An Evening with Black Professionals was hosted for its sixth consecutive year on Humber’s Lakeshore campus last week by The Bridge Program.
The event invited Humber students who identify as black to connect with successful black professionals in fields such as engineering, dentistry, business, and psychology. It began with a panel discussion on the experiences of these professionals, with attendees then divided into breakout groups where they were able to ask questions and seek advice.
The Bridge program was founded six years ago at the Lakeshore campus by Dr. Beverly-Jean Daniel, program coordinator of Community and Justice Services.
Describing the Bridge program, Daniel said “We wanted to provide a space for people who are African, Caribbean, and black and who identify as black.”
The existence of a program like the Bridge is necessary to prevent black students from becoming discouraged and failing to complete their education at Humber, she added.
“We recognized that they were bright, they were capable, but somehow they weren’t completing their programs and we wanted to figure out what is it that was happening and how we might be able to [combat that],” Daniel said.
An Evening with Black Professionals is one of several events hosted each year to combat the issues The Bridge recognizes among black students.
“I think it’s important that we have a space to work in, to feel comfortable in, and to help each other to network,” said Rodger Ross, a Community and Justice Services student. “Having events like this where you can learn from community members, past alumni of The Bridge who come back and pass on their knowledge onto us. I’ve heard some students say without The Bridge they wouldn’t still be in school. It’s had a very big impact on some of us.”
However, some people don’t understand the need for a space that focuses on providing black students with these opportunities, Daniel observed.
“There are some members of the administration who have been supportive of the program, or else it would not have gotten this far, but I would make the argument that in large part there are still significant levels of resistance to having a program that specifically targets issues of black students. So that tends to be a significant challenge that we have,” she said.
Since the beginning of the program six years ago, it was only last year that The Bridge was able to expand to the North campus despite the largest population of black students being based there.
“When you’re trying to implement program such as The Bridge, which is the first of its kind in any institution in Canada, firstly you’re walking into unchartered territory, secondly you’re coming up with something that nobody has tried before, thirdly you’re butting up against a system that says we don’t do race. So it’s been quite a challenge getting people to understand and recognise the importance of the program,” Daniel said.
An Evening with Black Professionals can be viewed as an event created as a means to bridge the disconnect between black students at Humber and their goals by providing guidance through interactions with successful black professionals within the larger community.
“Understand that when we talk about successful, that’s being loosely defined but it is important for us to expose the students to people who are in different spaces in their career. The idea behind it is not only do they get to recognize that we do exist but also that you can actually engage with black professionals in an intimate environment,” Daniel said.
Though the panel discussions brought forth stories of subtle racism in Canada such as disbelief that a black professional could own an engineering company, or comments made based on stereotypes, the main focus of the event was succeeding in academic life and achieving career goals.