Ticket sales were painfully slow leading up to the inaugural Harry Jerome awards celebration and the organizers were understandably very worried. Two weeks before the show, Hamlin Grange had a nightmare that he and Bromley Armstrong – two of the principal organizers – were the only people in a large room at the Westin Harbour Castle hotel where the event was to be held.
Such was the concern that Grange, a founder of the Canadian Association of Black Journalists and board member of the Toronto Police Service since December 2004, recalled that he jumped out of bed in a sweat.
The fear soon dissipated as ticket sales soared in the final week. Almost 400 guests attended the banner event to celebrate the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games record performances of a new breed of Caribbean-born athletes who left an indelible mark on the sport in Canada.
Mark McKoy and Milt Ottey set Games records in the 110-metre hurdles and high jump events respectively; sprinter Angella Taylor-Issajenko won two gold, silver and bronze medals and Ben Johnson clinched silver in the 100-metre final and teamed up with Desai Williams, McKoy and Tony Sharpe to secure another silver medal in the 4 x 100-metre relay.
Jerome, who set seven world track records and helped to create Canada’s Sports Ministry, was slated to be the keynote speaker at the celebration. Sadly, he succumbed to a brain aneurysm a fortnight before the organizers contacted him and the decision was made to honour the athletes with awards named after him.
Nearly three decades after playing a leading role in the founding of the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) that administers the awards and national scholarship program, Grange is being honoured for coming up with the Harry Jerome awards name and conceiving the idea for the scholarship program and the BBPA logo.
He’s one of the 14 recipients of this year’s Harry Jerome awards to be presented on April 24 at the Toronto Congress Centre.
“I am very honoured and humbled,” said Grange who will be recognized with the President’s award. “It was a team effort and it was not easy putting on the first event because the community had never witnessed anything like it before. In fact, people just did not believe it was possible.”
The signature awards are bestowed annually on the best and brightest in Canada’s Black community.
This year’s award winners also include a leading researcher in white cell biology, Canada’s first Black Citizenship Court judge, a pioneer in Nova Scotia’s biotechnology sector, a businesswoman who has been on Profit Magazine Canada’s Top 100 Women’s Entrepreneur list for the past seven years and an armed conflict expert.
“Just having my name associated with Harry Jerome is an honour,” said Dr. Anderson Knight, University of Alberta political science professor and the first executive director of the New York-based United Nations Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, who will receive the Trailblazer award.
Appointed Canada’s first Black Citizenship Court Judge in 1978, Stanley Grizzle, a World War II veteran, was a sleeping car porter, postal clerk and labour relations officer. Three years ago, Toronto and East York Community Council unanimously voted to rename the Main Street parkette on Chisholm Ave., the Stanley G. Grizzle Park in honour of the 91-year-old labour and human rights activist who is this year’s Harry Jerome Lifetime Achievement award winner.
Dr. Lisa Robinson, who is being recognized for her groundbreaking work in the health sciences, attended medical school at the University of Toronto and trained in Internal Medicine at Toronto General Hospital before completing her residency in paediatrics at the University of Western Ontario. She received her paediatric nephrology training at Duke University.
The research interest of the Hospital for Sick Children’s staff physician and U of T associate professor focuses on white cell trafficking and strategies to interrupt white cell influx into specifically targeted organs.
Ontario Judicial Council member and Harry Jerome Business award recipient Delores Lawrence is the proud owner of Nursing Health Care Inc., while Nova Scotia-based Dr. Abdullah Kirumira, who is being honoured with the Technology and Innovation award, is credited with inventing the world’s first rapid-acting HIV diagnostic test that produces results in three minutes.
Community-oriented initiatives frontline worker and administrator, Akwatu Khenti, who is responsible for developing and managing the Substance Abuse Program for African-Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY) based on Afrocentric principles, health promotion and prevention, is the Professional Excellence award winner. Jane-Finch Concerned Citizens Organization (JFCCO) executive director Winston LaRose is being recognized for his tireless community service and Michael Chambers will receive the Arts award.
“I view this award as recognition of a lifelong love of the arts and the expression of reaching deep down into the soul to share with the world what’s reflective of our relationship in our environment,” said Chambers who graduated from York University with a Fine Arts degree. “I am proud to represent the visual artists and filmmakers that are often overlooked.”
Other Harry Jerome award winners are Kwesi Johnson (academics), Aaron Brown (athletics), Saron Gebresellassi (leadership), Thomas Tewoldemedhin (young entrepreneur) and Ron Fanfair (media).
Since the inception in 1983, a total of 304 Harry Jerome awards (this year included) have been presented to individuals and one organization – Eva’s Initiatives in 2005 – for excellence in a number of various fields.