Harry Jerome award winners have excelled in their fields
April 21, 2017
Nearly 25 years ago, George Frempong had his sights set on the National Basketball Association (NBA).
In his rookie season in 1993-94, he led the Sheridan College Blues in scoring with 17.2 points per game and was named a Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association All-Canadian. In his junior year, he was the Ontario College’s leading scorer with 24.3 points.
Quickly realising his dream of playing professional basketball was far-fetched, Frempong changed course.
“Back then, not many Canadians were heading to the NBA and I wanted to blaze a trail,” said the Martingrove Collegiate Institute graduate. “When that didn’t work out, I pursued my other dream which was business.”
Frempong, who migrated from Ghana with his family in 1978, is the senior vice-president of sales and co-founder of the Herjavec Group which is the world’s largest privately-held information security firm.
The married father is this year’s Harry Jerome Award business category winner.
“This award is not about me,” he pointed out. “It’s about all the other people who can look up to someone like myself and be inspired.”
When it comes to mentors and people who encouraged him along the way, Frempong singled out Mississauga resident Jennifer Moore – a widowed mother of two successful daughters.
“She always told me to dress for the job you want and not the job you have today,” he recounted. “I wore a suit to work at all times while everyone else around me was in casual wear and I remember they used to look at me as if to say, ‘you are looking out of place’. I would always tell them I am dressed for the job I want tomorrow. Because of her, I was discovered in 1997 by two guys that were looking for an inside salesperson. They gave me an opportunity and changed my life forever.”
Seldom do people of colour operate in some of the same mainstream institutional spaces in Canada.
As a member of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) Patron’s Circle that raises money to support the museum’s highest priorities, Kamala-Jean Gopie’s interest peaked when she ran into board trustee Keith Spence who was appointed five years ago.
“I saw a face that looked like mine and I immediately approached him,” recalled the former Jamaica Canadian Association (JCA) president. “When I found out what he did, I became even more interested because he was in a field where there are very few of us represented.”
Spence is the president and chief executive officer of Global Mining Capital Corporation which is a boutique investment firm specializing in private equity, investment banking and mergers and acquisitions, primarily in China.
As a field geologist, he has extensive experience in gold and base metals exploration in Canada and the rest of the world.
Gopie successfully nominated Spence for a Harry Jerome Award that recognizes excellence in Canada’s Black community.
“To be nominated by your own people is a big honour which I do not take lightly,” said the Trinidadian-born who held senior investment and corporate banking positions at Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal Capital Markets.
The Queen’s Royal College graduate and accomplished table tennis player came to Canada in December 1979 to pursue post-secondary studies at the University of Western Ontario
“A friend of mine, who played the sport, attended that university and praised it fully while my father knew about it and suggested I go there,” Spence, a Commonwealth Scholar recipient, said. “That made my decision a bit easy and it’s probably the best thing I have ever done in my life.”
For Sharon Riley, the Harry Jerome Award for excellence in the entertainment field is icing on the cake.
This is the 25th year since she started Faith Chorale, a Juno-award ensemble which is considered one of Canada’s premier gospel groups.
Riley’s passion for the arts surfaced in England where she was born before arriving in Canada in 1973.
“I listened to Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin and, at a young age, I realised I wanted to express myself in that manner,” she said. “Gospel is where I channelled my music.”
Riley, who survived a serious car accident 27 years ago, and her sister graduated from Oakwood University which is a historically Black Seventh-day Adventist institution in Huntsville, Alabama.
“That school gave me an opportunity to know what it means to be Black,” she added. “I learnt who I was as a Black woman while I was on that campus. I also honed my craft there.”
There was a time when Barbadian-born Cheryl Nembhard was on the path to destruction.
Involved with gangs and doing drugs during most of her teenage years, the product of a hard-working single mother turned her life around after encountering a street missionary at age 19.
“When I was at the lowest point in my life, he told me I am greater than the moment,” said Nembhard who will recognized in the social advocacy category. “That made a lot of sense.”
The award-winning playwright and filmmaker has established creative spaces for troubled youth, ex-gang members and drug addicts, rape victims and teenage mothers.
“I want art to be more than just entertainment,” said Nembhard whose play,’ The Ultimate Sacrifice’, was the first Canadian gospel musical to play on a Mirvish Stage in 2010., “I want it to reach spaces where art doesn’t normally go and that is youth detention centres and prisons. I am using it for social change.”
Like Nembhard, Dr. Barbara Trieloff-Deane – who splits her time between Barbados, which is her birth country, and Canada -- is passionate about positively impacting the lives of people in crisis.
She is a director of the Barbados Substance Abuse Foundation (SAF) established in 1996 help victims with appropriate professional rehabilitation in an enabling environment that meets internationally accepted standards of accommodation and treatment.
“We provide a full continuum of services dedicated to assisting individuals to recover from the physical, emotional and spiritual devastation caused by addiction,” she noted. “For the first three months, we help people manage their addictions. We have a series of programs to help support them to become contributing members of society…We also see ourselves as playing a critical role in combating the stigma associated with addiction as a disease that, to this day, is seriously misunderstood.”
Prior to joining the SAF, Trieloff-Deane was the president and director for four years up until 2011 of Barbados Ball Canada Aid that has raised thousands of dollars that have gone to Barbadian international students and young people of Barbadian heritage pursuing higher education in Canada, health initiatives in Barbados and the Caribbean SickKids Paediatric Cancer & Blood Disorders Project (CSPCBDP).
Schulich School of Business third-year student Gabrielle Fetcher was an avid reader at a young age.
“She hid in her room with a book,” remembered her mother, Dorothy Fletcher. “I also spent many Saturdays with her during the summer at the library and I would have her practice math. She resented it many times, but learnt to appreciate what I was doing.”
The youngest of three children and St. Brother Andre Catholic High School graduate migrated from Jamaica at age four.
“This award is an incredible honour and it proves that hard work pays off,” said Fletcher who aspires to be a corporate lawyer.
Other Harry Jerome Award winners are York University human rights & equity studies graduate and Commonwealth Youth Award recipient Leanne Prendergast, Revivaltime Tabernacle Inc. founder Bishop Dr. Audley James, Andre DeGrasse who was the first Canadian sprinter to win three medals in a single Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last summer, former Kingsdale Shareholder Services Inc. president and chief executive officer Wes Hall, long-time Carpenters Union member Chris Campbell, medical practitioner Dr. Everton Gooden, University of British Columbia chief dermatology resident physician Dr. Boluwaji Ogunyemi, Ottawa Police Service sergeant Isobel Granger, Citizens for the Advancement of Community Development founder Ron Cunningham, Royal Bank of Canada Contact Centre vice-president Harriet Thornhill, McMaster University associate professor Dr. Juliet Daniel and Black Film Festival founder Fabienne Colas.
Late St. Michael’s Hospital echocardiologist Dr. Trevor Robinson, educators Dr. Inez Elliston and Dr. David Bell and community volunteer Raphaelita Walker will be posthumously recognized. They passed away in the last four months.
The Black Business & Professional Association (BBPA) administer the awards that honour the memory of Jerome who set seven world records in track and field and helped create Canada’s sports ministry. He was slated to be the keynote speaker at a celebration to mark the record performances of Canada’s athletes at the 1982 Commonwealth Games when he died suddenly a fortnight before the organizers contacted him.
Since the inception in 1983, a total of 415 Harry Jerome Awards have been presented to individuals and one organization – Eva’s Initiatives in 2005 – for excellence in myriad fields.
The 35th annual awards ceremony takes place on Saturday, April 22 at the International Centre, 6900 Airport Rd.