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Over Thanksgiving, Canadians will reflect on the opportunities many of us are privileged to enjoy. But in this far-from-typical year, Thanksgiving weekend will be a time in which many will pause, look within and consider our country’s history of discrimination against racialized communities.

Canada’s Black communities have been marginalized going all the way back to the late 18th Century. And today, it has become clear that COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting Black Canadians. In two of the country’s biggest cities – Toronto and Montreal – Black communities have the highest number of novel coronavirus infections. According to Toronto Public Health numbers released during the summer, Black people had 21 per cent of the city’s COVID-19 cases, the highest share of any ethnographic-racial group.

Ongoing racial injustices underpin the urgent need to create greater opportunities for every Black Canadian. I believe we can move the needle in a positive direction.

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That’s why I recently helped launch the Black Opportunity Fund, an organization comprised of professionals from the Black community that aims to attract investment in Black-controlled companies and organizations in Canada as a foundational way to combat anti-Black racism. The fund will facilitate access to long-term, strategic investments to bring about lasting change.

Looking at the big picture, I believe the new initiative will catalyze the cultural, economic and political growth required to enable Canada’s institutions, governments and businesses to embrace greater diversity at all levels. It’s also important to recognize the many Black community organizations that continue to do important work. We will support their efforts as they build scale and capacity to enact change at the grassroots level.

The Black Opportunity Fund focuses on five core areas where Black people continue to experience systemic racism – health care, education, business, justice and politics – and urges the government of Canada to develop a national response for dismantling deeply entrenched racism.

The pandemic has laid bare the inequities of our health care system. In education, Black students do not have equal opportunities for academic success. A recent government of Ontario report found that a disproportionate number are being streamed into applied-level courses, and that post-graduation opportunities are limited for students enrolled in these programs.

In terms of employment, Statistics Canada has found that in the hiring process, 13 per cent of Black Canadians were discriminated against, compared with 6 per cent of their non-Black visible-minority counterparts. Additionally, young Black men were twice as likely as non-Black men to face unemployment, and not be placed in an education or training program.

In the corporate world, inequity runs rampant, and the excellence and competency of Black professionals is consistently overlooked. The fund is seeking to partner with banks and other financial institutions to co-invest in Black-owned businesses in a more effective way to create economic empowerment.

When it comes to the basic human right of access to justice, a disproportionate number of Black citizens are targeted by law enforcement. We continue to be under-represented in the political realm, with only five federally elected Black representatives currently serving in Parliament.

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Despite under-representation in so many integral facets of Canadian life, the Black community makes important contributions – right across the board. In short, we matter. So, this Thanksgiving, let’s acknowledge the talent and richness of Black communities across Canada. There is hope on the horizon for racial equality.

But tackling racism with such an entrenched history will require structural, fundamental grassroots action that’s sustainable over the long term. Recent events have underscored a glaring, urgent need to bring about lasting change – and realize the opportunities we can use to build a more inclusive nation we can all be proud of.

I believe the Black Opportunity Fund will do just that. I am thankful to work with such talented individuals on the steering committee, who share a bold vision for driving us forward as a nation. We’ve gone a long way in a short period of time. And we’re just getting started.

Ray Williams is co-founder of the Black Opportunity Fund and a vice-chairman at National Bank Financial.

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