Celebrating Black History Month by supporting the future of Black Youth in Canada
This February, Starbuck Canada is proud to honour Black History Month and celebrate the many ways its partners (employees) and communities demonstrate Black excellence.
How the MentorME program is providing opportunities for Black youth
Janel, a three-year Starbucks partner, grew up in Smith Falls, Ontario—a small town in the Ottawa Valley. As a Black woman navigating rural Ontario, a lack of diversity and inclusion was an ever-present factor in her upbringing.
While her mother is a white, life-long resident of the Ottawa Valley, her father immigrated to Canada from Trinidad and was tasked with integrating into a community where very few Black families resided. The discrimination he faced left a lasting impression on Janel and further fueled her passion for helping others.
Janel left Smith Falls for work in Toronto for a few years, gaining experience in the retail management space, but returned to Smith Falls in 2019 to begin her career with Starbucks. Back in her hometown, Janel helped open a brand-new Starbucks location which she currently manages. Wanting to create positive change in the place she grew up, Janel was inspired by her district manager’s commitment to creating space for important dialogues and check-ins for partners to discuss anti-Black racism and its impacts in their communities and joined the Smiths Falls Racism and Discrimination Task Force. Collaborating directly with the community and members of the Smith Falls Police Service, Janel is part of a team working to help eliminate hate crimes and symbols of hate in their neighbourhoods, bringing important matters to the attention of municipal government as part of their mission to create real change.
In an effort to continue supporting Black individuals in creating their own success, Janel joined MentorME when it launched in 2020 and never looked back.
Developed in partnership with the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA), SAY IT LOUD, MentorCanada and Starbucks Canada, the program is designed to equip young Black Canadians with the knowledge, guidance, resources, and support to help secure employment and overcome systemic barriers and long-standing biases and stereotypes. It also helps them fulfill their potential in the workplace, build resilience and find resources for educational completion and achievement.
“When I had a chance to join the MentorME program as a mentor, it was a no-brainer for me,” Janel said. “This is something I'm truly passionate about—helping a community that I belong to. It’s just such a rewarding experience. It’s been great to provide support and be a part of that community, whether through allyship or because they are members of the Black community.”
In her role as a mentor, she provides tools, resources, personal coaching and networking opportunities to young Black women working to establish their careers. Finding parallels in her journey, she empowers her mentees to believe in themselves and act on their goals, moving intentionally towards their dreams and growing as professionals.
As both a mentor and now co-chair of Starbucks Canada’s Black Partner Network Ottawa chapter, she is using her voice to create change, support Black women and youth in her community realize their potential and help advance the purpose of the Black Partner Network: to share the heritage of the African diaspora to develop partners, advise our business and enrich Starbucks contribution to our customers and communities.
“There is no script to how you can be there for somebody. I doubted myself at times and wondered how I could help [my mentees],” she said. “In my experience, it helps to have that encouragement, and that’s something that people from our community haven’t always had,” she said. “If I can help inspire somebody or impact that idea of Black excellence earlier in their lives. I want to inspire others to challenge themselves and become mentors.”
In addition to the MentorME program and task force, Janel also serves on the Board of Care Masters, a non-profit organization delivering programs and services to celebrate, empower, and support African/Caribbean/Black mental wellness women and families in the GTA.
“I have always thought of my purpose in life to is to make the world a better place for the next generation,” said Janel. “I am grateful for the wisdom of others and their journeys, and all the people around me, who have helped me grow. The truth is we can influence this through everyday life. By making someone smile, by protecting our environment or by creating space to show up in our community through mentorship. Afterall, there is something special about helping others see how amazing they are.”