By TOM GODFREY
Employees from one of Canada’s largest banks took time out to celebrate Black History Month with songs and the spoken word delivered by an award-winning poet.
More than 350 employees of TD Canada Trust gathered last Wednesday to hear popular poet Komi Olaf and some top vocalists at the Grand Banking Hall, One King West Hotel, in the heart of Toronto’s Financial District.
Olaf, who was born in Nigeria and lives in Toronto, is a Carleton University architecture graduate.
“I strive to create unique, inspirational and original work that captures the history of African people and the mind-set of the younger generation,” Olaf said of his work. “I would love my work to offer insight into the thoughts of the new generation of artists emerging out of the Diaspora.”
His art is being shown during Black History Month at the Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. E. Also featured are Jamaican-Canadian artist, Ato Seitu and the works of Ella Cooper and Georgia Fullerton.
Olaf’s art has been featured in shows at the Royal Ontario Museum and the National Arts Center in Ottawa. He was presented with the Empowerment and Success Award by former Governor General Michaëlle Jean in 2010.
Singers Shakura S’Aida, Kellylee Evans, Jackie Richardson and Coco Cognac Brown brought the crowd to life with a taste of “The Nina Project”, their upcoming Soulpepper Theatre show that celebrates the life of jazz, blues, R&B, folk and gospel singer, the legendary Nina Simone.
Tickets for the “The Nina Project” in February are sold out.
Peter Robinson of the TD’s Black Community Employee Network said the event brought people together and was a learning experience.
“It is through these cultural events and by sharing our ideas and experiences that we continue to build a welcoming, inclusive workplace,” said Robinson, who is TD’s Associate Vice-President of Indirect Lending. “Expanding the conversation is integral to building strong connections and fully engaging all of us as people.”
Robinson said TD’s Employee Network in Canada has grown to more than 600 staffers since 2009.
“If more people get involved and engaged, we will draw more people into our community and help break down barriers that exist today,” he told Share. “Developing allies within and outside our community is critical to continuing the journey and creating an environment where everyone can reach their full potential.”
The bank will be hosting similar Black History Month employee receptions this month in Mississauga, Halifax, Ottawa and Montreal that will feature live performances from artists and employees.
Stephen Knight, TD’s manager of corporate and public affairs, said the bank’s support of Black History Month is part of its “broader commitment to diversity and inclusion and making a positive impact in the communities we serve”.
The bank also sponsors Historica Canada’s Black History program and has for eight years been leading the charge with support of Then & Now, the award-winning arts and culture series that recognizes the contributions of Black Canadians.
TD has also joined forces with CBC to promote the six-part TV special based on The Book of Negroes, the award-winning novel by Canadian Lawrence Hill. Hollywood actors Cuba Gooding Jr. and Louis Gossett Jr. are among the series stars.
Knight said the bank is also expanding its footprint in the U.S. by sponsoring 20 events, including free admission to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on President’s Day later this month.