Career fairs are often the backdrop of anxiety, shyness and discomfort; finding the courage to speak with a representative from a company you are hoping to be hired by can feel like a daunting task. As a racialized group, BIPOC job seekers often experience a disconnect between their aspirations and sense of belonging in settings like career fairs. BLAXPO is a series of lifestyle events which connects BIPOC individuals with diverse equitable opportunities; this year BLAXPO took place in the Toronto Reference Library, located at 789 Yonge Street.
Take Up Space is the motto here at BLAXPO; this is exactly what founders, Four Brown Girls (FBG) – Jayne Mandat, Nicole Antoine and Ariane Ntetu-Baya – have done. FBG created BLAXPO out of the need to bridge the gap between BIPOC job seekers and leading industries, a challenge which was amplified considerably as unemployment rates skyrocketed during the Covid pandemic. FBG has created a platform which includes a candidate profile that matches the wants, desires and skills of job seekers with professions and companies that will complement their talents and ambitions; BLAXPO, in essence, fosters a “connection, empowerment and education between candidates and progressive companies with strong diversity, equity and inclusivity mandates”. FBG offers their prospective job seekers a space to “establish their worth in the job market through one-day events and an interactive online platform”. The event was hybrid; audiences had the option to download the Hopin app to attend live activities such as the See My Colour and We Are The Culture forums from the comfort of their home or attend in-person at the Reference Library. These forums explored common themes reflected in black culture and were a hit among attendees.
The space was brimming with positivity, knowledge and an overwhelming sense of belonging. Afrobeats, vegan desserts and banter fill the air in the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon area of the Toronto Reference Library. The ambiance was lively and jovial, reminiscent of an authentic celebration of blackness. Brand and career development were the primary focus, yet FBG’s attention to cultural awareness fostered a safe space inclusive of BIPOC attendees. Furthermore, this experience was made more unique by the varying ages of those in attendance. There are babies in strollers, teenagers, even Aunties scattered throughout the venue socializing.
FBG collaborated with a host of agencies at BLAXPO including: the Government of Canada, Maui Moisture, Dentons, Mav Beauty Brands, Marriott and the YMCA; micro grants in the amount of $1000 were also made available. Attendees had the option to take part in one-on-one private mini therapy sessions, which lasted approximately 20 minutes, in Blaxpo’s Wellness Pods. These sessions were facilitated by clinicians of colour from the mental health clinic From Invisible to Visible. The general consensus amongst vendors and attendees alike, BLAXPO was a great success. Samita Vasudeva, YMCA representative, offered her thoughts noting, “this is a niche market and a number of attendees have expressed how reserved they typically feel in spaces like this, yet considering this fair was hosted by and for visible minorities offered these job seekers more freedom to be themselves”. Vasudeva also notes, “despite attending numerous job fairs, none have been comparable to [her experience at] BLAXPO“.
Four Brown Girls is a not-for-profit organization founded in 2015, in Montreal, as a way to create a safe space for Black Canadians. Their mission to incorporate social innovation coupled with activism reflective of the intersectionality of the BIPOC community has been a catalyst in FBG’s propensity to foster change. BLAXPO was a VIBE… energetic, family friendly and black positive. Look out for more BIPOC inclusive events hosted by FBG.