canada is connected to the world by three oceans, citizens from all corners of the earth, membership in the G7, G20, IMF and a host of international bodies. We are fortunate to have surpluses of minerals, energy and food, and are rapidly moving our economy to a low carbon future. Our human capital is second to none. Our post-secondary institutions are research leaders in burgeoning areas such as AI, quantum, battery storage and life sciences.
With our national wealth and abundance we can no longer tackle systemic economic inequities and injustices from a reactionary, short-term and incremental posture. For decades Black business communities, owners and entrepreneurs have shared our stories from shore to shore, – now is the time for economic reconciliation, action and deep sustainable connections acknowledging our sovereignty and interdependence.
The Black Cultural Centre is seeking partners, collaboration, and resources to advance this important work.
For more information contact; email@example.com