Anton Skerritt was bowled over the first time he attended the Harry Jerome Awards in 1988. He had to be there because he was a recipient for athletic excellence. But, more than that, the Milliken Mills High School business department head was dumbfounded by the brilliance that surrounded him.
“I was in awe of the whole spectacle,” he recalled. “To be in the presence of leaders and achievers in the country and in the community is something that I will never forget. It was quite uplifting and I felt like if I had arrived.”
Over the past few years, Skerritt has helped arrange for Markham high school students to attend the Harry Jerome Awards. The BBPA, which administer the awards, and private donors sponsor the students.
“Having these kids come out and meet successful Black Canadians is important,” said Skerritt who, with Milliken Mills modern languages department head Elizabeth Pereira, accompanied eight students to last Saturday night’s awards event. “Some of these young people don’t even know anything about Harry Jerome or the awards and a few are skeptical about coming out.
“But once they attend the event, everything changes. There was one particular kid we took that didn’t want to leave when his parents came to pick him up around 10 p.m. He was so happy to be there.”
Skerritt, who graduated from Howard University and has been at Milliken Mills since 1992, introduced the students to several leaders, including Toronto Police deputy chief Peter Sloly who was his classmate at Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute.
It was while at Howard on a soccer scholarship that Skerritt was encouraged to pursue a track and field career. He represented Trinidad & Tobago in the 400-metre event at the 1984 Summer Olympics and Canada four years later in Seoul, South Korea.
Mayoral candidate John Tory took time off from his busy schedule to be with the students he sponsored.
Tory has sponsored a table for young people at the Harry Jerome Awards for almost 10 years.
“I have done it because I believe the Harry Jerome Awards may be one of the most inspirational evenings in our city each year,” said Tory who spent nearly six hours at the awards ceremony. “Any student who saw the stories of the award winners would go home inspired, believing anything is possible and believing in themselves. It’s a small part of giving young people the self-confidence they need to be great and having everyone in our community feel genuinely included.
“I have said many times I wish the whole thing was televised so all people, regardless of their background, could see the Harry Jerome Award winners and hear their stories.”
Dr. Leroy Clarke selected four Leo J. Johnson Catholic Secondary School students to attend the awards. Their selection was based on academic excellence, school and community involvement and leadership potential.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to see role models in the community that represent people who are making a difference,” he said.
Grade 11 student Steffan Ogado appreciated the opportunity.
“This is a great honour,” he said. “This gives me a chance to meet successful people and see what it takes to become a high achiever.”
Ogado aspires to become a neurosurgeon.