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Bay Street made Hall rich, but it is also where he got wise to the fact that whenever he walked into the boardroom of company A, B or C, he was invariably the only Black person in the room.
“Toronto is a great multicultural society,” he said. “Then I go down to Bay Street and I don’t see it there, and why is that?”
He tells the story of being pulled over by a cop in bumper-to-bumper downtown rush hour traffic in the black BMW sedan he worked his tail off to pay for, simply because his younger brother was drinking a pop in the passenger seat.
Budhlall, who is also Black, tells another story about a clerk tailing Hall around a gift shop while their families were on holiday together in Mont-Tremblant, Que.
Toronto is a great multicultural society. Then I go down to Bay Street and I don’t see it there, and why is that?
“Wes is very forgiving and compassionate, and recognizes that change takes time, but that now is the time to stand up,” Budhlall said.
O’Farrell and Soliman, the lawyer at Norton Rose Fulbright, have the same message for their friend: Hall doesn’t need to make any more money, now is his time. He is Wes Hall, after all, a guy who is hard not to like, a guy who CEOs actually call back, a Black guy who grew up in a tin shack.
Hall stresses that it is those early chapters in life — where so many never catch that break, run across a Glenn O’Farrell, get asked about who they are — that deserve attention.
“We appreciate the people who go from the mailroom to the boardroom,” he said. “But we don’t see them until they actually get there. There are so many people knocking on that door, just waiting for a chance to get in, but not getting in because there aren’t enough people looking at what they have had to overcome.”
Now, here we are, collectively, caught up in a global moment. Will BNI’s efforts truly translate into a wider movement or are they merely a blip, a COVID-19 interlude, rendered in black and white? Where the idea of sharing a common purpose and creating lasting systemic change in race relations gets inoculated away the moment our attention drifts elsewhere?
Signing a CEO pledge is great, but so are New Year’s resolutions, and we all know how those generally turn out.
To nudge matters along, perhaps, the federal government is partnering with the country’s biggest banks in a new $200-million program aimed at helping Black business owners and entrepreneurs access loans and crucial services.