Some Black business owners in Toronto say financial and public support has dried up months after the George Floyd movement put a spotlight on supporting Black people in workspaces.
Hazel Antwi, owner of All Star Beauty Supply on Eglinton Avenue, said she saw a wave of support during the Black Lives Matter protests.
“The support we received in that first month was amazing,” said Antwi. “We have we experienced customers coming from as far out from Brampton to Oshawa, coming all the way to our small store in Scarborough to support us.”
Now, Antwi says that support has come to a screeching halt during Ontario’s second COVID-19 lockdown, and that may mean a swift end to her small family-owned shop.
“It just hurts so much because for as long as I known, for my entire life, this store has been a part of my family — and now the year that I’m finally able to step up and take ownership, there’s a chance it won’t even be around,” she said.
She said many Black-owned business owners in her circle were depending on the federal government’s Black Entrepreneurship Program, announced in early September.
The program promised millions of dollars of funding for Black entrepreneurs over four years and loans for Black-owned businesses.
Antwi said she and others have tried for months to apply for its loan program, but the government’s website doesn’t allow them to.
“The website just says that information is coming soon and there’s no more detail,” said Antwi.
A spokesperson for Canada’s minister of small business, export promotion and international trade, Mary Ng, says the program has three components that will roll out of multiple years — but didn’t specify on a timeline.
“There was a tremendous response to the call for applications for the Ecosystem Fund and the Knowledge Hub,” said Ng’s spokesperson, Youmy Han. “We are currently assessing the applications and hope to have agreements in place and funding flowing soon.
“More information about the Loan Fund will be made available in the weeks to come.”
Antwi believes Black business owners have a tougher time getting business loans and lines of credit from banks.
“I’m speaking from my personal … experience and from experiences that I’ve heard of other Black-owned businesses,” said Antwi
“The financial support that we have is like next to nothing,” she added. “There’s the fact that I can’t even get a credit card for our business, a business that’s been operating for so long.”
Meanwhile, some Black employees at Toronto-based companies have also noticed many of the promises for change in corporate culture have gone unfulfilled.
“I have heard many, many stories from BIPOC employees within the corporate space that really feel really frustrated and angry, sometimes in their workplace, not feeling a sense of belonging that they can bring their whole true, authentic self,” said Al Ramsay, associate vice president of sales and strategy at TD Wealth.
Ramsay believes that the needle has moved forward a bit since last year’s movement, when it comes to having conversations about catering to the needs of racialized employees.
“I’ve seen a shift where people, first of all, are starting to acknowledge that there is a problem,” said Ramsay.
“We’ve been organizing ourselves, I believe, in the past six months or so, in putting a plan together and how we are going to tackle this huge initiative.”
The George Floyd protests also sparked a group of Black Canadian businesses professionals to create an organization that holds corporations accountable to creating more diversity and sticking to their promises of boosting Black employees.
Black North Initiative allows companies to sign a pledge, where members of the organization work to implement structures to help
“It’s bringing in diversity, but making sure diversity stays,” said Black North Initiative’s executive director, Dahabo Ahmed Omer.
“We’re creating an equitable environment for people to thrive and grow and go to that next level in their career.”
That includes helping small Black-owned businesses strive, too.
But with no clear timeline to when the federal government’s support program will be available to her, Antwi said her business won’t survive for much longer.
“I don’t see our business surviving, making it even to the summer, after this second lock down. It’s been very, very difficult. And I don’t think we’re going to be able to make it past this.”
– with files from Tiffany Mongu