Tamar Huggins’ curiosity with technology started in Grade 10.
“Me and my friend would go into the library, log on to BlackPlanet.com and code,” she said. “That was my first real hands-on experience.”
BlackPlanet.com is an African-American social networking forum for discussion on political and social issues among other things and coding is a list of instructions given to a computer in order for it to perform desired actions.
Huggins is among 15 outstanding Canadians who will be recognized with Harry Jerome Awards on April 25 at the Metro Convention Centre.
“This is a huge honour because it’s the first time that I will be receiving an award for my work with technology,” she said.
After graduating from Cardinal Leger Secondary School in Brampton, Huggins pursued advertising studies at Centennial College and communications & public relations courses at Humber College before becoming a media planner for H & M, Nike Canada and Cadbury Adams.
“I became pregnant and it was during that time that I decided I wanted to follow my dream to be a full-time entrepreneur,” she said.
In 2009, Huggins launched a public relations firm.
“I wanted to work with start-ups and small businesses,” she said. “But what I found was that I was being asked questions pertaining to business development. Even though I was focused on marketing, clients were asking me how to get their businesses off the ground, how do they hire the right people and how do they stand out against the competition. I was being pulled in a different direction to refocus.
“That’s how I started to work with entrepreneurs. But as I went along, there was another urge. I wanted to work in technology as that was part of my background as a media planner. I was doing a lot of online media planning when I was exposed to technology.”
Three years ago, Huggins created Driven Accelerator Group, which is a digital start-up accelerator to help women and minority tech founders bring their innovations to market. She also contributes to the Huffington Post and is completing her first book, Redefining Rebellion.
Huggins’ clients included CP24 reporter/anchor, Nneka Elliott, who graduated from Ryerson University’s radio and television program. She was a weather and traffic specialist with CP24 for nearly three years before resigning in 2011 to start her own company – The Media Huddle – that helps media practitioners develop their skills and hone their brand while connecting with other media professionals.
She co-hosted last year’s Harry Jerome Awards with Michael “Pinball” Clemons.
“I was just in awe of the quality and accomplishments of the awardees,” said Elliott, whose father, Walter Elliott, is renowned for his wire-bending and mas-making skills for carnival bands. “To be joining the distinguished group of people who have been honoured over the years is exciting.”
For the Elliston family, excellence is more than just a buzzword. It’s a never-ending journey of commitment to being the very best.
Kareena Elliston has joined younger sister, Dr. Kristal Elliston-Prather, who is a paediatric resident at John Hopkins University; their mother, Icilda Ellison, who is a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) principal and her father’s aunt, Dr. Inez Elliston, as Harry Jerome Award honourees.
“One of the greatest honours for me is to be recognized for something that I have been passionate about which is youth advocacy,” said Elliston.
With her mother’s guidance, she and a few of her peers started the Leaders of Tomorrow one-day forum that exposes Grade 11 and 12 students from some of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods to business and career opportunities. It also seeks to encourage and inspire students to strive for academic excellence and economic independence. Students participate in workshops that focus on interview skills, business etiquette, professional conduct and best practices, money management, cutting edge advancements in technology and strategic life mapping.
Just over a decade ago, TD Canada Trust made a significant investment in Kareena Elliston. The high school honours student and active youth leader was a recipient of the financial institution’s $50,000 national scholarship and a guaranteed offer of summer employment with the bank for up to four years.
The reward on that investment has been huge.
Armed with an undergraduate degree and an MBA, Elliston manages the financial institution’s North America contact centres customer problem resolution strategy.
This is a big year for the Queen’s University Languages & International Studies program graduate.
She will tie the nuptial knot in the summer with childhood friend and University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine summer mentorship program graduate, Dr. Jason Holmes, who is doing his residency at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
Elliston is one of two TD senior administrators who will be recognized with awards.
Scott Mullin, TD Bank Financial Group’s vice-president with responsibility for government and community relations, is being honoured with an award for diversity.
“This is really a team award,” said the former Department of Foreign Affairs & International trade employee. “We realize that it makes good business sense to have the best talent and demonstrate that we are committed to diversity in all facets.”
When Royal Bank of Canada insurance advice centre head Mark Beckles accepts his award for professional excellence, his late uncle Tony Bristol – a former TDSB educator – will be at the forefront of his mind.
“He taught me to be a curious young man and pursue a path of lifelong learning,” said Beckles, a former Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (Canada) chief executive officer and the Conservative Party of Ontario candidate in Brampton West in the 2007 elections. “He was the one who set me on a path to push myself and really make a difference.”
University of Toronto management program student, Jelani Smith, will receive his award four days after his 21st birthday.
It’s a special gift for the Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute graduate who was diagnosed at age three with profound hearing loss. Outfitted with a surgically implanted device to help provide hearing, Smith – with the help of speech pathologists and hard work – overcame a “D” average to become an Ontario scholar and leader.
“I was not going to let my disability prevent me from achieving,” said Smith, who is also a senior customer service representative with BMO Financial Group.
Gerry McNeilly, Ontario’s first independent police review director, is delighted to be joining the revered list of Harry Jerome awardees.
“It’s recognition that hard work does not go unnoticed and I am humbled by the honour,” said the former Legal Aid Manitoba executive director.
His contract was renewed in 2014 for five years.
“I will be looking at bigger issues affecting a wider cross section of people,” he said. “One of the areas I will be paying more attention to is systemic reviews and inquiries.”
York Regional Police Service deputy chief, Andre Crawford, is also proud to be part of the esteemed group of award recipients.
“This is one of the most prestigious awards in Canada,” he said. “This means the world to me. The name Harry Jerome is synonymous with pushing yourself beyond the limit and achieving excellence.”
Other winners are Archie Alleyne, who will be honoured for lifetime achievement; Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario chief of staff and chief medical officer, Dr. Carrol Pitters; Dalhousie University professor, Dr. Wanda Thomas-Bernard; National Basketball Association point guard Cory Joseph, who plays with the San Antonio Spurs; University of Ottawa civil law student, Edmond Nankam Dzokou; pannist Wendy Jones and Toronto Raptors general manager, Masai Ujiri.