Whitby Chamber of Commerce’s 2nd Annual Black History Month Event – RISE UP!

On February 2, 2022 the Whitby Chamber of Commerce held its second annual Black History Month Event. The theme for this year was RISE UP!  Inspired by the Andra Day song, a song that became an anthem to a movement of change, equality, hope and empowerment. A song that inspired and uplifted so many with the words “And I’ll rise up, I’ll rise like the day, I’ll rise up, I’ll rise unafraid, I’ll rise up, and I’ll do it a thousand times again”.

WCC’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee wanted to create an event that showcased the inspirational stories of entrepreneurs and leaders in the Black Community and how they continued to Rise Up to whatever challenges they faced on their journey to success. Keynote speaker Rosemary Sadlier shared prior to the event that “Having the honour of representing African Canadians for several decades, I have built upon the foundation and the resilience of our ancestors. Through telling, preserving and advocating for our history and actions in Canada, I have worked to commemorate February as Black History Month as well as August 1 as Emancipation Day for us, for all of us. So that we can Rise Up and be in our beauty, intelligence and strength. We can all do that!”

Lisa Keizer, Founder & CEO, Up North Naturals Inc. shared her story of hope, strength and resilience. She shared about the self-reflection it took in preparing to speak at our event, from sharing about the beginning days of Up North Naturals to her hopes and plans for the future. From starting in her kitchen to now being the first Canadian, black female-owned hair brand that is available at Target locations in the U.S and over 150 Walmart location in Canada, and many independent salons & beauty supply stores across North America. Lisa is committed to inspiring curly haired folks to embrace, love and see the beauty in their curls. Lisa has some big plans for her business and is ready to Rise Up to whatever comes her way to achieve the goals she has for Up North Naturals Inc.

Andrew McBarnett, Co-founder of Neales’ Sweet N Nice Ice Cream shared the history of his family-owned company based in Toronto. Sweet N Nice Ice Cream creates delicious all-natural premium ice cream with flavours based on his grandad, Charles A. Neale’s secret recipe that will transport you to the Caribbean. Andrew shared his passion for the business, the impact of speaking to competitors and how the business had to Rise Up to some of the challenges that many other businesses faced in the past couple of years. Neales’ Sweet N Nice is available at over 600 stores across Canada and has branched out from premium ice cream to delicious Caribbean cakes and cupcakes that continue to preserve and honour the traditions of the Caribbean.

We were thrilled have keynote speaker Rosemary Sadlier, recipient of the prestigious Order of Ontario, social justice advocate, researcher, writer consultant, author and international speaker on Black History Month, anti-racism and women’s issues and past President of the Ontario Black History Society join us. Ms. Sadlier, shared the work she does to bring forward the historic impact that those from the African diaspora have on Canadian History. She shared her family’s historical connection to Ontario and their impact on the work that she does and on Black History. Rosemary continues to Rise Up and inspire so many people as she embodies the beauty, intelligence and strength of the black community.

This event left attendees full of hope, inspiration and craving ice cream. It showed us all that the Black Community is made of strong, empowered, beautiful, and inspirational people and that no matter what obstacles, twist and turns that are faced we will Rise Up! We are who we are because of who we came from. Maya Angelou said it best, “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise, I rise, I rise.”

– Deanna Thompson (She/Her), Employer Advisor, Employment & Training Services, John Howard Society of Durham Region & Whitby Chamber of Commerce Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee Chair