An evening of Black excellence at the 40th Annual Harry Jerome Awards

An excellent outing for Harry Jerome Awards last Saturday

Although the Harry Jerome Awards is a familiar name for the Canadian Black community, it did come as a surprise that this great source of pride was brought into existence 40 years ago.

It was in 1992 that Denham Jolly, the dean of the Black business community, with the help of stalwarts Bromley Armstrong and Al Hamilton, invited “Toronto’s Black Business and Professional Persons” to meet “to discuss, organize, plan and concentrate our efforts as a group of business professional people.” After all, Jolly wrote, we have “some of the greatest minds in the world…these abilities must now be realized to the fullest potential for our sake and for our children’s sake.”

Speaking to the Caribbean Camera, Nadine Spencer. the BBPA’s chief executive officer, said that she has been producing the Awards since 2017, but this is the first time as the Chief Executive officer. “It’s been really heartening to see the level of excellence in our Black Canadian society. Different individuals in different sectors achieving. For me it’s a beacon of light to what the young generation can see. Because if you see it, you can be it.”

“I’m now thinking what’s next for the organization. How do I make more of this possible? How do I fill this room with 400-500 people every time?”

Last Saturday night at the Beanfield Centre, Spencer would not have been disappointed when a near capacity crowd of 500+ dining guests showed up to celebrate a number of outstanding community members, including a cadre of young adult achievers ranging in disciplines from arts to business. Above all, they came to honour the incomparable Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados. Ms. Mottley made a virtual appearance to accept the International Leader Award in Economic Growth.  

The 12 awardees were: Barbados P.M. Mia Mottley; Amaka Umeh – President’s Award for her achievements in Theatre and Storytelling; Cynthia Appiah – Jerome Family Athletics; David Mitchell – Decade Leader; David Simmonds – Leadership; Eleanor Beaton – Professional Excellence; Joe Halstead – Lifetime Achievement; Jonah Chininga – Technology; Mark Harrison – Business; Navdeep Bains – Diversity; Siphe November – Arts; and Trent Out Loud – Young Entrepreneur.

This was a diverse group of people appropriately chosen at a time when diversity is one of Canada’s guiding principles. Former federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains is a classic example of one of the principles for which the Awards stands. Bains, who is Vice-Chair of Global Investment Banking at CIBC, told the Camera that he was both surprised and delighted at being chosen.

“I’m delighted to be here with my family, my daughters, to celebrate the importance of diversity. You know, I was born in Toronto. My parents came here in the 1970s. We’re so blessed to live in a country where the son of a cabinet maker had the opportunity to sit in the Federal Cabinet. And to be here. I couldn’t be more honoured,” Bains added.

It was also a night that highlighted a number of young adult achievers like Trent Out Loud, the founder of Exclucity, a multimillion dollar footwear and apparel business, and published author.

Trent said he felt honoured to given a Harry Jerome. “Sixteen years of entrepreneurship. I sold clothes out of the trunk of my car to high school kids. Sixteen years later I did $100 million in gross revenues. I had 10 stores and a national brand with global recognition,” he informed. “We need to step out of our comfort zone and really reach the youth. Next year I want to see awards given for social media, fashion, reaching out to all demographics.”

There was also the inspiring story of Siphe November, who graduated from dancing in the streets of his hometown of Zolani, South Africa, to the National Ballet of Canada. According to his bio, November and his four siblings danced the kwaito, an afro hip hop dance, in the streets where local ballet teacher Fiona Sutton spotted their talent and roped them into her ballet class. She introduced November to a visiting Canadian couple. At age 11, he was accepted into the National Ballet of Canada. Ten years later he became the company’s principal dancer.

Loud applause was reserved for Canadian bobsleigh pilot Cythia Appiah. No doubt because Appiah has excelled at a sport that hasn’t seen too many Blacks in its ranks. Born to Ghanaian immigrants, in North York, Ontario, Appiah, with just a few examples to follow, rose to top of her sport. She started as a brakewoman, the one who pushes from the back, and earned gold and bronze medals in World Cup bobsleigh. She is now the third ranked bobsleigh pilot in the world.

Mitzie Hunter

Appiah was ecstatic on receiving the award: “This award is awesome,” she told the Camera.

“I’ve had many awards in my time but this is different. This one comes from the community and that means a lot more to me. The people I live and  socialize with have recognized that I’m worthy. When I found out I was an honouree I thought of previous winners like Masai Ujiri, Jamaal Magloir and others. So I’m truly honoured. This was quite a night for me. Very special.”

The opportunity to hear these wonderful stories of achievement and to see them receive their just rewards was flavoured by the beautiful falsetto voice of Harold Eban Brown, former lead singer of the Stylistics and the stage band Hardcore. Reggae artist Steele and Divine Brown added a delightful local flavor that filled the gaps on a well-run evening that was a proper community celebration.

Completing an impressive list of achievers:

Mark Harrison – A lifelong volunteer and entrepreneur. Harrison is an experienced marketer and true believer in purpose.

David Simmonds – Senior vice-president, global chief and sustainability officer at Great West Lifeco and Canada life.

Eleanor Beaton – founder of SafiMedia, an educational and coaching company for women entrepfreneurs.

Joe Halstead – served as Toronto’s Commissioner of Economic Development. Halstead enjoyed a distinguished 25-year career in the Ontario Public Service, rising to the level of assistant deputy minister.

Amaka Umeh – a Tkaronto storyteller of Nigerian origin. A graduate of the Musical Theatre Performance Program. Among a number of accolades, she was recognized with a Dora Mavor Moore Award. Performed at the Stratford Festival.

David Mitchell – public servant with Ontarion government for 32 years. Rose to the rank of assistant deputy minister at the Ministry of Children. A respected leader while working on youth and community issues.

Jonah Chininga – co-founder of MICC Financial, a fintech startup that has developed a rotational savings platform where groups can pool money and access credit. It is a system to assist people with financial challenges to build and access credit. MICC has the accounted for many financial success stories.