Legacy Established – The 36th Annual BBPA Harry Jerome Awards; Understanding the Making of a Legend

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BY: SIMONE JENNIFER SMITH 

“Whatever you are looking for in life is looking for you too. Saul Williams

The glitter! The dresses! Men in three-piece suits! It was a lot to take in, it being my first time being at the Harry Jerome Awards celebration. It is something else to be a part of something big; it is even better when one is given the opportunity to witness an event, and to objectively observe the people, the sounds, and the sights. A person cannot deny the excitement that was felt upon entering the main doors. A sense of pride was shared by each and every guest that was a part of the night. You could see this in the way people were carrying themselves; the women were adorned, and the men were preened. Everyone there to honor a lifelong legacy; a legacy that unfortunately has not been passed on to the younger generation with the reverence that is must be. The Toronto Caribbean Newspaper would like to take this time to reintroduce a legend; the great Harry Winston Jerome.

The BBPA and its Connection to Harry Jerome

The Black Business and Professional Association is a non-profit charitable organization established on October 21, 1982. Black businesses were still addressing equity and opportunity issues when it came to business, employment, education, and economic development; so, Al Hamilton, Denham Jolly and Bromley Armstrong decided that it was time to take action and create something that would highlight the greatness of the black business community. Not too long after that original meeting, the steering committee decided to honor six African-Canadian athletes: Angela Taylor-Issanjenko, Ben Johnson, Mark McKoy, Milt Ottey, Tony Sharpe and Desai Williams. It is important that we recognize the genesis of the awards; all aspects of it will paint a clearer picture of the importance.

Harry Jerome’s name became forever fused with the BBPA because he was going to be invited as a speaker at their first awards dinner.  Unfortunately for all Canadian’s, and the world, we lost Harry Winston Jerome in December of 1982. It was decided that the best way to honor the amazing man that Harry Jerome was, was to name the award after him. It was Hamlin Grange, a media giant, who was the man responsible for naming the award, “The Harry Jerome Award.” It was only through extensive research and watching a documentary on Harry Jerome called, “Mighty Jerome,” was I able to truly see why this award is an award of excellence.

“If you feel something, you should do it.” Saul Williams

The first thing that was mentioned about Harry Jerome was that he had always been determined. He was that athlete who was relentless in his pursuits and did not take no for an answer. His struggles began early, as he was one of two black students at his high school and having mixed race parents did not make it easy. Harry adapted by staying focused on his goal of being the best sprinter in the world, and he proved himself over and over again in spectacular fashion. You see, sometimes people only see the awards and achievements on a grand scale; what people never account for are the struggles that come with that achievement, and Harry had them all.

The media can be cruel, and even though he achieved great things, people still found a way to degrade his efforts, insult his achievements and pass judgment on his actions. The documentary shows how quickly the media here in Canada were ready to jump on the Harry Jerome bandwagon, and then piss on his name if he did not win a medal or run a race the way that was expected. This must have been a lot of pressure for a young man. He began his career early, and he had to deal with this while he was a teenager, going into his 20’s. Somehow, Harry was able to handle most of the criticism with poise and dignity, all the while staying focused on his goal; being the best sprinter in the world.

Harry not only challenged his critics, he crushed them over and over again by achieving the unachievable. He won gold medals at the 1966 Commonwealth Games, and the 1967 Pan American Games. He broke the Canadian record in the 220-yard dash when he was just 18 years old, and set world records in the 60-yard indoor dash, the 100 – yard dash, the 100 m sprint, and the 440-yard relay. The most amazing part of his story is the part that shows what happens when life does not go the way that someone intends it to.

“I feel that people need to be jolted out of their comfort zones.” Saul Williams

At the height of his success, Harry received a serious blow that many did not believe he would ever come back from. Jerome tore his rectus femoris muscle, a muscle pull that required immediate surgery. After being written off, and told he would not run again, he forged a spirit of persistence that made him believe that he would run again. Dr. Hector Gillespie, a Vancouver surgeon is responsible for fueling Harry’s faith, by employing a new technique to reattach his quadriceps muscle to his knee. With a strong support team behind him, Harry came back and became the legend we all know and honor now. His greatest achievement after the injury was his gold medal win at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Jamaica. After having to wait 42 minutes for a decision, he was determined the winner and this solidified his dream. He had pushed through and done the unthinkable, and no one would ever be able to deny him again.

Kien Crosse, Luke Welch, Rowan Barrett Jr., Lamont Wiltshire, and Odeen Eccleston, Superintendent Keith Merith, Mike Yorke, Jully Black, Floydeen Charles-Fridal, Caroline Marful, Pamela Appelt, Matt Galloway, Pauline Christian, Dr. Yabome Gilpin-Jackson, Jenny A. Gumbs, Nadia Hamilton, and Dr. Kwame Mackenzie have all become a part of the Harry Jerome Legacy. This year marked the 50th anniversary of his last Olympic Games, and hence why it was important to retell his story. The award must not be seen as the highest level of achievement, but the starting line of achievement. Harry Jerome was never satisfied with just achieving; he always aimed for excellence.

“I do not wish to lose my mind, only to find my heart.” Saul Williams

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