Blaxpo, an event for Black candidates to connect with forward-thinking companies, is tackling this need and eliminating the “tap-dancing” candidates and companies do in each other’s presence. “It’s not your average job fair. It's not stuffy. It's not transactional. It's highlighting this idea of conversation,” says Nicole Antoine.
Antoine co-founded Four Brown Girls, an event management facilitation company founded seven years ago that parents the Black-focused career expo. One of the things that set it apart is its punchy algorithm. Before the expo, companies and candidates fill out their wishlists, similar to a dating app, but questions surround what company culture candidates want to work in. Antoine says it’s important to work with a company that you can confidently say it sees, hears, promotes, loves and protects you.
“I’m not trying to find people jobs. I'm trying to connect them to a lifestyle and a company culture that's conducive to their existing environment,” says Antoine.
Candidates match with companies and get to research and analyze potential jobs leading up to the day of the event. This isn’t Blaxpo’s first run. Initially, the event was heavily focused on the entrepreneur discourse. Now Antoine says adding a few other career lanes in this second run is important because “to be an amazing entrepreneur, you need actual practical experience.”
Blaxpo is divided into three streams: operations, creative, and tech, and three personas: student, entrepreneur/professional, and wanderer. The net is cast wide so everyone can feel included. Antoine says many Black people are in the creative industry because “we’re just so swaggy,” and creative means many things: a marketer, singer, social media influencer. Operations is anything from admin to HR. Antoine says it doubles down on the idea of inclusivity.
Antoine says she identifies as a wanderer, “It’s someone that has an eclectic background, has done a little bit of everything, feels like a jack of all trades, but looking for a place to optimize their skill set. Where can I use all these talents and feel fulfilled and like I’m experiencing my purpose?”
“I am that person who needs this event. My entourage, my group, my girls, my family members, we all need this event,” says Antoine. As a product of continuous pivots, Antoine started in law, worked in the community and as a brand manager, then started her own marketing firm. Now Blaxpo is her next goal. Laid off at the beginning of COVID, Antoine says her calling was pushing her into the realm of building community empowerment.
Blaxpo comes at a critical time. For the past two years, negative imagery, mental health, police brutality, COVID, microaggressions, and more have been amplified, impacting all aspects of our lives, including work. From code-switching to performative pledges of big-time companies during Black Lives Matter movements, it’s been a draining experience for Black people. “Blaxpo is a moment where companies can put dollar signs behind their willingness to help our community,” says Antoine.
Antoine says she was selective with who she was soliciting and taking money from because it reflects what she’s trying to facilitate: the creative freedom to be who you are without sacrificing your Blackness.
Antoine says they’re going to continue being unapologetic. “We find all these excuses as to why we shouldn't or why we can't, or it hasn't been done,” says Antoine referring to taking up space as a Black individual. She’s faced her share of nay-sayers, internal doubts, and coming up against walls. But, Antoine says it’s about cancelling the noise and staying focused.
“Every detail of my event shows my testament to our community. It's a free event, so I took off that entire revenue stream,” says Antoine.
Apart from the Blaxpo Plus experiences for additional perks, the event, in all its entirety, is free. The event also features mental health wellness pods, where individuals can book free mental health sessions for 20 to 30 minutes, live podcasts, speed networking, and masterclasses from industry professionals during and before the event.
“Gone are the days where we continually see these long job qualifications. We see one thing that we're not good at, and we're like, ‘okay, no, I can't do this.’ Whereas our counterparts of different nationalities, even when equally or less qualified, have the confidence to apply,” says Antoine.
Antoine says in our lived experiences, we’re ten times more qualified than our counterparts, and that’s her pitch when drawing in the crowd for the career expo: we own the space. “It’s a celebration of our excellence,” Antoine says.
After candidates secure a job, follow-ups are in the works for Blaxpo; a quarterly checkpoint to see how candidates are doing and to ensure Blaxpo is a sustainable concept, says Antoine. The long-term vision for Blaxpo is to normalize our worth, says Antoine and make this accessible as possible. “So that my daughters who can say ‘wait, this was a problem?” says Antoine.
Registrations are open! Join an excited group of Black individuals on October 22 at the Toronto Reference Library from 10 am to 5 pm. The event will also be hosted virtually. Amazing prizes like $1,000 in a micro-grant, Raptor’s tickets, an iPad, and more are up for grabs.