Down and almost out six months ago, Princess Boucher’s royal smile has returned as she slowly makes her way back into the community.
Last October, the community worker and event planner was rushed by ambulance to hospital, where emergency surgery was performed to remove a cancerous right kidney tumour. Doctors later revealed she would have died if the operation was delayed.
Walking with the aid of a cane sometimes because of pain from bruised ribs in the aftermath of the kidney removal, Boucher is in high spirits and confident she will make a full recovery.
In just her third public appearance since the surgery, she and 10 other women were last week recognized as “Women of Honour” by the Black Business & Professional Association (BBPA), which administers the Harry Jerome Awards. Since 2011, outstanding contributors in the Black community are recognized with “Men & Women of Honour” awards as a precursor to the annual Harry Jerome awards ceremony.
“I feel honoured and blessed to be considered for this recognition,” said Boucher, a single mother of seven children who migrated from Manchester in Jamaica at age 10.
Growing up in Toronto, she graduated from Bathurst Heights Secondary School, DeVry Institute and the Toronto School of Business and was a municipal candidate for Brampton City Council in 2010 and York West last year. She garnered almost 500 votes, even though sickness denied her the opportunity to campaign.
“I didn’t take my name off the ballot,” she said. “I just allowed it to ride.”
Four years ago, Boucher launched an annual International Women Achievers Awards gala that honours female achievers and showcases their accomplishments. She was in the process of organizing this year’s event when she became ill.
“I had pain in my back and I was feeling tired and fatigued,” said Boucher, who promised the gala awards will return next year. “I figured it had to do with perhaps menopause and I really didn’t take the warning signs seriously that something might be wrong. It was not until I developed an excruciating stomach pain that had me doubled over on my living room floor that I knew I had to get urgent medical assistance.”
Like Boucher, Nikki Clarke migrated from Jamaica at a young age and has excelled in her adopted homeland.
An entrepreneur, author, motivational speaker, designer and singer/songwriter, the multifaceted Clarke started an online television show in October 2012.
“It’s a show for everyone from all walks of life that allows female guests to talk about their achievements and the challenges they encountered before they got to the mountaintop,” she said. “I deliberately do it in front of an audience so the guests can feed off the energy of audience members who are educated and inspired. The show also serves as a networking forum where connections are made and relationships established. This show is truly a community hub.”
Clarke spent her first three years in Jamaica before arriving in Montreal with her parents in 1970. She came to Toronto in 1991.
“It was the height of the separatist movement and my ex-husband had difficulties in finding a job, so we decided to move to Toronto for a new start,” she said.
When asked who her early role model was, she pointed to her father, Reverend Peter Clarke, who returned with his wife to Jamaica in 1994.
“He taught me the value of hard work, schooled me about never letting go of an opportunity and insisted I should be outgoing and approachable,” said Clarke, whose TV show can be viewed at www.nikkiclarkenetwork.com. “All of those things have served me well in life.”
Diane Clemons could barely contain her excitement to be in the company of esteemed women.
“It’s always nice to be in the same room with Black women because we have a tendency to push each other down,” she said. “Tonight, we are lifting each other up and that’s such a beautiful thing.”
While her husband, Michael “Pinball” Clemons, gets all the publicity for his professional and community work, she’s quietly in the background playing just as important a part to ensure that whatever charitable projects the Clemons’ family are involved in are successful.
On their first visit to Africa in 2007, they travelled to Uganda to visit Christian Blind Mission projects, where some of the world’s most forgotten children with disabilities reside.
“While we were there, our hearts melted,” said Clemons. “When we came back home, we said we had to do something to make a difference.”
The Michael “Pinball” Clemons Foundation was launched with the main aim of raising funds to build schools in Africa.
“Michael wanted to do something big, so we thought building 31 schools would be huge,” she said. “Then my clever husband looked at me and said we need to go real big. He provided a figure of 131. I thought he was out of his mind. The target was to erect 131 schools in five years, but we reached that in half the time. We have doubled the amount of schools we set out to build in five years and we are heading to Haiti next month to build schools. It’s the first time I am going there and I am so excited.”
An accomplished singer who organized the first ever “Grey Cup Gospel Explosion” in 2007 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and whose debut album – Fly Away – was released a year later, Clemons is working on a Christmas CD that will be released at a concert at the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio on December 5.
Flying under the radar without getting due recognition, Claudette McGowan is humbled by the honour.
As vice-president of the Bank of Montreal’s Digital Workspace Services since May 2012, she manages technology for 47,000 employees.
“When I receive an honour such as this, I think about my six-year-old daughter (Savannah) who is adventurous and has a love for life,” said McGowan, who graduated from L’Amoreaux Collegiate Institute and has an undergraduate degree from the University of Windsor and an MBA from Athabasca University. “You don’t want to lose that. It’s something I think about as I go through life and overcome obstacles while enjoying some success. I think about everything I am doing and what it means to her and my 11-year-old son Marcus and how it could impact them in a powerful way.”
Seven years ago, McGowan launched Excelovate, which is a professional coaching firm registered with the International Coach Federation. The Aurora-based company is also a full-service Canadian publishing house that assists organizations with specialized advisory services in publishing, mobile application development, coaching and creates productivity and gaming apps for a variety of platforms, including Apple iOs, Android, Windows and Blackberry.
Excelovate hosted its inaugural Black Arts & Innovation Expo last month.
For Marlene McKintosh, honours and recognition aren’t personal.
“It’s really about the young people that I have worked with over the years and all the women that inspired me along the way to take a stand and assume leadership,” said McKintosh, who is the executive director of Urban Arts, a non-profit community arts council dedicated to enhancing neighbourhoods by engaging young people in community development through the arts.
Migrating from Jamaica 35 years ago, McKintosh completed non-profit management & leadership program studies at the Schulich School of Business, which has provided her with an edge on cultural and business management.
Other “Women of Honour” awardees were community workers, Gwyn Chapman and Josephine Grey; event planner, Joan Pierre; Barbados Overseas Community Canada Inc. and National Council of Barbadian Associations in Canada secretary, Jessica Carrington; Dominica’s first trade & investment commissioner in Canada, Frances del Sol and former Progressive Jamaicans Association (PROJAM) chair, Dorothy Vernon-Brown, who was diagnosed with leukemia last year and was unable to attend the event.