The BBPA Harry Jerome Awards 35th Anniversary Celebration
On October 21, 1982, a meeting was held where a decision was made to form an association and a steering committee including Al Hamilton, publisher of Contrast Newspaper, Denham Jolly and Bromley Armstrong. Incorporated in July 1983, the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) is a non-profit charitable organization that serves to address equity and opportunity for the Black community in business, employment, education and economic development. Following the October 1982 meeting, it was decided to honour the six Black Canadian athletes who excelled at that year’s Commonwealth Games: Angela Taylor-Issanjenko, Ben Johnson, Mark McKoy, Milt Ottey, Tony Sharpe and Desai Williams.
A dinner was suggested at which Harry Jerome, Canada’s premiere track and field athlete of the 1960s would be invited to be the keynote speaker. However, before he could be invited, Harry Jerome died suddenly in December 1982. The group then decided to turn the celebration into a tribute to Harry Jerome and an awards ceremony to honour the six athletes. The name “Harry Jerome Awards” was proposed by Hamlin Grange and so the first Harry Jerome Awards was held on March 5, 1983.
The Harry Jerome Awards is now a national event that recognizes and honours excellence in African Canadian achievement. In addition to the Harry Jerome Awards, the BBPA sponsors the Harry Jerome Scholarship Fund, providing financial support to African Canadian youth pursuing higher education. The idea for the Harry Jerome Scholarship Fund was provided by Hamlin Grange and realized through the efforts of Kamala-Jean Gopie, Pamela Appelt, Sheila Simpson and Beverly Mascoll. Journalist Cynthia Reyes was the BBPA’s president at the time. Under the leadership of Verlyn Francis, in 1996 the scholarship fund established an endowment fund and attracted corporate sponsorship. Today the Fund awards some thirty scholarships each year.