Denham Jolly receives honorary Doctor of Laws degree from U of T, delivers message on social change

“You can do well by doing good.”

B Denham Jolly

That was Denham Jolly’s message to graduates of the University of Toronto last Thursday when he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the university.

Addressing convocation, Jolly, the Jamaica-born entrepreneur, social activist and co-founder of FLOW 98.5FM, Canada’s first Black-owned radio station, told graduates that “pride in your community is an important factor in bringing about social change.”

“If I am to inspire you on this day of your graduation, I want to inspire you, by telling you, you can do well by doing good,” he said.

“As an entrepreneur I have done well, financially, starting from humble beginnings. When I look back, it seems that I did well by trying to do good. I am not saying that I acted solely with a social imperative. There was also an economic imperative,” he noted.

Jolly who left Jamaica for Canada when he was 20 years of age to attend university, graduated from McGill in 1960.

He then became a teacher but after a few years in the classroom, he went into the nursing home and small hotel business.

Jolly recalled that life was not easy in the 1970s and “it motivated me to become more involved in the plight of my community.

“I was successful in business but for others in the community it was not that easy.

In 1982, we organized the Black Business and Professional Association and it has evolved into a robust organization that addresses equity and opportunity for the Black community,” he said.

Jolly also recalled the launching of the Black Action Defense Committee, (BADC), led by Dudley Laws and several other activists,“ in the struggle against a whole spate of police shootings” against members of the Black community.

“BADC was a precursor of the current Black Lives Matter movement, and the principal force in the formation of the SIU, Special Investigation Unit.”

But he noted that the Black community needed “a voice that was even louder, and to which the younger generation would listen to and hear.” He then told graduates about “the formation of FLOW 98.5.”

He said prior to 2001, hip hop and rap were not played on any Canadian radio station and fans had to tune in to a Buffalo station to hear those kinds of music.

“So we applied for the first Black music radio station in Canada but, surprise, surprise, the application was turned down in favour of a country music station.

“It took more than a decade, two more applications and millions of dollars but perseverance and tenacity of purpose finally paid off. In June, 2000, finally, the CRTC gave us a license, a voice, and a way to be heard, giving opportunities for Blacks.”

Jolly said the radio station was recognized as “more than a business. We were a strong voice in the battle for social justice. We were the voice of a large, diverse, and dynamic community. At a time when diversity in Toronto was still only lip service, FLOW was living it as people of 26 ethnic backgrounds worked at the station,”

 “We were you. We saw you, we heard you and we recognized you.”

He went on to tell graduates: “I will continue to speak out but am ready to pass the mantle to you, a new generation, and I hope you take it on and wear it well.

“You can do well by doing good.”