“Never give up” was Harry Jerome’s motto. (www.canadaswalkoffame.com/inductees) When you take a look at his life and his accomplishments it is easy to see that he did his very best to live up to that motto whenever he could. He was a stellar example of the phenomenal achievements that can be reached when one pursues excellence on a consistent basis. He was a true model of how someone can, through sheer determination, overcome and conquer the utmost hardships and discouragement; rebound from disappointment and quiet the naysayers.
Born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in 1940, Jerome was naturally athletic and excelled in various sports, but soon became well known for his speed. It’s not hard to imagine the challenges he would have had to face during the 50’s and 60’s as an African – Canadian competing all over the world, but despite this he excelled in track and field by running and breaking the Canadian record for the 220 yard sprint that was previously held for 30 + years by Percy Williams. He went on to break and meet several records during his running career. Unfortunately, he was also plagued by several injuries that could have prevented him from achieving his personal goals. He pulled a muscle during the 100 metre semi-finals during the 1960 Olympics in Rome which resulted in his inability to compete in the finals, and then in 1962, he tore his left thigh muscle in the Commonwealth Games in Australia, and it was thought that his injury would prevent him from ever competing again. The media showed no compassion and labelled him a ‘quitter’. But Jerome refused to give up and with true determination and hard work, he was able to fully recuperate from his injuries and accomplish an amazing comeback in the Summer Olympics of 1964 where he earned a bronze medal in the 100 metres and then finished 4th in the 200 metres two days later. He went on to win his 1st gold medal at the ’66 British Commonwealth Games in Jamaica then again in ’68 at the Pan-American Games. (www.harryjerome.com )
Jerome retired from competition in 1968, but that was not the end to his amazing achievements. He used his influence as a celebrated athlete to give back to his community by convincing companies to provide equipment to young athletes that could not afford their own. He vehemently opposed the misrepresentation of Black people in Canadian television shows and fought against unfair wage barriers that were based on racial discrimination. After his retirement, he worked with the Federal Ministry of Sport, created the Premier Sports Program for schools in British Columbia and received the Order of Canada in 1971.
Jerome, by his actions, was shown to be dedicated, caring, and determined to contribute to the Black community in the most positive ways.
THE BBPA HJA AWARDS
The Harry Jerome Awards was born from a meeting in October 1982 between several professional Black men and women that formed an association for like-minded individuals. The Black Business and Professional Association was created as a non-profit charitable organization that “addresses equity and opportunity for the Black community in business, employment, education and economic development.” (http://bbpa.org/about-us ) After their initial meeting, the decision was made to honour the six Black Canadian athletes who had achieved great successes at the ’82 Commonwealth Games: Angela Taylor-Issanjenko, Ben Johnson, Mark McKoy, Milt Ottey, Tony Sharpe and Desai Williams. Jerome had been invited to be the guest speaker that would pay tribute to them which was fitting based on his own athletic accomplishments. Unfortunately, before he was able to attend, he passed away from a brain aneurysm in 1982 at the very young age of 42.
The purpose of the BBPA Harry Jerome Awards is to “recognize and honour excellence in African Canadian achievement”. (http://bbpa.org ) The awards ceremony was started with the purpose of honouring the athletes of the 1982 Commonwealth Games but has now evolved into a national event with 16 different awards being presented in 2011 including: Leadership, Academic, Athletic, Young Entrepreneur, Community Service, etc. RBC is the title sponsor once again along with the support of IBM and Ernst & Young. There have been many illustrious attendees over the years such as: Former Governor General Michaelle Jean, PM Stephen Harper, Premiere Dalton McGuinty and GM President and Managing Director Kevin Williams.
The 2012 awards (featuring Keynote speaker – CNN Strategist Roland Martin) will honour the 30 year legacy of the BBPA and the Harry Jerome Awards and their involvement and contributions to the African Canadian community. “Legacy Drives Impact – Celebrating 30 Years of Excellence” is this year’s theme whereby 19 awards will be presented to people who have in their own way made a significantly positive contribution to their community and have become excellent role models demonstrating the outstanding qualities that the Harry Jerome awards have become known for. They will become part of a celebrated group of men and women who have been honoured over the years, like Tonya Lee Williams (’04); Trey Anthony (’09); Hon. Lincoln Alexander (’01); Donovan Bailey (’97) and Perdita Felicien (’04).
How proud would Harry Jerome be today to see the quality of men and women who are receiving tribute at an awards show named in honour of his achievements? Men like Fitzroy Gordon whose faith and determination to start a radio show for the Black and Caribbean community kept him from giving up. “My faith in God helped me to never give up. A lot of people who were with me gave up…”, but his perseverance has resulted in the creation of G98.7, a station to service the very people who are now honouring him. (http://swaymag.ca/lifestyle/fitzroy-gordon-beats-the-odds-by-launching-canada%E2%80%99s-only-black-radio-station/ )
Women like Eugenia Duodu, (the only woman honoured this year) whose hard work and academic excellence as a University of Toronto PhD candidate has her “ranked one of the top organic chemistry students at the university” and has “ garnered her collaborations with researchers from Princess Margaret Hospital and the Centre for Probe Development & Design at McMaster University.” (http://sharenews.com/judge-proud-to-receive-%E2%80%98distinguished%E2%80%99-jerome-award/ )
Leaders in the community like Damon Allen who after achieving great successes throughout his football career, launched the Damon Allen Quarterback Academy to “personally teach the skills and strategies of quarterbacking to students of all ages and skill levels” and also advocates the importance of amateur football all over the country. (http://damonallen.ca/wp-content/themes/damonallen/bio.html )
These are only a few examples of the great dreamers, leaders and innovators that live among us, being honoured this year and who fully represent Jerome’s motto “Never Give Up!”
Congratulations to them all!