A closer look at three 2015 Harry Jerome Award recipients: Masai Ujiri, Tamar Huggins and Wendy Jones

Eminence was on full display when the recipients of the 33rd annual Harry Jerome Awards were announced.

In a well-organized event, hosted by the Black Business and Professional Association, and leading up to the actual awards ceremony, this year’s award winners were recognized for achieving excellence in their respective fields through their purpose, persistence and determination to succeed.

The significance of the Harry Jerome Awards cannot be overstated. Harry Jerome was a Canadian track and field runner who represented the nation in the 1964 Olympics, 1966 Commonwealth Games and the 1967 Pan American Games, winning bronze for his 100 metre run in 1964 and gold for his 100 metre runs in 1966 and 1967.

His athletic achievements came as the result of persistence, and beyond the track he spent a substantial amount of his time challenging the barriers faced by the African-Canadian community.

“Recognizing excellence in the Black community is essential to empower our children and give them the tools and the opportunities that they need to advance in life.” – Marion Rodrigues, G98.7 FM

Without a doubt, these accolades are appropriately titled. Not only do the honours acknowledge those who strive to overcome obstacles on their journey to success, but they also work to inspire individuals who hope to one day reach the same level of prominence as the award recipients.

The Harry Jerome Awards serve as a reminder that success isn’t a pipe dream if your mind is in the right place.

“Recognizing excellence in the Black community is essential to empower our children and give them the tools and the opportunities that they need to advance in life,” explains event host G98.7FM’s own Marion Rodrigues.

Three of this year’s award recipients – Toronto Raptors President and General Manager Masai Ujiri, entrepreneur Tamar Huggins and entertainer Wendy Jones – serve as prime examples of the excellence celebrated at this year’s awards show.

Masai Ujiri

Masai Ujiri

Masai Ujiri, Toronto Raptors President and General Manager

Hailing from Nigeria to become the first African-born general manager of a professional sports team in North America, Masai Ujiri’s journey has been different from most.

As a former basketball player himself, the Toronto Raptors GM’s career has seen him travel the world because of the game he loves.

After leaving the Raptors’ front office following a stint from 2007 to 2010, Ujiri’s career as a polished mind in the NBA continued to flourish – in 2010, he returned to Colorado to lead the Denver Nuggets, working for the team that gave him his first paid NBA position as an international scout back in 2003.

This second stint in Denver was quite successful, seeing as Ujiri took home the NBA executive of the year award for the 2012-13 season.

“You dream as a kid and you dream to [possibly] have an effect on others. However I can have an effect on youth or the community, I think it’s big.” – Masai Ujiri

Luckily for basketball fans north of the border, Ujiri elected to come back to Toronto in summer 2013, this time as GM and team president. The results have been great thus far – two Atlantic Division titles and two back-to-back playoff appearances. Not half bad for someone who took the reins of a franchise that hadn’t tasted postseason basketball since the 2007-08 campaign.

Even with all of these accolades in the basketball world, Ujiri couldn’t help but be humbled by the fact that his work has been recognized in the form of a Harry Jerome Award in the President category.

“You dream as a kid and you dream to [possibly] have an effect on others. However I can have an effect on youth or the community, I think it’s big. It’s always been big in my family and the way I was brought up,” says Ujiri.

Tamar Huggins

Tamar Huggins

Tamar Huggins, Entrepreneur

Tamar Huggins – winner in the Young Entrepreneur category – echoed Ujiri’s sentiments after the event.

“I’m extremely excited. Not only did I volunteer for the [Harry Jerome Awards] seven years ago, but this is the first time I’ve ever received an award for the recognition of the work I’ve done in the community,” Huggins explains.

The young entrepreneur had her fair share of dreams in her earlier days, but didn’t exactly see things panning out this way. After receiving her diploma in public relations with Humber College, Huggins worked for Cossette Communications, getting her feet wet in the field for the first time – working with Nike, H&M and other companies.

However, as time passed, she didn’t feel as much fulfillment as she had anticipated. After leaving Cossette during the recession, Huggins started up her own public relations company: Knexxion Communication Group.

Although this business is no longer around, it was through this venture that the young entrepreneur was able to connect with others such as past Harry Jerome Award winner, CP24’s Nneka Elliott. As she networked during these times, Huggins realized that many of her clients’ inquiries had to do with business development, and she had somewhat of an epiphany.

“Just like a diamond in the rough, success comes out of discomfort… Whatever really tugs at your heart, that’s your calling.” – Tamar Huggins

While pondering what idea would set her apart as an entrepreneur, Huggins noticed a gap between the world of technology and marginalized communities. This motivated her to launch her company – DRIVEN Accelerator Group – to close the gap that she detected in the industry.

Since starting up the company, Huggins has facilitated connections between younger tech-savvy individuals and employers, giving them opportunities to get the career kick-starters they need.

None of this would be possible if not for Huggins learning something new from each of her experiences and making a concerted effort to leave her mark through being of service to others.

“The road to success is very difficult,” shares Huggins. “Just like a diamond in the rough, success comes out of discomfort… Whatever really tugs at your heart, that’s your calling. I love working with business. I love working with people and getting that satisfaction from seeing them successful.”

Wendy Jones

Wendy Jones

Wendy Jones, Entertainer

Considering the need for youth to see respectable influences in this day and age, the Harry Jerome Awards serve as a positive representation of what comes out of the community. This year’s recipient of the award in the entertainment category, steelpan musician Wendy Jones, exemplifies that quite clearly.

While ecstatic about her personal achievements resulting in an award win, Jones keeps her eyes on the grander scheme of things, realizing that support within our community is extremely significant.

Using music as her chosen avenue of expression, Jones has seen its power first hand. She knows about the positive impact that it can have on people.

Despite working a job outside of music, Jones hasn’t given up her passion.

“I say to the young people: use your talent that you were given to help the community, to help someone along the way, and to embrace your own culture… Use whatever you have to give back.” – Wendy Jones

 

For her, the goal has never been to acquire as many individual praises as possible – instead it’s been about truly inspiring others to do what they love, regardless of whether or not everybody else loves it. With genuine passion, only good things can come out of it.

As a steel drum player for her band – the Pan Fantasy Steelband – Jones can attest to this, as she’s influenced the shift of admiration her instrument has received both here in Toronto, and on an international stage as well.

“I say to the young people: use your talent that you were given to help the community, to help someone along the way, and to embrace your own culture… Use whatever you have to give back.”

It is no mistake why she’s one of this year’s Harry Jerome Award recipients – it’s one thing to succeed, but it’s another thing to inspire.