As a young journalist at a now defunct community newspaper, Royson James assisted with the design and layout of the commemorative book for the inaugural Harry Jerome Awards to celebrate the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games record performances of a new breed of Caribbean-born athletes who have left an indelible mark on the sport in Canada.
Just over three decades later, the media practitioner will be presented with the prestigious award that honours excellence in Canada’s Black community.
The Toronto Star columnist is among 16 recipients announced last week. They will be recognized at the 31st annual gala on April 27 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
“I have been with this event from its inception and have seen how it has evolved over the years,” said James, who migrated from Jamaica in 1969 and is an active member of the Toronto West Seventh-day Adventist Church. “That’s why this award is special to me. It’s also nice to be honoured by your own community.”
This year’s list of distinguished winners includes a Royal Society of Canada (RSC) Fellow, the Canadian head of one of the world’s largest automakers, a Grammy-award winner and a young Bay St. law firm owner.
The owner of Walker Law Professional Corporation since August 2010, Tanya Walker is a member and former corporate governance chair of the Black Business & Professional Association (BBPA), which administers the Harry Jerome Awards.
“Tanya is most deserving of this Harry Jerome Young Entrepreneur Award,” said former Canadian Association of Black Lawyers president, Frank Walwyn. “As a partner in a venerable Bay St. law firm, I understand the business challenges created by representing each client with the highest degree of professionalism while ensuring that the business side of the practice of law remains economically viable.
“It’s most refreshing to see young professionals from our community exhibiting the courage, dedication and entrepreneurial spirit required to open their own law firms in the downtown core and service their clientele from that location. It is incumbent on all of us in the Black and broader community to not only celebrate such an initiative, but show our support by referring work to leaders such as Tanya.”
A member of the Osgoode Hall law School Alumni Association board of directors, Walker obtained her Bachelor of Commerce degree from McMaster University in 2002 and her law degree from Osgoode Law School three years later. While in law school, she was the recipient of the Simms Shuber Prize for the highest academic standing in corporate governance and president of the Black Law Students Association for two years. She also wrote for Osgoode’s newspaper, volunteered at the Centre for Spanish-speaking people in the Jane-Finch community and mentored students in the same neighbourhood.
York University professor, Dr. Carl James, is a member of the RSC Fellows elected by their peers in recognition of their outstanding scholarly, scientific and artistic achievements. It’s the highest honour a scholar can achieve in the arts, humanities and sciences.
“One of the highlights of anyone’s career is to be acknowledged by your community,” said Dr. James, who for the past 16 years has been mentoring teacher educators, teachers and teacher candidates at Sweden’s Uppsala University which honoured him in 2006 with an honorary doctorate for his contribution to social equity and anti-racism education. “In this case, the Harry Jerome Awards is meaningful to me.”
Vincentian-born music technologist, Ray Williams, is a member of the German-based Celemony Software company that won a Grammy Award last year for significant technical contributions in the recording arena. Celemony, which specializes in digital audio pitch correction software, created the ground-breaking Melodyne pitch modification product that offers a wide range of audio tools to creatively and correctively adjust audio facets.
“Most of my professional work is done outside of Canada, so it’s refreshing and thrilling to know people here are paying attention to what I have been doing over the years,” said Williams, who has worked with many leading artists, including Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder, who he introduced to Oscar Peterson a month before the great Canadian pianist died in December 2007.
The owner of the Scarborough-based Music Marketing Inc. that’s a leading distributor of music software and hardware products in North America, Williams is a part-time music lecturer at York University and a little league coach in the Scarborough Baseball Association.
Spoken word artist, Anne-Marie Woods, who is being recognized for her work in the entertainment field, is overwhelmed by the honour.
“I have been living alone since I was in Grade 12, so I have had to work extremely hard for everything I have achieved,” she said. “Earlier on, I had some issues, but the performing arts and my love of Black History saved me.”
Woods, who founded Imani Enterprises in 1996 to help young people explore societal issues through drama, music and movement, also paid tribute to her brother – David Woods, who is a writer and visual artist – for her artistic development.
Born in England where she spent the first six months of her life, Woods lived in Trinidad & Tobago for four years before relocating with her family to Nova Scotia. She has resided in Toronto for the past 13 years.
Other winners are Dr. Roz Healing Place executive director, Roz Roach; cosmetologist and clinical psychotherapist, Dr. Nadine Wong; doctoral student, Emilie Nicolas; Royal Bank of Canada regional president, Jennifer Tory; Toronto District School Board vice-principal and choreographer, Andrea Douglas; Barbados Ball Canada Aid assistant treasurer, Grant Morris; General Motors Canada president and managing director, Kevin Williams; businessman, Vincent Lai; Toronto FC goalkeeper, Quillan Roberts; University of Alberta student, Monique Jarrett and Kemeel Azan, who 51 years ago started Azan’s Beauty Salon which is an established landmark in the community and one of the very few Black businesses to have withstood the test of time.
The awards honour the memory of Jerome, who set seven world track records and helped create Canada’s sports ministry. He was slated to be the keynote speaker at a celebration to mark the record performances of Canada’s athletes at the 1982 Commonwealth Games when he succumbed to a brain aneurysm a fortnight before the organizers contacted him. They decided to honour the athletes with awards named after Jerome.
Since its inception in 1983, a total of 355 Harry Jerome Awards (this year included) have been presented to individuals and one organization – Eva’s Initiatives in 2005 – for excellence in myriad fields.