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Home Business Wes Hall faced racism as he climbed the corporate ladder. He wants to make sure others don’t have to

Wes Hall faced racism as he climbed the corporate ladder. He wants to make sure others don’t have to

Wes Hall faced racism

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Wes Hall faced racism

Current24:30Wes Hall helping other black entrepreneurs emulate his success

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As a 12-year-old, still living in Jamaica, Wes Hall remembers his mother beating him so badly in public that a passing one-legged man tried to intervene.

“He said to my mother, ‘You should stop hitting that boy. One day, that boy may be someone you can count on for your care.'” The Currents Matt Galloway.

“I remember saying, ‘Is he right? Can I be someone? Will I be special in the future?'”

A black boy in a blue collared shirt, a black belt with a large circular buckle, and blue and white plaid flared pants looks away from the camera and looks down.Above the photo, the text appears as "Wes Hall, No Bootstraps When You're Barefoot, my ascent from a Jamaican plantation shack to a Bay Street boardroom."
Hall’s memoir chronicles the sacrifices it took to achieve success. (Random House Canada)

Hall has since become a leader in the Canadian corporate environment as founder and executive chairman of Kingsdale Advisors. Dragon’s Den at CBC. In recent years, he has also become a prominent anti-racism advocate.

His mother stopped hitting him that day, he said.

But he wants today’s children to know that they can overcome the difficulties they may face as well.

“There are children and young people who are going through that right now…I want to tell them, ‘Hang in there. It’s going to get better.'”

Hall tells the story of the sacrifices that have made him successful in his new memoir, released earlier this month. No bootstraps when barefoot: my ascent from a plantation shack in Jamaica to a boardroom on Bay Street.

He and his two brothers were abandoned by their mother at an early age. He was raised by his grandmother, Julia Vassell, along with some of his cousins, in a tin-roofed hut without electricity or running water in St. Thomas, Jamaica.

Vassell got up at 4:00 a.m. each day, prepared food for Hall, his brothers and cousins, and at 6:30 a.m. began working on a nearby farm. At one point, she was supporting her 10 children on a plantation worker’s salary.

“I can’t tell my story now without talking about the sacrifices my grandmother made to bring me here,” Hall said.

A man and an elderly woman stand in front of a tin shack.
Hall with his grandmother, Julia Vassell, in Jamaica, February 1999. (Random House Canada)

When he was 11, Hall’s mother returned and took him away to live with him. Although he initially felt he “won the lottery”, his mother soon became physically abusive.

“It’s not just the physical beating, it’s actually the mental beating she gave me… how she called me and the name she called me,” he said.

“I felt totally useless. Just like she told me, I felt like nobody.”

His mother abandoned him at the age of 13 and he lived alone for the next three years.

In 1985, 16-year-old Hall moved to Canada to join his father in Toronto. He received a high school education, and in Bay St. He found a mailroom job at a law firm in downtown Paul.

Once in the heart of the city’s financial district, Hall saw the life he wanted to live, but then he “didn’t realize there were no black people in the corner offices or in any of the offices. did. .”

A father and his three children are taking pictures outside. One of her children is dressed for the first day of school with a rucksack on her back.
Hall taking her son Darien (right) to her first day of school in September 2000. Pictured left are Keena and Brentin, the other children. (Random House Canada)

Growing up in Jamaica, Hall was used to seeing Black people in power in all areas, from school principals to local business leaders to police officers and judges.

“For me, being black was not an obstacle to success. Being poor was an obstacle, but being black was not,” he said.

Only a few years later, having already achieved success in his Bay Street vice president position, I overheard a conversation between two of the oldest members of the company’s finance department in Toronto and New York.

“A man in the United States said to a man in Canada, ‘Despite the fact that Wes is black, he’s doing well,'” Hall recalls.

Change takes time and commitment

Looking back, Hall began to realize that racism played a role in the early part of his career. However, he now says that although these realizations were difficult, they did not have a lasting effect on his psyche.

“It certainly didn’t hurt as much as when I heard it from my mother, so she definitely solidified my life for what I was going to live here in Canada,” he said.

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As his success has grown over the years, he has strived to ensure that other blacks, indigenous peoples, and people of color do not have to face the same challenges as him.

In 2020, Hall founded the BlackNorth Initiative, calling on Canadian businesses to tackle systemic racism within their organizations. The move followed global protests against the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Over 200 Canadian organizations have signed, A recent study by The Globe and Mail It turns out that only a minority have made great strides in hiring more black employees or promoting them to executive levels.

Hall said about 40% of the initiative’s signatories are committed to its ideals and have plans to achieve them.

Another 30% want to do something but don’t know where to start, so his organization created a “playbook” to give them direction.

Watch | Why Wes Hall felt compelled to talk about systemic racism

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Canadian businessman Wes Hall had never spoken out about the systemic racism he had experienced until the death of George Floyd. Hall said he felt obligated to speak up and make things better for the next generation.

The remaining 30% may have signed on performatively to soften public scrutiny, he said.

“I’m not going to focus on those 30 people. I’m going to focus on the 70% who can make meaningful change within their organization to influence me as a Black Canadian.” He said.

BlackNorth’s work is helping these companies make the cultural changes needed for BIPOC employees to thrive, but “it didn’t exist before, so it took time to infiltrate the culture of the business.” It costs,” he said.

“What I’m building here at BlackNorth isn’t changing my life right now. I’m too old to do that.

“It’s about changing the lives of my children so that when they graduate from college and go out into the world they don’t have to go through the hardships that I went through.”

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Audio produced by Julie Crysler and Joana Draghici.


For more stories about the Black Canadian experience, from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community, check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read other stories here.

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