On October 21, 1982, a Black businessman, Denham Jolly sent an invitation to a number of people in the Black Community to attend a meeting at the Underground Railroad restaurant in downtown Toronto. About 25 people attended. Attorney Romain Pitt made the opening remarks and introduced Denham Jolly.
Bromley Armstrong, a Harry Jerome Award of Merit recipient, recalls being there. It was decided at that meeting to form an association, and a steering committee, including Al Hamilton, publisher of Contrast Newspaper, Denham Jolly and Bromley Armstrong, was formed. The name “Black Businessmen’s Association” was suggested by Denham Jolly, however at the urging of a number of women participating in this initiative, the name was subsequently changed to “Black Business and Professional Association,” to recognize the contributions of women in business and the professions and act as a statement of the organization’s commitment to equity.
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 5th, 1983. The Harry Jerome Awards has evolved into a national event that recognizes and honours excellence in African Canadian achievement. After recognizing the 6 athletes at the first Harry Jerome Awards Gala in 1983, the BBPA started with recognizing outstanding Afro-Canadians in four main categories: Academic, Arts, Athletic and Community Service. By 2011, the BBPA conferred 16 awards to outstanding Afro-Canadians which included the Leadership, Academic, Athletic, Young Entrepreneur, Community Service, Media, Arts, Technology & Innovation, Business, Professional Excellence, Health Sciences, and 3 BBPA Board of Director awards, namely, President’s, Trail Blazer and the Lifetime Achievement. Additionally, the BBPA Diversity award was added in 2011 under the Harry Jerome Awards’ Chair, Karlyn Percil.
In addition to the Harry Jerome Awards, the BBPA sponsors the BBPA National Scholarship Fund, formerly called 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. By 2010 the Fund awarded close to fifty scholarships each year and built an endowment fund of close to $600,000. In the last 24 years the fund has granted over 650 scholarships totalling close to $2.5 million dollars.
“Growth and Change” continues to be a constant at the BBPA. Undoubtedly, the BBPA has been fortunate to be led by outstanding visionaries since its inception. In an effort to build on the legacy of the founders and previous leadership, as well as actualise the mandate of the BBPA, in November 2010 the BBPA president, Pauline Christian, introduced the inaugural National Black Business and Professional Convention (NBBPC). The NBBPC has become an annual event and the third flagship event of the BBPA. The convention was readily accepted by the BBPA board upon introduction. Mayvia Morrison was appointed as the chair and the NBBPC was launched under the BBPA new “Call to Action Vision”, which got the attention of the media as well as received raving reviews from attendees. The NBBPC strives to incorporate strategies and programs that fulfil the BBPA mandate as it pertains to education, entrepreneurship and economic development.
The BBPA has gone through continuous improvements in developing programs and opportunities that meet the needs of the Black Business and Professional community. To complement our staple programs, the Harry Jerome Awards and the National Black Business and Professional Convention, the BBPA champions Exchange programs which aims to provide networking opportunities and professional growth while in the same vain recognizing excellence. Under the directorship of Michelle Ambrose the Men and Women of Honour Exchange programs were born in 2009, which identify men and women who are amazing stalwarts in their local and wider communities and may not have had the opportunity to be recognized at the Harry Jerome Awards.
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. In addition to the Harry Jerome Awards, the National Scholarship Fund and the National Black Business and Professional Convention, the BBPA provides educational and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs and professionals.
The first directors of the BBPA were Pamela Appelt, Bromley Armstrong, Jean Augustine, Jean Gammage (Kamala-Jean Gopie), Al Hamilton, Denham Jolly and Cynthia Reyes. Denham Jolly, whose vision gave birth to the BBPA, was elected our first president.
Although a membership organization, the BBPA’s programs and activities are for the benefit of the Black community as a whole and not solely our members. We do not operate as a professional association or as a lobby group, and we are financed by member subscriptions, donations and fundraising activities.