By RON FANFAIR
As a member of the Harry Jerome awards selection committee a few years ago, Leesa Barnes was both in awe and inspired by many of the candidates, especially those vying for the newly-minted technology and innovation award.
Little did she know that she would soon be honoured with the award which was established in 2004. Previous winners include Dr. Issa Odidi and his wife Amina and First Friday founder, Warren Salmon.
As one of this year’s 13 Harry Jerome award winners, the podcasting specialist and author tearfully recalled the challenges she faced to carve out a niche in the information technology sector where Black professionals and women are under-represented.
“My struggles in life have had nothing to do with income or where I have lived,” Barnes said. “My difficulties have been because I am a Black woman and one whose interest and expertise is in the field of technology. It has been a double whammy that has left me excluded…To be a Harry Jerome award winner is quite an accolade and to be recognized for excellence in technology is quite amazing.”
Despite the hurdles, Barnes has made a remarkable impact in social media and technology over the past 15 years. The York University history graduate combined her extensive knowledge of social media and online marketing to create MarketingFit, a system designed to help small businesses and entrepreneurs expand their base through social media.
Barnes is ranked number one on Google for the search term, “Podcasting Expert”, and she’s the only Canadian to be named in the Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential Women in Social Media. She also founded BITePRO, a professional association for technology enthusiasts, and authored Podcasting for Profit which is a seven-step plan to help individuals and businesses generate income through audio and video podcasting.
Organized by the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA), the Harry Jerome awards have honoured the best and brightest in Canada’s Black community for the past 27 years.
“The selection process is becoming challenging as the African Canadian community works hard throughout the year to achieve success, set the example and become the image of excellence,” said awards chair, Karlyn Percil. “There is no greater feeling than being part of the initiative that is to recognize and honour the quality and caliber of the winners that were selected.”
Business award recipient, Wayne Isaacs, who migrated from Jamaica in 1974 at age 11, is dedicating the award to his mother, Iris Levene.
“She’s the one that paved the way for me and helped me to become part of a remarkable group of winners to be recognized with this amazing award that honours excellence in our community,” said Isaacs, who is the chief executive officer and chairman of Delta Uranium Inc. “My mother showed me that hard work helps one to achieve their dreams, and this is the advice I try to pass on to young people. I always tell them to stick to their plan and never give up despite the obstacles they will face. Nothing in life comes easy.”
After graduating from the University of Western Ontario, Isaacs was recruited by one of the world’s largest foreign currency and precious metal dealers to implement and oversee an international risk management development project before starting his own company – Acadia Capital Corporation – in 1989. He also served as president and director of Forsys Metal Group which is a TSX-listed company with uranium properties in Namibia prior to joining Delta two years ago.
Other trailblazers recognized with Harry Jerome awards this year include Professional Excellence winner Corrine Sparks, the first Black woman in Canada to become a judge when she was appointed to the Bench in 1987 in Nova Scotia; Jamaican-born Health Science winner, Dr. Sheila McKenzie, who was honoured with the “Outstanding Person of the 20th Century” award at the World Organization of Natural Medicine Unity Congress in 2006; Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee, Michael “Pinball” Clemons; Order of Ontario and Order of Canada recipient, Chris Harris, who founded several Ottawa community organizations, including the National Capital Alliance on Race Relations and the Jamaican Community Association; and Lifetime Achievement award winner, Oliver Jones, who is considered one of the world’s top jazz pianists. Jones has played with the best in show business such as Dr. Oscar Peterson, Bob Hope, Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald.
Pernell Karl (P.K.) Subban, the co-captain of this year’s Canadian team that won the gold medal in the world junior hockey championship in Ottawa; ski racer, Cameron Semple; Ontario Black History Society president, Rosemary Sadlier; psychology honours student, Regine Debrosse, Da Kink in My Hair co-producer, Trey Anthony and University of London corporate and commercial law student and fashion designer, Mekielia Nembhard, are the other winners.
This year’s Harry Jerome awards ceremony takes place on April 25 at the Toronto Congress Centre, 650 Dixon Rd. Individuals interested in purchasing tickets can call (416) 504-4097 for more details. Tickets cost $150.
The awards honour the memory of the late Harry Jerome, an outstanding Canadian citizen and athlete who set seven world track records before succumbing to a brain aneurysm in December 1982 at age 42.