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Rotman Commerce students can make a difference with the Black North Initiative

Course alum Deborah Chima on getting involved in the community
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Deborah Chima is a Rotman Commerce alum. COURTESY OF DEBORAH CHIMA
Deborah Chima is a Rotman Commerce alum. COURTESY OF DEBORAH CHIMA

Making a difference starts with community involvement. In partnership with Rotman Commerce, Wes Hall, executive chairman and founder of Kingsdale Advisors and founder and chair of the Black North Initiative, ran an independent study course centered on Black entrepreneurship in the spring 2021 semester. 

The Black North Initiative was started by Hall shortly after the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. It was created to end systematic anti-Black racism against Black Canadians using a business-first approach. Hall’s connections with Neel Joshi — director of the Rotman Office of Student Engagement — and Ann Armstrong — academic director of the Intercultural Skills Lab — helped develop and deliver the course at Rotman. 

The Varsity spoke to Rotman Commerce alum Deborah Chima about her experience with the Black North Initiative and Hall’s independent study course.

A student’s perspective 

Chima recalls that Hall spoke of his own experiences and background during the course. “He really taught us the message that if you want to pursue entrepreneurship, all it takes for anyone to do that is to have the drive and the ambition to really work towards their passion,” Chima said.

In January 2021, Wes Hall was named on Macleans power list of “50 Canadians who are breaking ground, leading the debate and shaping how we think and live.”  

Chima found out about the course through the Black Rotman Commerce group’s newsletter. “Before that class, I hadn’t actually put a thought into how different the entrepreneurial experiences, or journey, per se, is going to be for a Black Canadian or a Black American,” she said

After reading the course description, Chima wanted to learn about the different structural barriers that Black Canadians pursuing entrepreneurship have to face. She wanted to learn about how these systematic barriers come into play and how to work as a community to overcome them. 

The class format

The course was structured in two parts, starting with examining case studies and learning from the journeys of successful Black entrepreneurs. Later, it progressed to also look at the experiences of immigrants and non-Black persons of colour. 

The course not only gave students insight into these journeys but it also facilitated discussion between the students themselves. “Getting to dive into those questions and have a holistic discussion about [each] entrepreneur’s journey [from the cases] was great,” Chima explained.

The second part of the course gave students an opportunity to directly get involved with the Black North Initiative by working with some of the organization’s 16 committees. After the course ended, students were put into groups and were able to continue working with the committees for a number of months.

Chima spoke about the impact of the course on her own academic and personal journey. “It definitely is a class unlike any other I’ve seen in Rotman Commerce personally, because it truly allows you to have a direct hands-on impact in our community, and for me, as a Black [woman] living in Canada, it meant a lot to be able to do something to uplift the Black community,” she said.

What can Rotman and U of T do?

“When it comes to really establishing social impact, it’s something that requires consistent effort over a long period of time,” Chima said, when asked about the efforts made by the university to facilitate these kinds of courses and spread awareness.

“We need to continue creating these types of classes, and we need to continue generating more awareness for these classes. It’s a step in the right direction, and I think we’ve got to make that consistent going forward,” said Chima.

After graduating from Rotman, Chima is now working at a consulting company that works directly with the Black North executive leadership team.