Decades After It Began, Annual Harry Jerome Awards Still Motivating Youth to Achieve Excellence

Photo by: Jelani Grant - Toronto Caribbean Newspaper


Two escalators down and to the left of the Metro Convention Centre’s south building, a silent auction table can be seen covered with art, instruments and gadgets. The ballroom was filled with sharp suits and vibrant dresses for the 34th Harry Jerome Awards to acknowledge various demonstrations of excellence in the African Canadian community.

Hosted seamlessly, by CTV’s Andria Case and motivational speaker Al St. Louis, the show began after singer Latoya Mullings performed the Canadian National Anthem and Black National Anthem, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’. Mullings said it was her first time attending the awards, but the excitement she had was overwhelming, the nerves she expressed feeling before she went on.

Following her astounding performance, were dance pieces by a solo WiMotion dancer and four DLM Dance And Entertainment Company members. WiMotion’s traditional African dance moves complimented with DLM’s hip-hop choreography illustrated the Afrocentric theme for the night by displaying two of the black communities most popular dance genres.

Food was served while Case and St. Louis announced each sponsor who would then present the award winner. Sponsored by RBC Royal Bank, Francis Atta, was the first to win his award for providing selfless work in community service. Janelle Hinds’ leadership award was announced next.

Mayor John Tory was in attendance for another year. He expressed how much he enjoys the festivities of the evening and said the Harry Jerome Award is a great honor that should motivate the community. “Make sure every single young person in the community knows they can dream big dreams and in the case of kids in the black community, can dream of being a winner of the Harry Jerome Award.” Mayor Tory said the awards should be broadcasted on television to demonstrate to the masses that large portions of the black community are hardworking achievers, which should be celebrated rather than the constant depiction of black youth in a negative light.

Following Mayor Tory’s speech, Simone Denny’s first performance set a vibrant, energetic tone for the remainder of the night. Denny is a five time Juno Award Winning voice of Canadian pop-dance. She said she had attended years ago but was not sure what to expect of the night because BBPA is always trying something new. Dr. David Bell was the next to receive his President’s award sponsored by BMO.

Judge Juanita Westmoreland-Traore received this year’s Lifetime Achievement award but said there were completely new faces at the show this year and it’s a good thing to see the popularity of the award show is continuing to grow. “I’m looking around and I don’t recognize anyone,” she said.

Simone Atungo received her Health Sciences award, sponsored by Sterling Dental before DLM performed once again to initiate the intermission. The auction held during the interval spurred laughter in the crowd that remained in their seats as the fast-paced auctioneer made jokes about which side had the most spending money. Other guests flocked to have their picture taken at the media wall.

Chief Mark Saunders’ Trailblazer award was received first after the intermission. “The best thing for youth to progress is to fall on their face”. Saunders said he felt that in order to achieve true success and possibly win a Harry Jerome Award, youth must experience failure to try again. “Also, don’t look for perfection. Don’t plan every year out with a goal just learn something new each day.”

Ryerson University Diversity Institute founder Dr. Wendy Cukier received the Diversity award this year. Business award-winner Nadine Spencer told the crowd, “Embrace new ideas and new challenges”. She pushed viewers to try harder following any failure.

One of the more popular award-winners, due to her daily meteorology reports on CP24, was Patricia Jaggernauth. She seemed to be the star of the night as the crowd erupted when she walked up to receive her Media award in a beautiful black gown.

Right after Jaggernauth exited the stage, Toronto-based singer-songwriter Melanie Durrant was escorted to the stage steps by her date. The three time Juno winner shook the crowd with her smooth singing voice.

Robert Small brought along his kids to watch their father take home the Arts award for his yearly LEGACY posters that provided education on the accomplishments of historic people.  Artist-performer, David Woods won the Entertainment award sponsored by G98.7FM.

After Jamal Murray came on stage for his athletic award, host Case had to comment on the statement he was making with his footwear. “Nice shoes,” was all she could say as she pointed to his all-black Jordan 11s. Everyone was finding their own fun throughout the night.

Samantha Clarke, Photography founder, said she is honored to be among so many influential names on the award list but she only meant to pursue the things she loves to do. Along with running her own photography business, where she takes a focus on ‘black love’ photos, the Young Entrepreneur award winner is also a University of Ottawa graduate in the Common Law program.

Academics award winner Happy Inibhunu said, “You have to keep moving on…not just reaching the minimum but reaching beyond”, in her pre-recorded speech.

Sponsored by the Nursing Homemakers Inc. Orin Isaacs was the last to receive his award for Professional Excellence. The night concluded with an energetic joined performance from DLC and Ms. Denny. Her inspiring lyrics about achieving one’s dreams was an appropriate closer, reaffirming that the ceremony continues to be an honour to individuals who have accomplished tremendous achievements in their respective fields.


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