Underemployed, underestimated: Windsor's Black men find allies to fight joblessness

Professor Francisca Omorodion says Black men have been forgotten in the local job market. She's launching a series of workshops to help Black men find employment that matches their credentials.

Local professor steps up to help Black men find suitable jobs

Professor Francisca Omorodion was initially collecting data on HIV, but participants kept bringing up unemployment and underemployment as a more serious issue for men in the Black community. (Aastha Shetty/CBC News)

For professor Francisca Omorodion, Windsor's Black men are a "forgotten group." 

"Some of them have degrees, but at the end of the day, they do not get the right job," said Omorodion, a professor of sociology at the University of Windsor.

It's an issue she stumbled upon while interviewing more than 200 Black men for a study on HIV. From that cohort, she found that almost 24 per cent of the men were either unemployed or underemployed. That's almost triple the region's general unemployment rate of about 8 per cent. 

Professor Omorodion intends to improve the situation through a series of employment workshop specifically for African, Black and Caribbean men.

Omorodion's jobless numbers come as no surprise to Brian McCurdy. Finding suitable work in Windsor has been difficult for him. As a dual citizen, he's found more success stateside.

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McCurdy has a Master's degree in kinesiology and played for the CFL, still he says the Windsor job market isn't easy for men like him.

"Across the border, I'm more readily accepted, where people look at your experience and your background more as a value and they treat you accordingly. So you're rated a little bit different when you walk into an interview, compared to when you walk into an interview here," he said.

McCurdy has a master's degree in kinesiology and years of experience playing for the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But an impressive resume has not kept him from underemployment.

"There was a couple of times where I would use an employment service and they wouldn't really kind of honour the experience or the educational background. And probably in most in most cases, directed you toward more service jobs, more manufacturing jobs."

Brian McCurdy is featured in these CFL trading cards from 1994 and 1995. He used to play professional football for the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. (Photo courtesy of

Other Black men in the community are also expressing how difficult it can be to be taken seriously by employers.

"[Employment agencies] will just relegate you to some menial jobs. And I'm sorry.. I cannot do it anymore," said 69-year-old Kenny Gbadebo from Windsor.

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Kenny Gbadebo says he's personally experienced joblessness and underemployment and, for the moment at least, doesn't believe Windsor-Essex holds much opportunity for Black men.

A counsellor by training, Gbadebo eventually decided to  focus fully on helping other young Black men through a community program called The Youth Connection Association.

But leading a non-profit organization hasn't been enough for Gbadebo to pay his bills. He has had to improvise over the years and said it's been hard to get a response from potential employers.

"You're either overqualified, have too much education or.. some people tend to view you as very threatening. Why? I don't know."

Omorodion said she's heard similar sentiments from other Black men in the community.

"A good number of them. When they graduate from the University of Windsor, for example, they end up either working in the phone call centre.. or sometimes in the tomato farm. Some of them are into food delivery with COVID. They now find themselves driving cars, delivering food from house to house."

Gbadebo's advice for young Black men in Windsor? Leave.

"Because there's nothing for them here," Gbadebo said. "Don't stay here unless you want to occupy menial jobs, which do not even relate to what you do in school. And these kids, they're well read, well educated. Some of them have master's all the way to PhDs."

Labour minister on Gbadebo's advice to leave Windsor: "I don't buy that"

Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said Black men in Windsor should consider a career in skilled trades instead of going to university.

"I've been quite clear we don't need every single person going to university," he said in an interview with CBC News.

The minister also responded to Gbadebo's advice for young Black men to find work outside Windsor in order to avoid underemployment or unemployment.

"I don't buy that. Again.. we're moving mountains to lift people up to spread opportunity more widely and fairly. Another initiative that we've done is we've introduced a skills development fund literally more than $200 million to invest in training programs to help people from underrepresented groups in Windsor, Essex and across the province."

New workshops may help Black men find suitable work

Omorodion is teaming up with colleagues and community members to help improve the job prospects of Black men in Windsor-Essex.

Her new workshops will equip about 250 African, Caribbean and Black men with the skills they need to land a job in their field.

Prof. Francisca Omorodion is organizing workshops to help Windsor's Black men beat joblessness and underemployment

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Professor Omorodion was interviewing Black men in Windsor for a health research project. During that process, participants told her employment not health was their biggest concern and challenge. That lead to her recent project to help Black men find local employment.

The program, led by Omorodion, has received a $50,000 federal grant. The workshops will start in January, kicking off with a community forum.

Omorodion said a program like this has been a long time coming — as there are currently no other community resources specifically focused on helping Black men in Windsor.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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