While legacy informs and inspires, it should never be used as an excuse to relax and reflect on past experiences, award-winning CNN contributor and multifaceted journalist, Roland Martin, said in his keynote address at the 30th annual Harry Jerome Awards last Saturday night.
The theme of this year’s celebration was Legacy Drives Impact.
“Legacy informs who we are and what we have done, but present day work drives impact,” said Martin, who was named by Ebony magazine in 2008, 2009 and 2010 as one of the 150 Most Influential African-Americans. “The mistake we make is when we assume that by having a legacy, that is enough. It is simply not true and the work still has to be done. When we talk about legacy, we get caught up in somebody else’s legacy and never think for a second that we have the opportunity ourselves to leave an impact in this world.
“Too many of us are basking in somebody else’s hard work and we love to celebrate what they did, but it never occurs to us that we have to stand up ourselves and say, ‘I also needto be a difference-maker just where I am’.”
Martin said that while many in the sold-out awards audience may yearn to be a Harry Jerome Award winner and walk the red carpet, they should consider that there are countless people who are working to effect change in communities in Canada and across the world who will never be recognized in a public forum.
“After the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial was unveiled on Washington’s National Mall, a lot of folk were saying how important it was to build the $120 million monument because it stands for the rest of eternity as a dedication to what King did,” Martin, who was accompanied by his wife, Rev. Jacqui Hood Martin, said. “When I was on television, I said that simply was not true. What that monument represents is the nameless and faceless people we never heard about who marched, were beaten and killed to ensure that we have equal rights in the United States.
“The night President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, I received a lot of e-mails and text messages asking why I shed tears on the set of CNN. I said it was not for him or the First Family. I was thinking at that very moment of the Black soldiers who came back from World War II and were lynched wearing their uniforms. I was thinking about the Black folks with PhDs and the only work they could find was as janitors in buildings and I was thinking about all those kids who sat in one-room school buildings who had no chalk and barely any text books, but still learned and managed to go to college.
“When we talk about legacy, we should be focussed on the people who are fighting for change and social justice every single day of their lives…Too many of us are waiting for somebody to give us a shot when what we really should be about is saying how can we work as a collective to be able to work with each other, build up one another, support one another and create the kinds of alliances that will be able to raise folks from the bottom up and not be so focused on the top down.”
A life member of the National Association of Black Journalists and graduate of Texas A & M University and Louisiana Baptist University, Martin noted that change-agents and difference-makers are defined by their tenacity to hold their ground despite the consequences.
“While I am not an executive at CNN and I don’t have a show, I will open my mouth and talk about the lack of Black producers, on-air personnel and writers,” said Martin who is also a commentator for TV One cable network. “I make it perfectly clear that I have been fired five times and I am not scared to get fired again…If you want to create a real legacy, you have to be willing to put something on the line and challenge the status quo. Too many people want to see things change, but they are unwilling to make that commitment. You also have to have compassion for someone else and not just be concerned about what they can do for you.”
The Harry Jerome Awards emerged from an event held three decades ago to celebratethe 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games record performances of a new breed of Caribbean-born athletes who left an indelible mark on the sport in Canada. Mark McKoy and Milt Ottey set Games records in the 110-metre hurdles and high jump events respectively; sprinter Angella Taylor-Issajenko won two gold, silver and bronze medals and Ben Johnson clinched silver in the 100-metre final and teamed up with Desai Williams, McKoy and Tony Sharpe to secure another silver medal in the 4 x 100-metre relay.
Jerome, who set seven world track records and helped to create Canada’s sports ministry, was slated to be the keynote speaker at the celebration. Sadly, he succumbed to a brain aneurysm a fortnight before the organizers contacted him and the decision was made to honour the athletes with awards named after him.
“When I think about Harry Jerome, I reflect on someone who was more than an athlete,” said retired Canadian Football League quarterback, Damon Allen, who was the recipient of the Harry Jerome Trailblazer Award. “He was a professional on and off the field and that’s really what means the most to me.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, representatives from the federal, provincial and municipal governments and Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, David Onley, congratulated the 19 winners and reflected on Jerome’s lasting impact.
“Although he was celebrated as a sports hero, Harry Jerome never forgot that he lived in a society where the colour of a person’s skin was frequently an obstacle to advancement,” said Onley. “He dedicated his tragically short life to proving that the urge to excel transcends society’s artificial barriers. As such, he’s a role model for all Canadians, but his legacy resounds in the Black community, especially among young people, and his heirs are here tonight in the achievements of the nominees for the awards created in his name.”
Jerome, who equaled Percy Williams’ national high school record with a 10-second run in the 100-yard dash in March 1959, won gold medals in the 100-metre sprint at the 1966 Commonwealth and 1967 Pan American Games, set seven world records, defended his national 100-metre sprint title in his last official race in August 1969 and established the parameters for the establishment of the federal Ministry of Sport before his death at age 42 in December 1982.
The Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) administers the Harry Jerome Awards.
“Our award winners tonight exemplify that excellence can be achieved once you put your mind to it,” said the organization’s president, Pauline Christian.
In addition to Allen, other award winners were Oshawa Power basketball player, Tut Ruach; Alliance of Jamaican Alumni Associations co-founder, Paul Barnett; civil and structural engineering consultant, Dr. David Tay; musician/engineer, Andrew Forde; retired York Regional Police Service chief, Armand LaBarge; Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Sgt. Craig Smith who is also a historian and author; Windsor Regional Hospital director of neonatal service, Dr. Godfrey Bacheyie; senior financial analyst, Julius Tapper; retired banker and former BBPA president Hugh Graham; G98.7 founding president and chief executive officer, Fitzroy Gordon, dentist and philanthropist, Anthony Sterling; Duffin Creek Water Pollution plant superintendent, Cordell Samuels; vocalist Jay Douglas and singer/songwriter/motivational speaker, Errol Lee.
Senator Don Meredith, Superior Court of Justice Judge Michael Tulloch and Irving Andre, one of two provincial judges with a doctorate in Law, were also recognized with awards.
Eugenia Duodu, who is currently pursuing a PhD in Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Toronto, was the sole female recipient. She was honoured for academic excellence.
Since its inception in 1983, 339 Harry Jerome awards have been presented to individuals, four couples and one organization – Eva’s Initiatives in 2005 – for excellence in various fields.
By RON FANFAIR