Award-winning actress and film festival founder Tonya Lee Williams will be recognized for her artistic accomplishments with a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award at the Black Theatre Workshop’s (BTW) annual Vision Celebration gala on January 28 in Montreal.
Canada’s longest standing professional Black theatre which emerged from the Trinidad & Tobago Drama Group, BTW presents an annual gala to celebrate King’s contributions to non-violent change.
The organization celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2010 by producing A Raisin In the Sun.
“I was honoured when I learned I would be the recipient of this prestigious award,” Williams told Share from her California home. “I am now learning about the wonderful work that the organization is doing in Montreal and I am looking forward to meeting with them and learning more about their group.”
Williams said that being honoured with an award in King’s name is special.
“It’s always nice to be recognized for the body of work I have done, but the weight of the name of this award brings with it a real sense of responsibility,” said the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People’s (NAACP) award winner and two-time Emmy nominee.
“King is the highest mark of excellence for most of us when we think of diversity and the struggle of Black people over the last 200 years in particular. The fact that we walk with such grace and in the light of God reminds me that I am part of this legacy. It’s because of the sacrifices that King made that I and many others have been able to have a good life and flourish.”
BTW said Williams deserves the award, having made significant contributions to the development of Black performing arts.
“Tonya Lee has been instrumental in reflecting positive images from the Black communities and reaching millions of viewers through her roles,” the arts organization said.
Crowned Miss Black Ontario in 1977 when she was 18, Williams landed small TV roles and worked in Canadian theatre for a few years before heading to Los Angeles 25 years ago in search of a major acting role. She is best known for her role as Dr. Olivia Hastings on the daytime drama, “The Young and the Restless”, with which she has been associated since 1990.
In 2001, Williams founded the ReelWorld Film Festival to showcase Canada’s diversity and provide a platform for visible minorities to display their artistic talent and, in the process, motivate audiences through film.