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Afro-Canadian Contractors kick off Black History Month

Don Wall
Afro-Canadian Contractors kick off Black History Month

Canada’s new Afro-Canadian Contractors Association celebrated its launch the first day of Black History Month with its first president acknowledging that the ACCA has assigned itself multiple challenging mandates.

“We started talking about this organization three years ago, and we’ve had lots of meetings, but COVID sort of pushed it back,” said Toronto-based contractor Stephen Callender. “Then the George Floyd incident happened and we thought we should move faster.”

The group was formed in September with a six-person board of directors and it was decided February, Black History Month, was the best time to have a formal launch. The ACCA has strength in Toronto at this point but Callender said its reach will be national.

Stephen Callender is the first president of the newly formed Afro-Canadian Contractors Association.
BASS INSTALLATION — Stephen Callender is the first president of the newly formed Afro-Canadian Contractors Association.

Among a number of goals Callender enumerated – fighting racism in the sector, recruiting and increasing Black representation in the trades, creating a voice for Black contractors and supporting the development of more Black-owned contractors, forming alliances with the broader construction community, and co-ordinating community benefits efforts with groups like the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) among them – it was more a practical matter that was a significant formative catalyst for the ACCA.

“Before we officially launched we are getting requests from the Vancouver area, we got requests from Eastern Canada, asking for a list of Black contractors. So, the interest is clear.

“The Floyd case brings that into the open. People are more willing to say, ‘OK, let’s go after these bigger jobs.’ And that’s what we’re here for. Training the smaller companies to go after bigger jobs. People who want to start a contracting business, we’ll help them get started, showing them the ropes and having a general voice for Black contractors, whether they’re small or big.”

Glass enclosure of the CIBC Square project at 81 Bay Street in Toronto circa 2019 was undertaken by Bass Installation. Bass’s president Stephen Callender has assumed the role of president of the new Afro-Canadian Contractors Association.
BASS INSTALLATION — Glass enclosure of the CIBC Square project at 81 Bay Street in Toronto circa 2019 was undertaken by Bass Installation. Bass’s president Stephen Callender has assumed the role of president of the new Afro-Canadian Contractors Association.

Callender, who sits on the board of the directors of the TCBN, said full integration of Black contractors into the industry has only been achieved by a small subset of Black-owned construction companies. At the same time as the ACCA focuses on increasing the number of Black-owned construction projects, it will also work to ensure that Black workers are treated fairly and paid equally.

Callender, the president of Bass Installation, which specializes in the installation of glass on tall buildings, understands the trials of Black construction workers well, having immigrated from Barbados in 1976 and getting his start in the sector working on cladding. He has seen all the manifestations of racism in construction that existed long before racist incidents got the public’s attention last year.

“Black youth don’t get into construction because they are turned off by it, or there is a stigma about construction work to begin with, regardless of colour,” he said. “There is a big demographic of Black teenagers that can work in construction.

“But when you get to the jobsite they have problems with racism… there’s not their colour, and the retention rate is not as expected. This is why TCBN helped push to get this organization going, so that at least there are some Black contractors out there hiring these guys and showing that there are some Black contractors you can work for.”

A logical next step would be for Black workers to realize they can aspire to work for themselves, as a contractor, as Callendar did back in 2004.

“It’s by seeing that there are Black contractors and even Black businesses that you can think of, a construction company I can own at some point. We’re pushing from the contractor side, and we will help any organization pushing in from the employee side to get more and more kids into construction.

“Plus, it’s just a matter of getting other big GCs to realize, let’s give the Black contractors a chance to bid on stuff. We’re all trained the same way. Just give us a chance to bid on jobs and get this going.”

The ACCA also announced that Sephton Spence, CEO of Kubbie Construction, has been named ACCA vice-president.

 

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

Recent Comments (5 comments)

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Judith Image Judith

Dear Mr. Callender,

Congratulations on organizing ACCA! I once managed a YouthBuild USA program that introduces Youth to construction training. The training was/is essentially well needed for our Black youth. The experience was fulfilling and challenging that involved teaching discipline, sobriety (required drug tests), basic education and skill building, and onsite construction training. The most difficult part was partnering with trades labor unions so that youth who completed the required pre-apprenticeship training program could advance to be sponsored by trade labor unions to receive apprenticeship training. I wish ACCA the very best during these historic power packed times. ~Judith

This is exactly what our community needs, and I applaud you for taking the initiative of getting this started. There are so many skilled trades workers within our community, however due to racism, legal issues, or simply fear, many are not stepping out to start their own construction or independent contracting businesses. Many don’t even know where to begin. It’s sad to watch great talent fall by the wayside. It is only through associations and networks like the ACCA that will help give direction and make connections for those who are otherwise marginalized in the construction industry. Thank you for making this happen. Oseye

Eric Delfish Image Eric Delfish

Congratulations. I worked in Construction Project Management for over 35 years and recently retired as a Senior Project Manager. I worked with/for the Ontario Government, SNC Lavalin and BGIS. The absence of our people in this industry did not go unnoticed. In fact, I have come across only one black Electrical Contractor in my many years. He had a Unit Price Contract for a few years. There was a GC that lasted less than two years. But there are good opportunities in the industry.

Carl Vernon Image Carl Vernon

I have been in the construction industry for a long time, and I do understand why young black men are not populating the trades. This is what we need to stand out and represent the people for a fair share. For some people to make it through the apprentice phase, it is more difficult than others and it is blatant. More discouraging and less encouraging, we need a chance. I thank you very much.

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