“Now is the time”, says Wes Hall

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Wes Hall believes that if underrepresented groups work together we can end the problem of discrimination faster (Photo courtesy of Kingsdale Advisors)

Wes Hall is one of Canada’s most influential businessmen. In addition to his role as CEO and Founder of Kingsdale Advisors, he is also Founder and Chairman of the BlackNorth Initiative, which is committed to dismantling systemic barriers that negatively affect the lives of Black Canadians.

In a 2020 interview for CPA Canada Pivot magazine, Hall chronicled his journey from humble beginnings in Jamaica to where he is today.

Here, Hall gives us an update on some of his recent initiatives and looks more generally at progress in ending systemic racism.

CPA CANADA: With the events of 2020, we’ve seen a huge spike in popularity for organizations like Black Lives Matter. And, since you founded the BlackNorth initiative in 2020, more than 500 organizations have signed a pledge to work to break down anti-Black systemic barriers. Do you think this momentum will continue?

Wes Hall (WH): I think the black community has had a moment in time about every 30 years. In the 1960s we had the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, who was killed in 1968.

We had another moment in 1991 when Rodney King was beaten.

Then in 2020, George Floyd was brutally murdered.

Each time we had an alarm clock. But in the 60s and 90s, things finally returned to normal.

This time we realized that we can’t let the moment pass. We need to take control and build an organization or organizations specifically to address the issue of systemic anti-black racism.

It’s time. And I think the movement is sustainable, especially thanks to all the different organizations that are now there to keep the issue at the forefront.

CPA Canada: In addition to BlackNorth, Canada now has a number of associations and networks that support black professionals and young people.

WH: There are many organizations that have done great work. Unfortunately, they were starved of capital. For every $100 spent on a mainstream charity in Canada, only seven cents are spent on black-related charities.

Hopefully over time that seven cents will increase, because people realize that they are doing work that helps our society and our businesses.

CPA Canada: Do you think we are generally on a more positive trajectory in terms of dismantling systemic racism in Canada?

WH: Yes.

In the past, organizations did not ask people about their sexual orientation or ethnicity. The thought was that if you did, you would be discriminating against people. Well, that thinking is systemic in itself, because if you don’t know what’s going on, you don’t have to deal with it.

But our company believes in self-identification. We don’t see it as an invasion of privacy, but a celebration of her individuality.

That’s why we’re now telling companies, “You need to collect race-based data.”

It’s something they do in the US and the UK. We’re still giving the United States a hard time, but they’re doing a lot of things that we’re not doing. They can tell you how many black businesses are turned down by the bank. Or how many black contractors they have. Not in Canada.

In Canada, we don’t have data on how many black patients are turned away by hospitals or how many black people have died in surgery due to cultural misunderstandings. We don’t have that kind of data, but the United States does.

CPA CANADA: What other initiatives have you been involved in lately?

WH: I was the first Canadian black dragon to enter the lair as an investor on CBC Season 16 The dragon’s lair, which aired in the fall of 2021. And season 17 is set to begin filming in May. As the first black dragon, I was able to make a conscious effort to provide opportunities for promising BIPOC entrepreneurs. So, I really can’t wait to go back.

I was also executive producer of Dionne Warwick’s documentary, Don’t knock me down, which was a first runner-up at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival (I’m a longtime board member). I also have my very first biography coming out in October called ‘No bootstrap when barefoot.’

CPA CANADA: What advice can you offer other professionals from racialized groups?

WH: Each group has its challenges – for example, someone may be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. The same is true if it is a woman or if she is aboriginal, black or from another racialized group. But, I think if these groups start working together and sharing best practices, we can solve our common problem – the problem of discrimination – much faster.

CPA Canada: Just as we hope the pandemic will eventually be behind us, do you think we will ever be at a point where systemic racism is behind us?

WH: The pandemic may not be behind us, but now we have the vaccine. And, with systemic racism, we now have every organization working for change. These are our vaccines.

Of course, neither COVID-19 nor systemic racism will disappear completely: with the pandemic, we see it starting to become endemic, which just means it won’t be as powerful as it used to be.

The same goes for systemic racism. Because of all the work that is being done now, racism will become endemic – it won’t be as destructive as it used to be.

Again, that doesn’t mean it will go away; we will always have problems with abuse and the fact that you may not find a job because of your color. That’s why we have organizations like BlackNorth that will continue to fight for change.

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