Honoured for global contributions to journalism
Answering the phone while driving with her husband, Hamlin Grange, a few months ago, Cynthia Reyes was a bit confused when the caller mentioned her name in the same breath with a Jamaica national honour.
“I was supporting someone else, so I thought that was what the call was about,” she said.
It took a few more seconds for Reyes to decipher that she was the recipient of the Order of Distinction in the rank of commander.
“That was a big surprise and I was stunned,” said the award-winning media practitioner and change leader who was honoured for her outstanding global contributions to journalism. “It really did take a little time to sink in.”
Migrating in 1974, Reyes is still recovering after her car was rear-ended in 2005. She suffered back and lower body injuries and has been living with post-traumatic stress disorder since the devastating accident.
“This recognition made me remember I had a wonderful career before I had this accident,” she said. “It made me think about things I haven’t thought about for years. I have spent so much time in the last 11 years feeling angry or sorry for myself or just accepting this is who I am without thinking about the amazing things I have done. I am so thankful to Jamaica.”
Reyes’ birth country has obviously been paying close attention to her stellar work.
Over a seven-year period in the 1990s, she co-led a Canadian team of trainers and consultants working in South Africa and Canada to assist the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to become a public broadcaster in the post anti-apartheid era.
She consulted with SABC senior managers and board chairpersons on how to introduce change, trained supervisors, managers, production and technical personnel to be more productive and communicate effectively across racial lines and created a handbook of standards for the national broadcaster.
“That work was aimed at helping media members there who just wanted to do great journalism and, in many cases, were prevented from doing that by their bosses,” said Reyes. “It was very empowering for them and wonderful for me because I come from a family that was very much opposed to apartheid and protested against it for many years. Just being there as a team leader for Canada and working with South Africans of all colours and races is something I will never forget. This was a big deal and somebody has recognized it.”
Reyes also left an indelible mark at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) where she was the first Black female on-air personality in Toronto and one of the youngest executive producers.
She oversaw the work done to improve programs and teams of all CBC TV news units across Canada and change projects, including research, development, branding and training for the Supper Hour program redevelopment. In addition, she brought together myriad stakeholders to implement a new transparent financial accounting system, coached senior executives on strategy, assisted the organization in adapting to a new way of working and designed training for production and technical staff in a unionized stetting.
As secretary general of International Public Television (INPUT) which is one of the world’s leading broadcast organizations, Reyes helped to set new standards and practices for the organization, played a key role in establishing INPUT in the Caribbean, Latin America and South Africa and chaired the organization’s 2000 conference in Halifax.
In a consultant role, she played a major part in helping to set up the Aboriginal People’s Television Network journalism department and as a head trainer, assisted in the establishment of the Disability Network, a TV project that trained persons with disabilities to produce a network television series on CBC.
Reyes said she was prepared for a media career at a very young age.
“My grandmother was a nurse at an infirmary in Manchester where I was raised and my mother would often send me there to do volunteer work that included reading the Bible and newspapers for the elderly and sick,” said Reyes, a former president of the Black Business & Professional Association. “I also did public speaking in high school, so the first time they put me on the anchor desk in front of a camera at Ryerson University, I wasn’t nervous. I was doing that since I was a small child. The other thing that attracted me to the profession is that I realized journalists can effect change by simply asking why and why not.”
Reyes, the recipient of a 1998 African-Canadian Achievement Award and a 2003 Crystal Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Film & TV Industry, was instrumental in Toronto hiring its first female firefighter in 1986 when she asked why there weren’t any.
“I remember calling Mary Bruce (she was the city’s first employment equity officer) and Pat Henderson (she worked in the equity office), asking why there were no women and the reply was that ‘it is funny you should ask because the Fire Chief wanted to hire women, but they couldn’t pass the physical test’,” she said. “There was this one woman who kept acing the written test, but she was failing the physical part.”
After meeting with the interested applicant over lunch, Reyes contacted the manager at her gym, asking if she could help the woman, who was a postal service truck driver and security guard, develop the physical strength to become a firefighter.
“She told me her husband was a retired fireman and that he was in charge of the men at the gym,” said Reyes, a former Women in Film & Television and Women in Media Foundation board member. “When I approached him, he didn’t hesitate in accepting my request to help this lady build her strength through aerobics and a weightlifting program.”
Six months later, Dianne Oland – then a 39-year-old mother of two children – passed the strenuous test and made history.
In 2000, Reyes and Grange established DiversiPro Inc. that specializes in diversity training and management services.
She has published non-fiction stories in Arabella Magazine, Toronto Life and the Globe and Mail and authored two books, including An Honest House, which was recently recognized with the inaugural British Diamond Book Award.
Unable to travel to Jamaica for last Monday’s National Heroes Day investiture ceremony at King’s House because of health challenges related to the accident, Reyes will receive her award at a later date.
Herman LaMont, a former consul general in Toronto, and Patricia Samuels – the Jamaica Tourist Board regional director in this city for four years before leaving in 2005 to become the JTB European regional director based in Berlin – were also Order of Distinction award recipients.