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Second annual Black Excellence Gala by BlackNorth Initiative raises funds and honours Black achievements

It was a platform where attendees could enjoy keynote speeches, award presentations, and special performances honouring Black excellence.

Second annual Black Excellence Gala by BlackNorth Initiative raises funds and honours Black achievements
Wes Hall, founder of the BlackNorth Initiative, takes the centre for his keynote address at the 2024 Black Excellence Gala. JACK FLAWLESS PHOTO

The second annual Black Excellence gala, hosted by BlackNorth Initiative (BNI, was held on Sat. May, 25.

The event demonstrated BNI’s commitment to removing anti-Black systemic barriers and fostering connections between Black Canadians nationwide. It was a platform where attendees could enjoy keynote speeches, award presentations, and special performances honouring Black excellence. Significantly, funds were raised for essential programs that directly improve the Black community, including through an auction.

“May 25 is Africa Day, commemorating the founding of the Organization of African Unity in 1963 and celebrating the rich cultural heritage, unity, and achievements of the African continent and its people. However, it was also the day that George Floyd was murdered, which sparked the BlackNorth Initiative. Today, we stand to honour him and recognize how his life has paved the way for countless Black people to be seen, heard, and given the opportunities they deserve,” said Chief Justice Donald McLeod in his opening address.

The evening began with a VIP reception at 5 p.m., followed by general admission and the main event. The gala featured distinguished speakers and guests, including Etalk host Tyrone Edwards, Chief Justice Donald McLeod, and BlackNorth Initiative founder Dr. Wes J. Hall. Other notable attendees included MP Ahmed Hussen, South African Consul General Thandiwe Fadane, Enbridge senior vice-president Mike Fernandez, and BlackNorth Initiative CEO Dahabo Ahmed-Omer. More than 1,000 people were in attendance.

Later in the evening, Hall took the stage during the event, having recently become the 35th chancellor at the University of Toronto — the first Black Canadian to receive this honour.

“Nelson Mandela once said, ‘It is in your hands to make a better world for all who live in it. Not in somebody else’s hands.’ This resonates deeply with our mission. And I want to express my profound appreciation for our volunteers, our staff, and fellow board members. Without you and your relentless dedication and hard work, this would not be possible,” he said.

Hall discussed his organization’s efforts to address systemic racism and promote inclusivity in Canadian corporations through five key goals. The organization strives to increase the representation of Black individuals in leadership positions, aiming for at least 3.5 per cent representation in executive roles and boardrooms by 2025.

He also discussed opportunities for Black Canadians in meaningful employment, career advancement, and development within the corporate sector. The initiative urges corporations to implement transparent diversity reporting and equitable practices. Moreover, it seeks to drive systemic change by challenging existing barriers and advocating for policies that promote equity and inclusivity.

“I started Kingsdale Advisors just over 20 years ago. I couldn’t get $1 from any single bank and I couldn’t get an investor to invest behind me with this vision that I had. I went home and I sat with my wife and we decided to mortgage my house for $100,000, fortunate that there was equity in the house. And that fueled the wealth that I have today,” Hall said.

Denham Jolly, a Jamaican-Canadian businessman, philanthropist, and civil rights activist, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for his significant contributions to Toronto’s Black community. His achievements include founding and operating Flow 93.5, Toronto’s first Black-owned radio station, and authoring the award-winning memoir In the Black: My Life, chronicling his experiences and challenges as a Black entrepreneur in Canada.

Upon accepting the award, he said, “Be a teacher of God. Whatever you perceive it to be. Whatever your labours of aspiration and the noisy world of life, Keep peace in your soul. It’s a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.”

Dr. Masai Ujiri was also honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and young entrepreneurs Sariah and Ariella Morgan received the Youth Achievement Award for their impressive work with the Young Bosses in Business Foundation. Angel Blackwood, Sinit Abraha, Irene Duah-Kessi, Husoni Raymond, and Jeremiah Bowers-Vandusen also won youth awards.

The Community Champion Award went to the New Brunswick African Association. The gold sponsor was Fairfax Financial and Northbridge Financial; the silver sponsor was the LCBO and bronze sponsor was Molson Coors.

BlackNorth CEO Dahabo Ahmed-Omer also addressed the audience on Saturday, highlighting the power of diversity and opportunity.

“Our agenda has always been clear: to explore a multifaceted approach to fostering successful lives and outcomes for Black people. This journey isn’t solely about addressing current disparities; it’s about laying the groundwork for a future where diversity is celebrated, equities are achieved, and inclusion is paramount. As you’ve heard several times tonight, this holds a dual significance for us. It’s not just a phase; it’s our essence, embedded in everything we do,” she said.