For the past 24 years, Courtney Betty has been rewarding outstanding citizens and organizations that have played key roles in promoting unity, diversity and equality with Bob Marley Day Awards.
At last Friday’s celebration to mark the late reggae artist’s 70th birthday, Betty was on the receiving end of a Bob Marley Day Lifetime Award.
He stepped down this year as the event’s principal organizer because of business commitments.
“Knowing when to pass the baton on is something that I am cognizant of and that’s the message I want to leave,” said Betty, who has a first degree from the University of Prince Edward Island and a law degree from York University’s Osgoode Hall. “Success, for me, is measured when you pull people up along the way and not by what an individual has achieved.
“I have done many of the things I wanted to do which is great, but happiness for me is looking around and seeing others who have achieved. Unfortunately, we as a community have forgotten about the legacy piece and how do we enhance, empower and enlighten others around us rather than focussing on ourselves.”
Betty said the Bob Marley Day Awards were launched to build relationships between the Black community and the police.
“I was a crown attorney at the time and I was caught in a divide,” he said. “Here I was representing the Department of Justice on the one hand and then we had a lot of issues with the police and our community. I saw this event as a bridge to link the police and the community.”
When the event started in 1991, Keith Forde and Karl Davis – Staff Inspectors at the time who are now retired – were the highest-ranking Black Toronto police officers.
The Toronto Police Service now has two Black deputies – Peter Sloly and Mark Saunders – and a female Black Inspector, Sonia Thomas.
“The Service has become much more reflective of the community it serves and relations between the police and the community are not what they were 24 years ago,” said Betty, a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Bar of Jamaica.
A leading advocate for the development of a legal framework for supplier diversity, Betty successfully assisted the Jamaican government in deregulating the telecommunications sector. He also helped AT&T negotiate a cellular license in Jamaica.
Betty is the president and chief executive officer of Timeless Herb Care, a Jamaican medical marijuana company that recently recruited former Ontario premier, Ernie Eves, to be its chairman.
Other Bob Marley Day Lifetime Award recipients were the Jamaican Canadian Association, Mayor John Tory, Ontario’s Minister of Tourism, Culture & Sport Michael Coteau; councillor Michael Thompson and Sloly, who was the recipient of a Bob Marley Day Award in 2004.
At the time, he was a Staff Inspector.
“Over those 11 years, I have continued trying to improve the Toronto Police Service to be better at the service part of things, including the safety, but very particularly the service – serving a diverse city in a way that’s respectful and a way that captures the spirit of our city’s theme which is ‘Diversity is our Strength’,” said Jamaican-born Sloly.
“In that time, I have tried to build the fabric of the city by sitting on boards like Covenant House, the YMCA and Civic Action because it’s more than just policing. It’s about building social cohesion and capacity in small neighbourhoods and building resilience in our young people.”
Bob Marley Day Awards were presented to Dr. Laura Mae Lindo and Dr. Afua Cooper, who was unable to attend the event and Epilepsy Toronto director of public education and outreach, Rachael-Lea Rickards.
An award-winning author, poet and historian, Dr. Cooper is the chair of the James Johnston Endowed Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. Her interest in slavery, abolition and women studies led to her doctoral dissertation on anti-slavery crusader Henry Bibb and the publishing of The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal, a national bestseller that was nominated for the 2006 Governor General’s Award.
A singer/songwriter and the creative consultant of Dr. Lindo Productions, which was established in June 2011, Lindo is Wilfrid Laurier University’s diversity and equity director. Prior to assuming the new position last August, she was a senior research associate at Ryerson University for six months. In that role, she brought together varied approaches to equity, education, training and mentorship through her involvement in myriad projects and partnerships with stakeholders from diverse sectors.
Bob Marley Day Future Leader Awards were presented to 20-year-old Ryerson University student, Alyssa Sun, who aspires to be a biologist; Grade 11 student, Akeem Clarke, whose goal is to become a professional basketball player; Weston Collegiate Grade Nine student, Amanda Singh, who intends to become a teacher and aspiring paediatrician, Shaquillia Charles, who attends Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School.
Born on February 6, 1945, Marley succumbed to cancer in a Miami hospital in 1981.