During Black Futures Month, George Brown College demonstrates its commitment to providing equitable, accessible, and inclusive learning and working environments to students.
George Brown College celebrates Black Futures Month in February, when we recognize Black excellence and innovation and represent the rich history of peoples from the African diaspora. Developed by George Brown’s Office of Anti-Racism, Equity, and Human Rights Services in collaboration with Black students, employees, and union locals, Black Futures honours the past while relishing the present and anticipating a bright future.
The work of ensuring George Brown College provides equitable, accessible, and inclusive learning and working environments continues all year. Guided by our Anti-Racism Action Plan, Indigenous Education Strategy, and our commitments under the Scarborough Charter, we’re taking tangible steps to become an anti-racist institution and to support reconciliation.
Changing the financial services industry
Financial services executive and George Brown College graduate Ray Williams started the first Canadian chapter of an organization for Black finance professionals two decades ago to create networking and advancement opportunities. Today, he’s proud to see more diversity in senior leadership positions, but there’s still much work to be done. Williams is the Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Financial Markets at National Bank Financial. Throughout his career, he’s worked to foster Black talent, support Black organizations and entrepreneurs, and highlight the gap when it comes to leaders from Black and other diverse communities in finance and the federal public service.
Vice Chairman, Managing Director of Financial Markets, National Bank Financial
When I talk about being a quiet activist and a social justice warrior, I’m talking about creating equity within all spaces.
“I understand what it looks like because I happen to be a Black man working in an area where, more generally speaking, I’m a minority, and quite often, there’s a missing piece. The missing piece is the lack of understanding that I have the same ambitions as my peers, yet I’m looked at differently.”
Creating networking and advancement opportunities
Shortly after transferring from the U.K. and London’s financial district to Toronto’s Bay Street, Williams co-founded the Canadian chapter of the U.S. based National Association of Urban Bankers in 1996. The monthly meetings provided members with a “sense of comfort in knowing there were others like them on Bay Street,” explains Williams.
The group changed its name to the Urban Financial Services Coalition when Williams became president in 2000. Today, it’s known as the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals, and recently celebrated its silver anniversary.
“I’m proud to say that I helped create something that’s now 25 years old,” says Williams. “I’m also proud to say that when I look around today, there are so many more people of colour in senior management positions, myself included. There’s still a lot of work to do because there are many people who are extremely capable but don’t necessarily always get the opportunities they deserve based on their particular brilliance because too often that’s discounted.”
Williams is also the Chair and Co-Founder of the Black Opportunity Fund, which was launched in 2020 to address underinvestment in Black communities. The group supports Black entrepreneurs, businesses, and community organizations.
“We’re talking about how we can change the economic environment for Black people in Canada,” says Williams.
Williams completed the Culinary Skills program at George Brown’s School of Continuing Education in 2011. As a dedicated lifelong learner and advocate for accessible education, he deepened his connection to the college by supporting the Food Court Social. The annual event, which features top Toronto chefs, supports George Brown programs for people with mental health and addiction challenges.
“I think George Brown, from a wider community standpoint, does and undertakes so much,” says Williams.
And as a member of the George Brown College Foundation’s Board of Directors since 2021, Williams helps to support the needs of George Brown students and to improve access to education.
Creating a sense of community and safe space
While Williams continues to address inequities in the financial sector and advocate for improved access to higher education, a group of George Brown employees and students works to ensure that Black students find a community and support on campus.
Black Student Success Coordinator Abisola Asha runs the Black Student Success Network (BSSN) and has significantly expanded its programming over the past year, guided by the BSSN pillars of academic support, information and referrals, mentorship, and social engagement.
Asha established monthly BSSN drop-ins for students to meet, grab a bite to eat, and talk to an academic advisor or student ambassadors. The drop-in events highlighted the need for increased mental health support for Black students. Asha worked with the college’s Counselling and Student Well-Being team to develop a new approach.
“During the drop-ins, I realized that our students were stressed. There’s so much going on with the pandemic, and being a Black student, in general, is very challenging,” says Asha. “To address this, I developed the Talking Circle. It has been an excellent way for the students to sit with a mental health professional and psychotherapist from the college to talk about their lives.”
BSSN Student Ambassador Wangechi Mwaura says the monthly Talking Circle events provide an important outlet. “It’s a safe space where you can come and talk about certain things that affect us specifically as Black students,” she says.
Through these initiatives, along with George Brown College’s ongoing leadership and support, the school is embodying its anti-racist principles.
Visit georgebrown.ca to learn more.