Activist Ken Jeffers among ‘decade leaders’  honoured at the 39th annual Harry Jerome Awards

By Lincoln DePradine

Much of the life of Trinidad-born Ken Jeffers has been “about struggling for justice and equality and not for self-recognition and glory.” Hence, by his own admission, he’s loathed to accept public awards.

“I have avoided awards in the past,’’ Jeffers said last Saturday at the 39th annual Harry Jerome Awards organized by the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA).

He noted that the BBPA’s Awards’ presentation was occurring in “the current environment of anti-Black racism’’, including the trial in the United States of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused in the  killing  of African-American George Floyd.

Kenneth Jeffers

Chauvin was caught on video on a sidewalk in Minnesota in May 2020, pressing his knee into the neck of Floyd for nine-and-a-half minutes.

Jeffers is intimately familiar with the plight of Black people in the United States.

After graduating from Queen’s Royal College in Port of Spain, Jeffers left Trinidad in 1968 for South Carolina State University on a track scholarship

Soon, he was involved in protests against racial segregation in what has become known the “Orangeburg Massacre’’ in South Carolina, in which three students killed by police.

Jeffers’s activism and civil rights passion, which began as a teenager in Trinidad and continued in South Carolina, carried over when he migrated to Canada.

He says it’s all motivated by “a real strong sense of fairness.

” I’m very disturbed when I see people getting treated unfairly, or taken advantage of’’.

Jeffers,  a retired Canadian public service manager, was presented on Saturday with the BBPA’s 2021 “Lifetime Achievement Award’’.

In brief comments at the virtual event, Jeffers focused not on himself but on people of African descent in general. “We are prolific human beings, with a proud history and a proud past,’’ he said.

The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic forced the BBPA to abandon hosting the event before a live audience and taking it online for the first time in 39 years.

The BBPA described the Harry Jerome Award  recipients of 2020 and 2021 as “Decade Leaders”, who have demonstrated the “art of possible” in surmounting “systemic barriers leading to their success’’.

They are “the best of the best in their fields’’, said BBPA president Nadine Spencer.

Jeffers was one of 12 awardees for 2021 that included former NBA All-star Jamaal Magloire – the winner “Athletics Award’’ – whose 71-year-old father, Garth  Stanley Magloire, recently passed away.

Thie other  2021 Harry Jerome Award recipients were Louis Edgar Jean-Francois (Business); Taylor Lindsay-Noel (Young Entrepreneur); Al Ramsay (Professional Excellence); Velma Morgan (Community Service); Ransford C. Jones (Leadership); Patricia Bebia Mawa (Media); Dennis Mitchell (President’s Award); Kathy McDonald (Diversity); Claudette McGowan (Technology); and Dr Joseph Smith (Decade Leader).

“What the Harry Jerome Award does, is that it recognizes excellence in the Black community,’’ Spencer reiterated. “It’s really is a vision award; it’s a vision award for our young black professionals, black youth, to see who they can be. We are so brilliant, we’re so exceptional in many different fields. There is so much that is possible in the Black community.’’

The awards are also important at this time, serving as a “ray of light’’ and a “beacon of hope’’ for Black-owned businesses that have experienced difficulties in more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Spencer said.

Harry Jerome, after whom the awards are named, was a legendary Canadian sprinter who won Commonwealth and Pan Am Games gold medals, and competed in three Olympics.

Jerome, who also was an educator and campaigner for racial equality, was named to the Order of Canada in 1970. He’s been inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall and Canada’s Walk of Fame.

He died unexpectedly on December 7, 1982, in North Vancouver, of a brain aneurysm. He was 42.