Alfred Burgesson never stops bringing people into the circle
Alfred Burgesson is like a magnet. He lives to connect with people; to bring people together. Young people, activists, social entrepreneurs, city leaders, basketball players—you name them, he knows them. He and the city of Halifax share an ethos: they’re both working hard to “attract and retain talent” he says.
The 22-year-old Saint Mary’s University student is also a business owner, social entrepreneur and basketball coach. He’s been working to put Halifax and Nova Scotia on the map since he was young.
His media company HFX Collective works to connect creatives with meaningful projects, and an offshoot of it, the Instagram account @cityofhalifax, even has the seal of approval from city hall. He is at once a mature startup executive—efficient, effective, engaged—and a university student with fourth-year-itis: impatient, impassioned and itching to get out.
Burgesson first fell in love with Nova Scotia when he immigrated to Port Hawkesbury in Cape Breton with his mom, sister and brother from Ghana when he was seven. He remembers thinking that his new home in Nova Scotia “pretty much has it all.” But it was still a challenge to move so far from home at a young age.
“My first day of school in Canada was quite challenging because I had people literally asking me the most absurd questions like, ‘did you live in a tree?’ It was clear they didn’t have knowledge of Africa or where I was coming from, so it was very confusing,” says Burgesson. “I don’t think people realize the pressures we have as immigrants.”
Moving from Port Hawkesbury to Halifax to attend Halifax Grammar School for high school was another challenge. “The people were different, affluent,” says Burgesson. He found himself surrounded by kids who believed they could do whatever they wanted. “I thought I could do that too.”
Junior Achievement—an entrepreneurial program for students—taught him the name for something he’d always understood: networking. As a young immigrant and person of colour, Burgesson says he was always seeking connection, which sometimes his peers couldn’t provide.
This led him to two things: basketball and meaningful mentors, both of which formed the role model he is for young people today.
Burgesson is always busy. And he likes it that way. People who get things done usually do. When he’s not bouncing from class at SMU to work at Common Good Solutions in the North End to meetings and coaching and back, he’s playing basketball with a fifth-grade kid at the gym at Dalhousie. The kid is the younger brother of friends Burgesson used to play with. He sends Burgesson a text and they meet on the court.
“It’s easy going, it’s goofy, it’s funny, it’s fun. It’s light,” says Burgesson. “I feel like I’m a pretty serious guy, so keeping around sports and coaching kids this way keeps me sort of lightened up. It keeps things fun.”
He’s the kind of person who is too humble to admit to being humble. Like voicing the notion would pop the bubble and reveal his humility as a sham—which it isn’t. He dances around questions of how he’s managed to do so much at a young age, like he’s guarding someone on the court.
But Lauren Sears, the managing director of Common Good Solutions (CGS), has no problem singing his praises: “Everyone wants an Alfred,” says Sears. “People listen to him.”
The clout Burgesson seems to be building and wielding belies his young age: “Here’s a 21-year-old kid running around getting these big meetings,” says Sears. “It’s impressive.”
Now HFX Collective is working with CGS on future projects, and Burgesson leans on the organization as a hub of people like him: “Young budding entrepreneurs looking to shake things up,” as Sears says.
His biggest obstacle right now is getting his degree out of the way. As often happens with entrepreneurs, he’s had a taste of the real world and is eager to join it. The same eager attitude also led him to make the tough decision to quit playing varsity basketball after his first year of university.
“I’d played basketball since I was 10. It was my identity,” says Burgesson. “But decided to step away because I want to focus on, well, who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do. I wanted to try to learn as much as I could and make connections early.”
He boasts about being so close to the ocean and the beauty of the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton when talking to those connections he meets from across the province and the country—remembering being a kid and thinking, “Man, this place almost has it all.”
But the first thing he wants to show a friend who is visiting is a local basketball game.
He spends his days celebrating his local community with local creatives and working with youth to keep Halifax moving forward.
“Anything that I can do to sort of push the momentum or create some momentum…I just feel like that’s what I want to do. You know, I don’t really think about what I’m doing, I just do it. “