Golden Glove champion Spider Jones received the Harry Jerome lifetime achievement award from the Black Business and Professional Association on Saturday in honour of a career spanning journalism, boxing and community service.
After dropping out of school in Grade 4, Mr. Jones had a turbulent youth, spending time in prison before pursuing a career in boxing. “I grew up in poverty and violence between Detroit and Windsor and I was involved with some pretty bad guys,” he said in an interview. “But I learned that if you work hard, the rest doesn’t matter.”
In 2004, Mr. Jones opened the Spider’s Web Youth Empowerment Centre and, later, the Believe to Achieve organization, a non-profit after-school mentorship program. “We have a homework club, we’ve got music and sports – we empower kids, teach them how to set goals, how to stay on top of them, how to bring their dreams into reality,” Mr. Jones said. “And we teach them mental strength.”
Despite his achievements, Mr. Jones didn’t expect this award. “I had no idea at all – it’s just a wonderful feeling,” he said. “My granddaughter has never seen me accept an award, I’m just her grandfather, so it’s a big deal.”
The annual Harry Jerome Awards celebrate leaders, innovators and activists across Canada’s Black community. Named after the Canadian track and field legend and Olympic medalist, the event recognizes excellence in sectors spanning business, arts and athletics.
“There’s a lot of weight to this award,” said Nadine Spencer, the interim chief executive of the Black Business and Professional Association. “A lot of weight in terms of what it means for the Black community – it means that despite the challenges in society, we’re still recognized for the work. And to be recognized by your own community is exceptional.”
Founded in 1983, the association is a non-profit charitable organization with a commitment to advocate on behalf of Black businesses and promote equity for Black communities.
For Ms. Spencer, the awards symbolize what’s possible for the Black community through peer recognition. “It’s a beacon for what is possible for black youths, what is possible for women entrepreneurs, and what is possible for small businesses.”
The event Saturday celebrated 13 honourees who made contributions to Canada’s Black community through innovation in health care, public service, environmental justice and technology, banking, data analytics, social work, athletics and performance arts.
For Jennifer Bernard, who was recently appointed CEO of SickKids Foundation, receiving the award represented a personal victory. “This is one of the longest-standing awards that has been established in honour of Black excellence,” Ms. Bernard said. “It inspires the next generation and helps us move forward as a community.”
Agapi Gessesse, executive director of the Centre for Young Black Professionals, said receiving the award was a feat that was decades in the making.
“I used to come to this when I was a little girl – I could never imagine that 10 years later I would’ve gotten here,” Ms. Gessesse said. “It shows me that my community is behind me.”