By RON FANFAIR
Rarely do recent university graduates present gifts to their alma mater. Far too many of them are submerged in student loan debt to even financially keep their heads above water after they graduate, much less consider supporting their post-secondary institutions.
Isaac Olowolafe Jr. is an exception.
The 2007 University of Toronto Economics graduate created the university’s largest endowment fund for students in the African Studies program, pledging $25,000 last year to set it up.
Olowolafe, who started his first company eight years ago when he was a university freshman, is one of 16 Harry Jerome award recipients. This year presentation ceremony takes place on April 30 at the Toronto Congress Centre.
The Business award winner, Olowolafe says his parents – particularly his father Isaac Sr. who is a veteran in the real estate industry sector – fuelled his entrepreneurial passion.
“I had them to look up to because they have always been business-oriented,” said Olowolafe. “I also am inspired by Michael Lee-Chin and what he has been able to accomplish. They are my role models.”
He said he chose to support the U of T’s African Studies program because he feels Africa’s history, culture and other contributions are far too often overlooked or minimized.
Olowolafe and his father co-founded Dream Maker Realty in 2003. The Toronto-area real estate firm specializes in educating first-time home buyers about utilizing real estate to generate wealth.
The young entrepreneur is also the president and chief executive officer of Dream Fund Holdings which he established last year. The company issues real estate investment opportunities in the form of debentures.
Born in Nigeria, Olowolafe came to Canada 23 years ago with his parents and attended Holy Cross Academy in Woodbridge before enrolling in university. He was granted his real estate license in 2008.
The annual awards honour the best and brightest in Canada’s Black community.
Retired trade unionist, community organizer and activist Bromley Armstrong, who migrated from Jamaica to Canada in 1947 when Jerome was in a Winnipeg French-language school taking piano classes, is the Lifetime Achievement award winner.
U of T paediatrics professor and Caribbean-Canadian Cancer Initiative co-chair Dr. Upton Allen, the recipient of the Health Sciences award, considers it a privilege to be an award recipient.
“For me, there is no better honour than being recognized by one’s own community,” said Allen who is also a senior associate scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children’s Research Institute and a University of the West Indies medical graduate.
“When I think of Harry Jerome and what he accomplished in his short life, the award is even more significant and it’s a real honour to be nominated.”
Veteran African drummer, Muhtadi Thomas, who migrated from Trinidad & Tobago in 1974, was recognized for his artistic excellence. The Muhtadi International Drumming Festival founder performs at various cultural events in Canada and the Caribbean and, for the past 17 years, has conducted free two-hour workshops every Saturday at Wellesley Community Centre.
“This honour is for the drum and its power and message,” said the percussionist and music teacher.
This year’s youth award winners are Manitoba high school basketball player and youth volunteer Keneca Pingue-Giles, University of Western Ontario first-year student LaShawn Murray, who co-founded the Invisible Children Book Drive that collected nearly 39,000 books to support literacy programs for young people in Uganda and organized an AIDS run that generated $10,000 for the Stephen Lewis Foundation; U of T Masters student and Gold Key award winner Michelle McFarlane, who aspires to be a physician-scientist, and dance teacher/entrepreneur Jade Jager-Clark.
“I had a taste of the Harry Jerome awards when I attended for the first time last year and I think I have an understanding of what it means to be bestowed with that beautiful award,” said Jager-Clark, who founded Jade’s Hip Hop Academy when she was 18 and still in high school.
Nova Scotia Community College Institute of Technology campus principal and Africville Heritage Trust chair Dr. Daurene Lewis, who in 1984 became the first Black women to be elected Mayor of a Canadian city (Annapolis in Nova Scotia), and Ryerson University chancellor and philanthropist Ray Chang who two years ago donated $7 million to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation for research and education, are the recipients of the Trailblazer and President’s awards respectively.
Former Rogers Cable chief executive officer and Ontario Progressive Party leader and current DiverseCity co-chair John Tory is the first winner of the new Diversity award.
Other winners are Jamaican-born author Kayla Perrin (arts), York Regional Police Community Advisory Committee vice-chair and Ontario’s Consent and Capacity board member Pat Howell (community service), University of Alberta professor emeritus Dr. John Akabutu (technology & innovation), Canadian Armed Forces chief warrant officer and last year’s municipal elections candidate Kevin Junor (professional excellence) and Afroglobal Television’s chief executive officer Moses Mawa (media).
The awards honour the memory of Jerome who equaled Percy Williams’ national high school record with a 10-second run in the 100-yard dash in March 1959, won gold medals in the 100-metre sprint at the 1966 Commonwealth and 1967 Pan American Games, set seven world records, defended his national 100-metre sprint title in his last official race in August 1969 and established the parameters for the creation of the federal Ministry of Sport before succumbing to a brain aneurysm at age 42 in December 1982.
Since the inception in 1983, a total of 320 Harry Jerome awards (this year’s included) have been presented to individuals and one organization – Eva’s Initiatives in 2005 – for excellence in myriad fields.