Canadian Armed Forces officer, Avril Jno-Baptiste, could not believe her eyes. Down on one knee in front of her with an outstretched right hand bearing a ring was her close friend, Warrant Officer Anthony Jones, making a marriage proposal in Kabul’s war zone in the midst of surprised colleagues.
“I told him that if he didn’t get up, I would walk away,” recalled Jno-Baptiste who was on her first tour of duty in Afghanistan. “He rose up, sat beside me and then asked again.”
Jones wanted to seal the deal before returning to Canada to undergo specialized training. He bought the ring online and summoned the strength to propose the night before he left. The couple, who met in 2004, were married in Toronto in January 2007.
They were among four Canadian Armed Forces officers presented with awards at the annual St. James British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church/Toronto Police 13th Division Black History Month (BHM) celebration last Sunday night.
Jno-Baptiste came to Canada at age nine in 1978 and attended Pope John Paul II Catholic Secondary School before moving back to Dominica for a few years. She returned to Canada in 1986 and completed secondary school studies before enrolling at the University of Winnipeg to pursue Business Administration. She served as a reservist in Manitoba for two years prior to transferring to the regular force in 1997.
Promoted to Sergeant in February 2008, Jno-Baptiste is a verification analyst based in Ottawa.
Her husband was a Reserve Force member for 12 years before transferring to the regular service in 1998. He was deployed on three tours of Afghanistan and is currently the Regimental Warrant Officer for the Royal Canadian Regiment.
The other officers recognized were Warrant Officer Aly Hirji who is a member of the Royal Regiment of Canada and reservist, Master Warrant Officer Vishnudat Persaud, who holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees and is a manager with Canada Revenue Agency.
Women of Distinction Awards were presented to Sonia Thomas, who last year became the first female African-Canadian Toronto Police officer to attain the rank of Inspector, CTV news reporter, Carol Charles, entrepreneur, Idera Alliu, Planet Africa Group president, Patricia Bebia-Mawa, Grade Eight student, Yazmeen Jaimeson, Downtown Fine Cars chief operating officer, Helen Ching-Kircher, 29-year-old George Brown College Human Resources graduate, Florence Tewogbade, who was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus a few months after starting high school, and Tamara Gordon, who is living proof that anybody can overcome despite their challenges.
The once aspiring professional basketball player suffered a debilitating spinal cord injury in February 2002 while on a high school downhill skiing trip. She sustained spinal cord and brachial injuries that have left her paralyzed from the waist down and without the use of her dominant left hand.
Despite the obstacles and setbacks, Gordon graduated from high school on time with honours, and from York University in 2009. She was also recognized as a Member of the Dean’s Honour Roll.
In addition, she serves as a peer support volunteer with the Canadian Paraplegic Association, spending many hours with young people who have suffered spinal cord injuries, and spearheads a teen volunteer program and tutoring service, organizes free back-to-school barbecues, Christmas banquets and Canada Day celebrations and presents motivational speeches, always reminding young people to strive to overcome barriers they may face in life.
The annual celebration, started 13 years ago by Toronto Police Const. Ojo Tewogbade with the support of 13 Division, the BME church and community members, recognizes professional and community service achievements.
Awards were also presented to legal practitioner, Sean Henry; All Naturals Cosmetics co-founder, Timothy Tunji-Ajayi; volunteer, Nonna Rogers; humanitarians Doris Timm and Kenneth Payne; Taibu Community Health Centre social worker and therapist, Raquel Hamlet; University of Windsor student, Curtis Spencer; York Regional Police Staff Sgt., Ezra Browne and TPS employees Const. Justina Griffiths, Sgts. Stacy Clarke and Jack Gurr; Staff Sgt. Ron Boyce; parking enforcement officer Susanna Noel and Information Technology Services unit manager, Jerome Walker.
By RON FANFAIR