During Black History Month this February, we are spotlighting some of the employees that help make Molson Coors great. Today we speak with Arielle Uwonkunda, customer solutions manager for The Beer Store and West-Independents, based in Toronto. The Rwanda native arrived in Canada in 2013 to pursue her education. She's been with Molson Coors for two years.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
To me, Black History Month is a time of deep remembrance and commemoration of the various Black people who have made meaningful contributions across society. Their endless work paved the way for me to be seen, heard and known. I am grateful to be part of a collective that tirelessly worked to ensure that Black people like myself had not just a seat at the table but also a voice. This month is a constant reminder to keep working as part of the Black collective to ensure positive impacts are felt in the community.
How do you celebrate and recognize Black History Month?
Truthfully, I only started celebrating the month when I moved to Canada eight years ago. I am from Rwanda, a small country in Africa where everyone’s racial identities and realities mirrored my own. Coming to Canada deepened my understanding of the ways in which different races have drastically different lived experiences. Moving here made me realize that Blackness is minoritized. I celebrate Black History Month by: Continuing to educate myself about Black peoples' history in North America as well as the current issues that affect their lived experiences; participating in local activist events; and buying from Black businesses and donating to charities that support anti-racism, equity and equality efforts.
How can others celebrate and honor Black History Month?
1. Acknowledge the past and the need to have Black History Month. For most people, the first step is to educate themselves and understand why this month exists. It is imperative for people to reflect on the importance that this month brings. Even for a country like Canada that embraces multi-culturalism, our history is rooted in imperialism and slavery and thus makes us accomplices to the structural and institutional racism in our society. Only when we realize and accept this harsh truth, would we be able to educate ourselves and move forward.
2. Educate yourselves about the history of Black people and their current experiences. There are a wealth of resources available such as books, movies and plays (preferably written by Black people and accurately depict Black realities.) A great read is the “The Half Has Never Been Told” by Edward E. Baptist. It takes an in-depth look at slavery’s role in the “evolution and modernization” of the current United States.
3. Participate in events celebrating Black History Month. Here's a link to all the great activities happening in Toronto this month.
4. Support Black-owned businesses and donate to charities that support anti-racism, equity and equality. Some of my favorites include: the Ontario Canada Project, Black Health Alliance and The Urban Alliance on Race Relations.
Celebrating diverse voices shouldn’t be limited to one month. How can people be strong allies throughout the entire year?
True allyship in the corporate world is being aware that everyone, including people of color, have biases and prejudices. Knowing this, it is important to check in with our “knowledge” to see if there are things that can be learned, unlearned and relearned. Also, make space to surround, support, listen and learn from people of color.
What motivated you to join a Molson Coors employee resource group?
I am part of weCAN, the Canadian-based employee resource group. I joined because, while Molson Coors has made strides in acknowledging the diverse nature of its workforce and honoring various lived experiences, the world — especially the corporate world — is not color blind. Certain lived experiences can only be understood by those experiencing the same. For me, weCAN offers a platform to connect while creating safe spaces of support and learning.
Throughout your time at Molson Coors, how has the culture evolved? What can people do to improve the culture?
I am celebrating my second anniversary in March, so I can’t really speak of the past. But based on what I’ve experienced so far, I’m proud to work for this company. We have not only acknowledged and are dismantling our participation in upholding gender stereotypes, but we have a corporate culture like none other, where race issues are discussed openly with no repercussions. In my past experiences outside the company, these two topics were rarely explored. So I am really proud to work here, and I am very excited for what’s to come.
What is a book, movie, podcast you’d recommend people read/watch/listen to learn about Black History?
It depends on where you are located and what you want to learn. For me in Canada with a great interest in what happens in the U.S., these are my suggestions:
“What doesn’t kill you makes you Blacker,” by Diamond Young; and “White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about Racism,” by Michael Eric Dyson.
“I am not Your Negro,” directed by Raoul Peck; and “13th” by Ava DuVernay.
"The Secret Life of Canada," by Leah Simone Bowen and Falen Johnson.
What would you say to Black people who are interested in pursuing a career at Molson Coors/beverage industry?
Do it! Molson is going through structural and institutional changes regarding its relationship with race, and there is no better time to be part of this change, while enjoying some of the best beers in the world!