Ebonnie Rowe makes list of accomplished Canadian women
December 14, 2017
Suicide is devastating and the effect on those who are close to the victim can be severe and far-reaching.
Ebonnie Rowe was pursuing English Literature studies at the University of Toronto in 1989 when a girlfriend jumped in front of a subway train.
That act of depression was a pivotal moment for Rowe.
“I felt an urgency to do something that was impactful and meant something,” she said.
Rowe dropped out of university, co-founded and directed ‘Each One, Teach One’ which was a mentoring program for youths and started ‘Honey Jam’ that provides educational, networking, mentoring, promotional and performance opportunities for aspiring female artists across Canada.
“I didn’t have a firm plan of a specific career when I quit university, but I always loved English Literature,” she said. “Whatever my career was going to be, I knew it would be something that would help youths.”
She is among 150 of Canada’s most inspiring, groundbreaking and powerful female role models who provide insight into their achievements in a new coffee-table book just released for the Christmas holidays.
In ‘Canada 150 Women: Conversations with Leaders, Champions and Luminaries’, the selected trailblazers -- who have forged change for themselves and their country -- candidly share personal and professional moments of struggle and success and discuss how feminism has changed in their lifetimes.
The list includes former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, the province’s lieutenant governor Julie Payette and television personality Jeanne Beker.
“It’s awesome to be part of that eclectic group,” Rowe said. “I was blown away when I received the call. This is a historic project featuring women from different cultures and backgrounds, including politicians, scientists, space walkers, Olympians, artists and more. I am proud to be part of it.”
Another turning point in Rowe’s life came when she read ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’.
“Discovering Malcolm at age 11 was life-changing,” she said. “I really connected with what he said about being responsible for your own destiny, about not playing the victim, about when you see a problem, look in the mirror and ask how you are going to be part of the solution instead of pointing fingers of blame at others, about not accepting limits and creating your own opportunities, and getting things done by any means necessary.”
Splitting her time between Barbados and Canada because she hates the cold weather, Rowe enjoys working independently on projects she’s passionate about.
“I am impatient by nature and I like to get things done without a lot of red tape,” she said. “It can be frustrating to have to go through a bunch of levels of approval and meetings and discussions. When you work independently, I find you can get more done quicker. At the same time, I partner with other like-minded individuals and groups that share our goals. It’s great to build together as a team as well.”
Honey Jam began as a one-off event in 1995 to celebrate the all-female edition of the now defunct ‘Mic Check’ magazine edited by Rowe. The party featured some of the young females highlighted in the magazine, prompting the name ‘Honey Jam’. The event was a huge success and the artists demanded it continue.
Rhythm & Blues singer Jully Black, who was raised in the Jane & Finch community, made her first major concert appearance at the inaugural ‘Honey Jam’. Two years later, singer/songwriter Nelly Furtado stood out as the only White performer. She has sold over 40 million records worldwide, won 10 Junos, a Grammy, a Brit and an MTV Europe music award.
Rowe launched ‘Honey Jam’ in Barbados five years ago and a Honey Jazz festival in the Caribbean island that supports the Honey Jam Barbados initiative.
“I also organize an essay contest for children to write about what they are doing to effect positive change in their communities,” she said. “With all of these initiatives, I am always looking to add new things into the mix to keep it interesting and fresh. You always have to evolve, grow and stay current…I love to see growth and development, a positive end result and to see that my efforts have an impact on someone else. I am a social activist at heart and a change agent.”
Rowe’s father, Owen Rowe who migrated from Barbados in 1942, was a Royal Canadian Air Force flying officer before succumbing to cancer in 2005, while her mother Joan Rowe – who is still alive – was a teacher.
She said her mother, also an immigrant from Barbados, was her main parental influence.
“She was a single mother when I turned 11 and she taught me about perseverance during times of difficulty and challenge and about the need to make sacrifices in life and sometimes putting others in front of yourself as she did with putting her children’s needs before her, said Rowe. “She taught me to go for what I wanted and that I could succeed at anything I wanted and never to give up. My mom was a teacher early in her life and so the idea of creating a mentoring program would have come from her influence. My dad, on the other hand, was more into the arts and music. He was a musician, writer and poet and so my love for English Literature came from him.”
Paulina Cameron, who serves on the Canadian government expert panel on youth employment, is the book’s author.
“Canadian women are the barometers of our country’s incredible human potential,” she said. “The women who contributed to this book represent only a fraction of that potential and their stories serve as an inspirational representation of the countless other known and unknown accomplishments of all women in Canada throughout its history…I hope the stories of these women will inspire and spur us to action and be a catalyst for those who will lead us to the next great heights.”
Also profiled in the book are Jean Augustine who was the first Black woman appointed to the House of Commons and the federal cabinet after coming from Grenada 57 years ago under the West Indian Domestic Scheme, Hedy Fry who migrated from Trinidad & Tobago in 1970 and is the longest-serving female Member of Parliament, Jamaican-born Brigitte Shim who was appointed to the Order of Canada four years ago and former Canadian soccer goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc who is the product of immigrants from Dominica and Jamaica.
Born in Atlanta where her parents moved temporarily for three weeks to avoid Hurricane David that killed 33 people in Dominica in 1979, LeBlanc grew up on the Caribbean island before the family relocated to Maple Ridge in British Columbia when she was eight.