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BlackNorth Initiative continues pursuit of workplace diversity since death of George Floyd

Last Updated May 22, 2021 at 3:24 pm MDT

Bank buildings are photographed in Toronto's financial district on June 27, 2018. CEOs representing more than 500 Canadian organizations have signed up to support the BlackNorth Initiative against systemic racism. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

OTTAWA (CityNews) — George Floyd’s death sparked calls for change in all corners of society, including in the business world.

A year later, the BlackNorth Initiative — which was formed weeks after Floyd was killed — continues to work toward its goal of changing the face of Ottawa’s Bay Street.

“There’s new funding opportunities,” said Dahabo Ahmed-Omer, executive director of the BlackNorth Initiative. “You see all these companies putting their corporate donations that need it the most, and this is what the BlackNorth Initiative has done.

“It’s shaken up the world a bit.”

More than 500 Canadian businesses worth well over a trillion dollars have signed onto the initiative.

The group wants to hit certain hiring targets, like having Black leaders hold 3.5 per cent of executive and board roles, and getting Black students to make up 5 per cent of student work forces.

“It’s this collaboration — this issue can’t be taken on just by corporate Canada, just by governments or just by grassroots communities,” said Ahmed-Omer.

“This year has been a year of making the impossible possible.”

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Other programs by the BlackNorth Initiative are the home ownership bridge program, the first-ever national Black youth help phone line and the creation of a Black business hub.

Floyd’s death also sparked conversations about inter-generational poverty and exclusion in the business world.

Ahmed-Omer is encouraged by the wide swath of participation.

“Creating these programs alongside our partners and signatories, to me, are huge victories because people are rolling up their sleeves and saying, ‘what can we do here?'”