Montreal woman entrepreneur tackles systemic barriers faced by Black communites

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Black entrepreneurs in Montreal and across the country decry a range of systemic barriers they face in business. One Montreal woman is helping change that. As Phil Carpenter reports, her initiative is making a difference – Feb 28, 2022

Jamaal Gittens managed to open a restaurant nearly a year ago in the midst of a pandemic.

“It’s a resto-bar type of concept, and then downstairs it’s more of like a speakeasy.” he explained

Gittens and his two other co-owners are expanding Tropicàl Restobar on Notre Dame Street near Atwater, thanks in part to the Federation of African Canadian Economics (FACE), formed to help Black entrepreneurs across Canada.

The initiative is mostly the brainchild of Tiffany Callender, a long-time community worker who saw gaps in help for Black owned businesses.

“Systemic exclusion and bias and not being able to get financed by financial institutions,” Callender pointed out.

Read more: Dorothy Rhau’s creative approach to breaking barriers for Black women

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She was worried the pandemic would make it worse and many such businesses wouldn’t qualify for federal loans, set up to support those hurt by lockdowns

Talks with other Black community workers and the government led to the creation of the federal Black Entrepreneurship Program in fall of 2020.

Noted Callender, “it’s the first time the federal government has funded the Black community to help.”

She teamed up with others to create FACE. Callender is the CEO.

“It was five organizations and their leadership saying we need a vehicle to manage the loan fund that was coming out of the Black Entrepreneurship Program,” she told Global News.

$160 million in loans are available. According to the CEO, so far they’ve distributed over $12 million.

Gittens said he and his partner received a $100 thousand.

Callender is proud but admitted that launching something historic like this comes with a big responsibility.

“Somebody in 10 years 20 years is going hear about what we did and the choices we made and where we should’ve pivoted,” she laughed, “and that’s an interesting space to be in.”

Callender is the former head of the Côte-des-Neiges Black Community Association and said she’s been doing community work for 18 years.

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Her daughter Falisha Duval wants to follow in her mom’s footsteps, even if it’s hard work.

“It is,” she grinned, “but everything takes a lot of work.  So no matter what you choose it’s going to take hard work to get to where you want to be.”

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