Stabbed at age 13 while trying to defend a friend at Centre Island’s Caribana celebrations, independent recording artist Jully Black faced some tough decisions as she recovered from the painful wound.
Turning a deaf ear to her mother’s plea to choose her company wisely, the time of reckoning was at hand for the youngest of nine children born and raised in the Jane & Finch community.
“The choice was between finding a purpose for my life and staying with the same friends,” she told the audience at the annual Young, Black & Gifted (YBG) Awards last Saturday night at Weston Collegiate Institute.
Black, who started singing in church at age six, was discovered by Warner/Chappel Publishing at age 21 and two years ago was named one of the 25 Greatest Canadian Singers by CBC.
“I realized I had a responsibility to use my voice in a whole new way,” she said while encouraging the youth in attendance to find their passion and capitalize on it.
The award-winning rhythm & blues singer also emerged as a television show host and an actress.
She appeared in “Da Kink in My Hair”, which won four National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People’s (NAACP) Theatre awards and was nominated for four Toronto Theatre Dora awards.
Hip hop poet and broadcaster, Jemeni, recommended Black for the role.
“She called and asked if I could do it because she couldn’t,” said the 2008 Juno Award winner, who released her first album 10 years ago and was the opening act for American rappers Jay-Z and 50 Cent. “It was the first time I had done an audition and was involved in acting. It was quite a learning experience in that I learned that I was doing the ancestors’ work. I was standing on the shoulders of giants and I just had to hold the baton tightly and take it closer to the finish line. That’s what I brought away from my association with that production.”
This year’s YBG winners were poet/spoken word artist/author, Dwayne Morgan; girls mentor, Aisha Addo and hip hop performer and educator, Keisha Fanfair (Keysha Freshh).
Morgan founded Up from the Roots Entertainment Inc. in 1995 while still at Norman Bethune Collegiate Institute, to promote the positive artistic contributions of African-Canadian and urban influenced artists and, three years later, started the “When Brothers Speak” spoken word series. In 1990, he launched a similar project for women.
Inducted into the Scarborough Walk of Fame two years ago, Morgan thanked his parents for laying a firm foundation for him to succeed.
“They came to this country from Jamaica with absolutely nothing,” said Morgan in his acceptance speech. “They came and they sacrificed so that I would have an opportunity. I am blessed and when I wake up every morning, I ask myself what I could do to be of service to others.”
Ridiculed in high school, Addo launched the Power to Girls Foundation to help youths deal with the challenges she faced when she migrated from Ghana in 2005.