Awards in memory of exceptional youth


Ontario’s health promotion minister, Margarett Best, had a full day last Sunday, attending three community events even though her Chief of Staff recently advised her to cut back on such a hectic schedule.

Best agreed, but pointed out there is one event – the Aroni awards – which means a lot to her and one she plans to attend every year as long as she’s in the country.

She met Aron Haile a few years ago when the young man approached her to close a deal for a condo he had just purchased.

“I was quite impressed by him because there are not too many young Black men his age who would make such a bold step as he was about to then,” said Best who practiced law before pursuing a political career. “He became my friend because I found him to be very responsible.

“He also reminded me of my own son, Colin, who is in the same age group. Aron was a very special young man who was involved in the community and doing the rights things. I consider it an honour to have known him.”

Six years ago, Haile – who at the time was employed with the Bank of Montreal as a software developer and was an arts aficionado – returned to his homeland, Eritrea, to celebrate his 30th birthday with his parents. A few days before the landmark event, he was returning from a trip to the Matara archaeological site which is about 130 kilometres south of Asmara, when the tour bus plunged off a cliff.

Haile and three other tourists were killed and he was buried on his birthday, December 27.

To perpetuate his memory and capture his indomitable spirit, Haile’s older brother, Mesfun and sisters Lia and Helen, established the Aroni awards four years ago to honour achievers and inspire young people.

“This is a bitter-sweet time of the year for me and my family,” said Mesfun who is a landscape architect. “Putting together this event to honour Aron is what keeps us going.”

Mesfun, who is also an event planner, said he and his younger brother had discussed putting together an awards show to honour and inspire young people.

“I was just about to complete my Masters and he figured I had the time to work with him to do something to give back to the community,” added Mesfun. “The day before he died, he phoned me to say 2004 will be a big year. He was very passionate about what we could do to uplift this community and make a difference.”

Bursaries were presented to Chante Barnwell, Aman Sultan and Troy Knights.

Barnwell, who was diagnosed with respiratory stress problems at birth and lost her father to cancer, is enrolled in Georges Vanier Secondary School Program 2 Art designed for students with an interest in the fine arts.

Sultan, 17, has a passion for cars and aspires to become an automotive engineer while Knights is enrolled in Durham College’s animation program.

This year’s community award winners were Ryerson University’s first Black student president, Jermaine Bagnall, Africentric Alternative School principal, Thando Hyman-Aman, Toronto Community Housing chief administrative officer, Mitzie Hunter, Big It Up International and Schools Without Borders.

“I am absolutely honoured to be given this award for community service,” said Hunter who left Goodwill Industries of Toronto as vice-president last September after seven years of exemplary service.

Comedian Jay Martin and TV personality Patricia Jaggernauth hosted the show while R & B singer Kim Davis, spoken word artist Nadine Williams, vocalist Saidah Baba Talibah, comedians Arthur Simeon and Jean Paul, the Meagan De Lima jazz trio, Baby Boyz dance troupe, the Manding Foli Kan Don drummers and musician Jesse Bear provided the entertainment.






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