First Annual Sage Awards and The Afro News Celebrate the 2010 Community Contribution Recognition Awards

2010 Community Contribution Recognition Award Recipients

Invited guests gathered to honour both the roots of The Afro News and to mark the First Annual Sage Awards at the Hilton Hotel at Metrotown on January 28, 2011. The agenda included a reception where 70 members of the community hand the opportunity to mingle and also to meet the honourees. The awards were sponsored jointly by The Sage Foundation and The Afro News (TAN).

Introductions of the award winners and a brief history of Afro News (TAN) and of Sage Foundation were elegantly managed by Mistress of Ceremonies, Deidre Heim, TAN’s Editor-in-Chief.

A 25-minute video documentary screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) followed. The 2007 production, sponsored by The Afro News entitled “Chasing the Golf Dream” related the experiences and decisions of the Francois family, one of the event’s honourees.

Celebrating Community ,Culture,and Diversity at The 2010 Community Contribution Recognition Awards Hosted by The Sage Foundation and The Afro News -TAN

Award Recipients, Guests, and Sage Staff

The evening’s theme centred on the contributions the individuals made when looking after their own concerns and interests led to a commitment to the larger good of their community. Their sustained activity grew into leadership roles affecting had impact on their communities both near and far.

The 2010 Community Contribution Awards recognized brother and sister Alex and Sumie Francois, their parents Joseph & Sumie Francois, writer Helena Kaufman and The Afro News founder Michele Lee Williams.

The Excellence Awards began with a brief overview of each recipient’s biography and a presentation of a specially designed plaque inscribed with the event and the award winners’ names. In addition, the Francois family were presented with a cheque towards a scholarship held in trust for Alex and Sumie’s future education.

Micheal Okoth Receiving the award on Michelle behalf

Micheal Okoth Receiving the Award

A special scholarship in memory of Birgit Evelyn Okoth and her lifetime contributions to the Afric and general communities was announced at the event. The scholarship will be granted annually to a young person pursuing studies and a career in aesthetics. It was accepted by her husband Michael Okoth with whom Birgit established Abantu Hair Salons.

“The presentation and the acceptance of these awards signify the interactive and constructive process at the root of both The Afro News (TAN) and Sage Foundation’s operating philosophy,” said Honore Gbedze, publisher of The Afro News, the evenings co-sponsor. In part, the criteria for the awards recognized the work of all the recipients in going beyond their economic, cultural or geographic origins to join in the efforts to build and strengthen their community, in unity.

The 2010 Community Contribution Awards recipients:

  • The Sage Foundation Scholarship Excellence Awards 2010 to brother and sister Alex and Sumie Francois
  • The Afro News Community Leadership to Joseph & Sumie Francois
  • The Afro News Writer of The Year 2010 to Helena Kaufman
  • The Afro News Community Life time Achievement and Legacy Award to Michele Lee Williams

Michelle Lee Williams

Michelle Lee Williams

The Afro News Community Life time Achievement and Legacy Award

Turning her passion for writing into what she called the soul satisfying work of the community, Michelle Williams, conceived the single page, double sided newsletter that became The Afro News. From the early 1980s, she tirelessly covered community events ranging from sports to arts and entertainment at all levels. News useful to the community was delivered due in great part to her husband Rico’s support and that of countless individuals who volunteered to produce and distribute the little newsletter that grew to a fully fledged newspaper with local flair and global reach. In the process her efforts served to instil pride and a sense of belonging in the black community and shared the news that connected and strengthened the building of individual and group identity.

Michelle’s dedication in keeping the connection going against all odds saw her overcome challenges of funding, technology, time and the boundless energy needed to find, attend and cover as many events as she could. In the process she joined or helped co-found important local groups in theatre, commerce and in particular the Junior Black Achievement Awards. All the time she told it like it was and stood by her belief that “we have to talk to each other and the community must do right by itself”. The niche she filled created a news and communication organ that linked the diverse cultures within the Afric community. She still wonders how she managed to make it all work and grow, but it is not a surprise to the many who looked forward to the news of their community and those who volunteered their time at the many tasks she coordinated to get that news out.

Her legacy goes far beyond the founding of a newsletter that evolved into a bona fide newspaper. It is the light she shone on internal issues a community must face to grow and gain. It is the focus on the Afric interests in art, education, sport and business within the community and outside towards a progressive interaction that serves all. In a recent interview with The Afro News she closed by saying, “I am happy it (TAN) is still going and has grown in its direction and onto the World Wide Web. The community should rally behind the publication because it is their voice and they should feel good about it and help each other to create and strengthen their own path.”

Helana Kaufman

Helena Kaufman

The Afro News Writer of the Year 2010

Coming to The Afro News with 30 years experience as a freelance writer with a strategic marketing and public relations practice, Helena generously applied many of her talents in the service of the paper. As columnist, profile and feature writer she has covered stories of interest to the readership at large. She joined the team soon after her arrival in Vancouver from Manitoba through a series of multicultural connections that led to her work with TAN.

Her motivation is the common denominator of “needing to be skilled and interested in talking to one another so that everyone is heard and everyone contributes.”

Through her community based work as speaker and communications trainer, she has brought awareness of The Afro News to the workshops she facilitates and the entrepreneurs, managers and service providers she works with.

Her own early immigrant experience and years of cultural adjustment compels Helena to work with many ethnic communities over the years. She has both directly crafted the messages that enable significant fundraising for community resources from programs to building complexes, as well as contributed generally through her writing and communications training work. Having bridged cultures all her life and served as interpreter of messages, first quite literally for her family and then for corporate and community clients, her work at The Afro News is a natural extension of her talent. The award recognizes her dedication to language and its use, to communicate in all its forms and advantages to connect people and ideas to each other. She has been instrumental in the launch of the SAGE Foundation and has, like many of TAN’s supporters and writers, contributed generously of her time and talent.

Francois Family Awarded

Alex and Sumie Francois (youth)

Joseph and Sumie Francois (parents)

The Sage Foundation Scholarship Excellence Awards 2010

The Afro News Community Leadership

The Francois family are the recipients of awards that recognize the sacrifice and effort of parents in the education and empowerment of their children so that they will be equipped for personal strength and contribution to their community, and the children themselves. While typical in many ways, their conscious to improve themselves as a family unit, and to focus on the gifts and interests of their children, has shown them to be leadership by living example, and staying true to their principles.

Most associated in their community with golf, they are models of success through self discipline and active parental guidance, of 10 year old Sumie and her 12 year old brother Alex. As father, Haiti born and Montreal raised Joseph Francois and mother, Japanese born Sumie whose homeland both children were born in, already exemplify the modern family. Together they meet today’s challenges of balance and integration into family, community, school and economic life.

“Sumie and I have decided to close down any excuses, including the biggest ones facing families-time and money.” They adjusted work choices so that schedules and priorities are directed at the goals they have set. It takes all their resources and is motivated by a combination of wanting to be connected to their kids for as long as they are able, to protect them and to offer them the opportunities for learning and personal development.

Sharing, and modeling, life lessons takes place in their home, at school, on the golf links and in the community they live and work in. It has also made them examples of balance and dedication on the international stage as the children win championships with grace and humility. They have done so all along without any financial support or sponsorship, simply out of the understanding that belonging to community and participation in it is important. Behaving well, working hard and sharing their blessings while creating both a strong family unit and individual citizens is their constant contribution. (See their full story on the video entitled “Chasing the Golf Dream”.)


Based on excerpts from “The Afro News – A Labour Of Love”

An article written 10 years ago by the paper’s originator and founder, Michelle Lee Williams

From its early beginnings as a “newsletter”, The Afro News has blossomed into what it is today – a newspaper that is distributed to all major cities in Canada, and more than 135 outlets in the Lower Mainland. We have subscribers in New York, Washington, Oregon, California, Wisconsin, and a few in the West Indies (Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, etc.). (ed.note: The paper now has subscribers across N. America, Africa and Europe and is published online through a dedicated website that both archives all materials and updates news frequently.)

The first issue of the monthly newsletter was published on a single 8-1/2” x 14” sheet (both sides) and typewritten on an IBM Selectrix typewriter. Sponsored first by the Afro-Canadian Cultural Society (ACCS) – of which I am a founding member, then the Vancouver chapter of Harambee Centres, the newsletter ceased publishing for several months due to lack of funds.

During the hiatus, it became very evident that the publication was filling a void in the community. I received many calls enquiring “where’s the newsletter” and “we need it in the community”, etc. …….Eventually I got my “Mac” and although I was totally computer illiterate (except for the typing part), I managed to learn the basics – all by trial and error – and was able to produce what I hoped was an informative publication that would instil a sense of “belonging” in the community.

The articles had always been global in content, covering achievement and conflicts that concerned Black people everywhere. A conscious effort was made to get others from the community to contribute articles and some did, although not often back then. We began to have columns on Sports, Entertainment, etc every month to go along with the “news” , and for a short time included a “Youth” page that was compiled and submitted by several dedicated young people. ………..In 1991 Black Theatre West (a non-profit organization of which I am President), sponsored the newsletter….it was distributed to all Black businesses in the Lower Mainland; libraries, book stores, etc., and was also available by subscription.

In September 1993, the newsletter was finally named, “The Afro / Carib News” and by August 1995 it became The Afro News. Until March 1994, my husband Rico and I had been the volunteer production/distribution staff, the Roger Jones; a transplanted Nova Scotian joined us. With his commitment came the giant step to “newspaper”; with the first issue on November 1994 and the format was tabloid size (10×15), on newsprint and 8 pages. By April 1997 this increased to the 24 pages, which it is basically today.

There were (and still are) many sleepless nights and pressure cooker days as I struggled to get the paper out on time – and usually did, although I still wonder how. (With technical, funding, and production challenges)

The Afro News has been a “labour of love” for all those involved. Everyone (writers, photographers, distribution people, researchers, proof-readers, etc.) including myself are volunteers. We received no grants or subsidies other than the little Black Theatre West have been able to provide……. But still, out of the chaos comes a great feeling of satisfaction – and pride – from knowing you’re doing the best you can do. Feedback has been positive and arrives from all areas of the country as well as the U.S. We’ve had letters from places as diverse as Alaska and the Northwest Territories to Finland and Germany, to Kenya and South Africa. And it inspires you to try harder to surpass the obstacles, even though it seems like you’re losing not only the battle, but the entire war.

Now, years later the wonderment of actually producing a “real newspaper” never ceases to amaze me. Some really positive things that have happened over the years. The Afro News is archived in Ottawa, Vancouver and Wisconsin, and the paper has won several awards both in Canada and the U.S., which makes us all extremely proud. Thanks must be given to the many friends, supporters and contributors, who have helped us along the way.

Francois Family & Honourable Senator Mobina Jaffer & SAGE Founders & Deidre Heim Mc of the night

Francois Family & Honourable Senator Mobina Jaffer & SAGE Founders & Deidre Heim Mc of the nightHonore Gbedze acquired the paper became the managing editor in 2007 and publishes under the production arm, Privilege Group Holdings which also produces videos and radio shows. The brand TAN is now added and the paper includes international news, is posted on line so that input is now possible instantly and from round the globe. The publication as a result is now subscribed to and ready by a larger community in every sense of the word, in line with the mandate on its cover banner, The Voice of Unity.

Event coverage was rushed to meet press time for the February issues. Look for more details of the awards evening and attendees in upcoming issues.

Honourable Senator Yonah Martin & Honore Gbedze Founder/CEO

Honourable Senator Yonah Martin & Honore Gbedze

Honourable Senator Yonah Martin & Honore Gbedze Founder/CEO for more information and Photo Album of the Reception .

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