Alumna Nadine Spencer (BA ’04) sparks monumental change in Canada’s Black business community

On Sept. 10, York alumna Nadine Spencer (BA ’04) – along with many Canadians – got some monumental news that was a long time coming. The federal government announced the installment of the Black Entrepreneurship Program, the first of its kind, that will provide $221 million in capital to Black entrepreneurs and business owners in communities across Canada, providing loans between $25,000 and $250,000.

Spencer, President of the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) and a member of the York University Alumni Board (YUAB), advocates for and acts as the voice of these communities.

“I myself am a Black businessperson, so I can speak firsthand to the challenges,” Spencer said. “I always say that the biggest challenge that Black businesses have is that the owners have a lack of access to so many things. Because of that, we've been working on that and always lobbying government for programs for resources.”

The program was made based on a proposal sent by Spencer and five other leading agencies across the country that are service providers to the Black business community. Though Spencer notes, “now the real work begins.” For 38 years, BBPA’s mandate has been to create equity and look for opportunities, recognizing the barriers facing these businesses.

“I always say that the biggest challenge that Black businesses have is that the owners have
a lack of access to so many things. Because of that, we've been working on that and always
lobbying government for programs for resources.”

Working in Toronto’s Little Jamaica, Spencer and her team witness firsthand the community’s struggles. During the pandemic, Spencer has been personally answering calls to the BBPA 24-hour hotline, responding to the challenges that business owners are facing during a very difficult time. Answering these calls directly on her mobile phone, Spencer speaks with callers throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning, not only providing more palatable information for a broad audience, but assistance to help them cope with their challenges.

She references businesses whose storefronts are struggling because of construction due to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project, as well as one BBPA member, who, during the COVID-19 pandemic, was victimized and had their shop vandalized because the landlord wanted to vacate the business.

Remaining connected to York, Spencer hopes to give back to students and alumni through mentorship at events like GRADitude and the Bryden Alumni Awards. The BBPA’s annual National Scholarship Program (NSP), in collaboration with York and Professor Dr. Carl James, is dedicated to supporting and promoting the achievement of academic excellence by Black Canadian youth, born out of the need to reduce the rate at which Black students drop out of school—despite their rising intellect—due to unavailability of funds.

“One of the things that we really want to do is work to support our students graduating, and I'm really thrilled that this partnership is with York. As a member of the Board, that is a testament to the reason I am on the board, as well as the feelings and connections to York I’ve had since my time there.”