Emancipation Day commemorates the moment in 1834 when the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect across what was then known as the British Empire (including Canada).
In this piece, Al Ramsay, Vice President and Head, 2SLGBTQ+ & Black Customer Segments at TD, shares his thoughts on the road to financial emancipation and the work that TD does to support the economic empowerment of Black and Afro-descendant communities in Canada.
On March 24, 1853, less than two decades removed from when the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect, a newspaper called The Provincial Freeman printed its first copy in Canada.
Front and center on this anti-slavery newspaper was a motto that would define the ambitions and hope that Mary Ann Shadd, the first Black woman in North America to publish and edit a newspaper, had for formerly enslaved people of African descent.
The Provincial Freeman's motto was "self-reliance is the true road to independence." After hundreds of years of the horrors that slavery had inflicted on millions of people, those words proclaimed that the fight was not yet won – and that emancipation was the beginning, not the end, of the long road to justice, equity, and economic freedom for Black and Afro-descendent people in this country.
What communities have experienced since abolition show that emancipation was not the end of anti-Black sentiment, but rather an evolution of it.
According to the CBC, a now void land title clause in Vancouver was used as far back as 1928 to prevent the sale or rent of land to people African descent. In 1946, Viola Desmond, an African Nova Scotian businesswoman, was famously arrested for sitting in a "whites-only" section of a New Glasgow, Nova Scotia movie theatre. And it was only in 1965 that the last segregated school in Ontario closed down (it took almost 20 years for the last one in Canada to shutter its doors in Lincolnville, Nova Scotia in 1983).
The intergenerational trauma felt in Black and Afro-descendant communities remains ever present, and they continue to face systemic anti-Black racism no matter where they seem to look in our society, which extends to the financial services sector.
For true emancipation to happen, we need to look at how our society really works – and doesn't – for equity-deserving communities. We need to work with these communities to determine where the gaps in support are, and to come up with solutions that will make a positive impact.
In this instance, nothing less than financial emancipation of Black and Afro-descendant communities will make a long-lasting difference, and that includes supporting their economic empowerment by tackling the systemic barriers that they have and continue to face within our financial system.
However, we know that change has never come fast enough for those who need it most. Throughout history though, what we've seen time and time again is that in the face of injustice, a future, one where everyone can be their true authentic self no matter who they are, is possible if people remain united in their collective action to make a difference.
The truth is, change can only be made a reality through intentional engagement, hard work, and a commitment from members of our society to be better, active allies. Though, over the years, signs of this have sometimes felt hard to see.
George Floyd, and action to combat anti-Black racism and its impact
We all remember where we were when we saw the footage of George Floyd's murder.
The impact his tragic death has had on the discourse around anti-Black racism is something that will be discussed for generations to come, but the message we heard loud and clear from Black and Afro-descendant communities was a resounding one: change can't wait.
And according to a 2021 study conducted in Canada by Abacus Data, that sentiment applies to all areas of our society, including banking.
Change can't wait when 76% of Black entrepreneurs surveyed in the Abacus study said their race makes it harder to succeed as an entrepreneur. It can't wait when respondents in that same study said access to capital was their greatest barrier as an entrepreneur. Change can't wait when only 19% of respondents said that they trust banks to do what is right for them and their community.
We know that economic progress is key to reversing the impacts of systemic racism and bias. Not unlike what Mary Ann Shadd spoke of mere decades after emancipation, the call to support the financial emancipation of Black and Afro-descendant communities in Canada is one rooted in the hope of building a more inclusive society where all can thrive and grow.
As a proud gay, Black man who unreservedly champions change, I know what it means to communities when our social institutions don't just listen to the problems that are being brought to them – but provide solutions and more importantly, act to make a difference.
To lead a fully funded, fully staffed team of inspiring individuals who are dedicated to bringing the very best of TD to the 2SLGBTQ+ and Black communities speaks to who we are as an organization. And it underlines our dedication to making a positive impact on people's lives.
Financial emancipation by supporting the economic empowerment of Black and Afro-descendant communities
Every relationship is built on trust. For us to deliver the best of TD to Black and Afro-descendant communities, we had to think about our systems and ask what we could do differently to understand the nuances and the impacts of systemic racism bias. It also meant that we needed a long-term plan that included a dedicated ecosystem of support.
Putting words into action, we created the Black Customer Experience Strategy, designed to recommend the appropriate products, services and TD specialists – from credit to wealth advice and beyond – by providing personalized advice from Regional Managers who are deeply embedded in the communities that they serve.
Viola Desmond was just one of the many Black and Afro-descendant community members who have historically shown they have an undeniable entrepreneurial will to succeed, even in the face of anti-Black racism. Through many trials and tribulations, community members have had to learn how to do more with less, and to fend for themselves in the face of systemic barriers to accessing credit.
Understanding that the community disproportionally faces hurdles securing funding for their businesses, we recently launched the Black Entrepreneur Credit Access Program. This is designed to help Black business owners drive their businesses forward by offering dedicated support and resources via specialized Account Managers and Black Customer Experience regional teams.
These are just a couple of the things we're doing to help support the financial emancipation of Black and Afro-descendant communities. That's on top of collaborating with the Black Opportunity Fund (BOF), a community-led registered Canadian charitable organization that supports a prosperous, healthy and thriving Black Canada by challenging anti-Black racism.
TD committed $10 million over five years to BOF, which is one the largest contributions in Canada to a Black-focused, Black-led and Black-serving organization.
Hard work and the road ahead
Emancipation was the beginning of a new journey to build a more equitable and inclusive society for Black and Afro-descendant communities in Canada.
Without a doubt, the next frontier has shifted towards financial emancipation – to providing the necessary financial education, support, and opportunity for communities to build on the dream of Mary Ann Shadd of being self-reliant and independent.
I've spoken with countless Black and Afro-descendant community members and I'm proud to say that the work we're doing here at TD is making a real, positive impact for many, but make no mistake – we know that there is so much more work ahead.
As I said earlier, change has never come fast enough for those who need it most.
But my hope is that as a society, we continue to rise to the occasion, to keep making the economic empowerment of Black and Afro-descendant communities in Canada a priority.
And to put words into action.
Learn more about how TD is supporting the economic empowerment of Black and Afro-descendant communities.