Halifax Chamber of Commerce appoints first African-Nova Scotian chair in 268 years

Cynthia Dorrington was recently appointed as the first African-Nova Scotian to chair the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, an organization that began 268 years ago.

Cynthia Dorrington calls appointment first of many to come for minorities

Cynthia Dorrington is the first African-Nova Scotian to chair the board of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. (Submitted by Cynthia Dorrington)

Cynthia Dorrington is blazing a trail as the first African-Nova Scotian to chair the board of the 268-year-old Halifax Chamber of Commerce.

The business advocacy organization has 1,600 members that represent over 65,000 employees.

"This is significant because we as indigenous blacks … have been in commerce for years," Dorrington said, noting blacks can trace their African roots back over 400 years in Nova Scotia.

Bringing a different lens

As a black woman, Dorrington said she has a different view of business and how to engage in business within Halifax.

"What I bring to the table is my experiences, my thoughts on how we can be better at doing business with marginalized groups or under-represented groups," she said.

"At the same time, I'm making sure that we start developing as a city and growing. And our population is changing, our demographics are changing. We want to make sure that we are inclusive of diversity as it's related to Halifax."

Following in father's footsteps

Leadership comes naturally for Dorrington. Her father, Francis Dorrington, also made history in 1976 when he became New Glasgow's first black town councillor. He served in that role for 21 years.

Dorrington said she was inspired by her father, who worked in "a region of Nova Scotia where there was a lot of racism and discrimination."

"To me, doing this and running and holding a seat as the chair, I think in today's world sometimes looks easy. But it's not always easy because when you are the first, people look at you and they put you on a pedestal and you have to do really well."

Dorrington says she brings a different view of how to better engage in business with marginalized groups. (Sherri Borden Colley/CBC)

Dorrington, who hails from New Glasgow but now lives in Halifax, is also president of her own company, Vale & Associates Human Resource Management and Consulting Inc., and chairs the board of the Black Business Initiative.

During her one-year term, Dorrington wants to try to make the chamber more reflective of the demographic of the city. At the same time, she hopes to focus on opening doors for not-for-profit organizations to give them greater exposure in the broader community and enable them to get more funds.

"Part of the ecosystem in a business environment are your not-for-profits, and if we overlook those, that is not helping us generate that stable economy here in Nova Scotia," she said.

Standing on the shoulders of others

Dorrington said she believes her appointment is the first of many to come for African-Nova Scotians, people of colour and other under-represented groups.

"I really believe that I have not done this on my own and I stand on the shoulders of many others who have opened doors in various industry sectors and in various organizations allowing people of African descent to rise above where we were," she said. "And I will help and support anyone that needs support to further where they would like to go."

Halifax Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Patrick Sullivan says the chamber is striving to make the board more culturally diverse. (Halifax Chamber of Commerce)

Patrick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, said Dorrington, who moved up from vice-chair to chair, brings wonderful experience, knowledge and diversity to the board.

"I would say we are culturally diverse but I think I would add we're not culturally diverse enough," Sullivan said. "So it's important for us to have Cynthia as the spokesperson to show many folks in the business community that we are an open, welcoming organization."

About 50 per cent of the chamber's board is female.  

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley

Reporter

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca