Mary Ola has exciting plans to build out Black Futures Initiatives at George Brown College

As George Brown College (GBC) celebrates Black Futures Month in February, Black Futures Initiatives Senior Manager Mary Ola continues building out the bigger vision of creating safe spaces for Black students, employees and faculty that promote growth and Black flourishing. 

Exciting actions are underway with ongoing renovations for the highly anticipated Black Futures Initiatives Gathering Space on the fifth floor of 200 King St. E., St. James Campus, and planning for mentorship, employee resource groups, academic and research activations, and more. 

Ola started at GBC in September 2023, and she's been busy making connections across the college and growing her team — she recently added a Black Futures Initiatives ambassador.  

"My role is to work with the college and its divisions to ensure that folks who come here are getting the experience they deserve without systemic barriers," she said. 

"We need to understand what is needed to make the space safer for Black folks, so when they come to George Brown College, it's not about survival, but about flourishing, growing, and thriving."

Black Futures Initiatives responds to the needs of Black students, employees, faculty and allies. It also supports and contributes to the college's commitments to the Scarborough Charter, and GBC’s Anti-Racism Action Plan and Strategy 2026

Learn more about Black Futures Initiatives

Looking ahead for Black Futures Initiatives 

For her first Black Futures Month at GBC, Ola aims to spotlight Black Canadian history as the central theme for discussions, screenings, and speakers at the college, emphasizing the importance of understanding the past to guide future progress. Moving forward, she's committed to fostering an environment where the language of Black flourishing becomes embedded across the college, signifying joint belief and support for the Black community. 

"I see this as moving from talking about Black people from a place of deficit and conflict to a place where we can co-create, celebrate and openly talk and learn from our experiences," she said. 

Ola is building Black Futures in a phased approach with the following three initiatives identified as main priorities for our upcoming fiscal year. 

  • Launching the Black Futures Gathering Space, a place where Black students, employees and faculty can go to find support, and a place where everyone at the college can go for community building and holistic programming.  
  • Creating mentorship programs focusing on Black students and building it out for employees and faculty. 
  • Creating a Black employee resource group in collaboration with the Office of Anti-Racism, Equity, and Human Rights Services to ensure the availability of appropriate resources and support for Black employees. 

Black Futures Initiatives will work on establishing their presence by focusing on office renovations and supporting the community in the meantime.

Once the first phase is underway, Ola plans to build out the Black Futures Initiatives Social Justice Hub for academic and research activations focused on scholarship around anti-Black racism. 

‘This work is more important than ever’ 

Ola started contributing to equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives as a volunteer as a university student and noted that she now feels an obligation and duty to continue the work.  

"I want to know that I spent my time doing something valuable as opposed to the performative gestures and the words," she said. "It's rooted in honouring my lived experiences and ensuring that the work I am doing is building on those who came before me as we work towards Black liberation space for Black people to have this conversation." 

"I think this work is more important than ever," she added.  

Ola said Black students have lower educational outcomes than other students and anti-Black racism plays a pivotal role in these outcomes (James et. al., 2017), and in 2016, Black faculty made up just 2.4 per cent of all college teachers across the country from a total labour force of 3.1 per cent (CAUT, 2018). 

"There is a serious need for support,” Ola said. “There is a serious need for people to understand and articulate what they are going through and know that they will be heard and supported, and they are not in this fight alone." 

A strong foundation for Black Futures Initiatives  

Black Futures Initiatives builds on the foundational work of the Office of Anti-Racism, Equity and Human Rights Services (OAREHRS), the Anti-Racism and Equity Advisory (AREA) Committee, Black Futures Do Tank, the college leadership team and cross-college efforts to promote anti-racism and DEII (diversity, equity, inclusion and Indigenization). 

OAREHRS launched the Anti-Racism Action Plan in 2022, which provides direction and opportunities for everyone in the GBC community to actively participate in eliminating racism in all its forms at the college. Ana Mateus, Manager of Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion, joined GBC in the fall of 2023 to lead this work, and the AREA Committee provides vital feedback. 

Anti-racism learning opportunities are available to all members of the GBC community, as well as the Anti-Racism Starter Toolkit, Primer, and Take 5 resources. 

Progress on the Anti-Racism Action Plan 

Black Futures Initiatives also connects to broader anti-racism and DEII work happening across GBC. 

Learn more about OAREHRS