Building on The Legacy of Our History

‘We are wise to accept that even the smallest steps taken towards success each bring us closer to our achievements now and into the future’
Honoré Gbedze, Founder/CEO

The 3rd Annual Sage Foundation Awards were held in Vancouver, BC on January 25th 2013.

Evander Holyfield, five time world Heavy Weight Boxing Champion, was the keynote speaker. The Sage event was the kick off night of his four day visit to Vancouver to unveil his anti-bullying campaign in Canada.

The Master of Ceremonies was Salina Dharamsi, a 2011 Sage award nominee of distinction. Senator Yonah Martin opened the evening with a message from The Honourable Jason Kenny, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism congratulating the award recipients for their hard work and thanked Sage Foundation and The Afro News for their continued commitment to Canadian pluralism. Senator Martin also brought greetings from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Guest speaker, Colin Sprake, of Make Your Mark Business Consulting addressed the group of approximately 100 guests. Colin highlighted on the responsibility of leadership and the ever growing and changing cosmopolitan multicultural diversity of our society today. Colin added that Sage Foundation and The Afro News (TAN) has set a stage to give a voice to the voiceless and embrace the work that needs to be done in order to make advancements in our society.

As at previous events, a musical selection was presented to showcase young talent. Singer-Artist Sarah K sang, “Fly,” an original song she wrote from her soon to be released album and the 2012 Sage nominee and musical performer, MARIKA sang one of her songs that she composed and wrote called “Angel.” Pianist, Andrew Tempel, performed throughout the welcome reception hour.

Established in 2007, SAGE Foundation awards recognize and support excellence in Community Service, Leadership, Education and Multiculturalism. The annual awards are also intended to inspire individuals and groups to action and initiative in personal and community development.

The 2012 award recipients honoured at the event were:

Dr. Heather Holden: TAN Writer of the Year Award

Elsa Piassa: TAN Community Leadership Award

Michael Okoth: TAN Community Life Time Achievement Legacy Award

Mackenzie Finch: Recognition of Excellence Award, Science

Ali Senyama: Recognition of Excellence Award, Family

Nambooze Marvin: Recognition of Excellence Award, Family

Marika Siewert: Recognition of Excellence Award, Arts & Culture

Videographer Modise Molefe and photographer Edison Wrzosek captured the evening’s events with Sam Azad handling audio visual support during the event.

A montage was shown to remember Amanda Todd and the work her mother Carol Todd is doing by creating a foundation to continue her daughter’s name. A short video on bullying was screened just prior to Mr. Holyfield’s presentation, which was arranged in conjunction with Legacy Group. Evander Holyfield’s message about anti-bullying started with a focus on family responsibility. Children have to get direction from and listen to their parents. Holyfield spoke a lot about the values his Mama taught him which enforced his belief in himself and to understand the challenges he suffered in order to become the person he became. In this day and age of technology, the family values must be reinforced with talking to your children and them and you being aware of the perils of bullying. Despite the character we all think a boxer of his calibre should have Evander is an amazing gentle giant, his endearment towards his own children is only one example of his fight for the rights of others.

Before the close of the evening Riley Inge, kept the guests entertained with a few jokes and sang a rap song from his collection of children’s songs that debut at his STOP project on anti bullying. Sage Founder, Honoré Gbedze closed the evening with a thank you to all the Board Member of Sage Foundation, The Afro News Team, all their partners, supporters and volunteers who made this event possible. He stated that the whole focus of the event was to build trust amongst members of the community as well as foster leadership in all categories of excellence by reaching out in a most constructive way to keep building our society.

The Afro News (TAN) Writer Of The Year Award Dr. Heather Holden

Dr. Heather Holden is a Private Wealth Manager at UBS Investment Management Canada which is one of the oldest and largest banks in the world.

Heather has earned the Chartered Investment Manager (CIM) designation and has completed Level 1 of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program. She is committed to professional development through taking and teaching courses, publishing papers, and giving public lectures.

Heather values public service and frank, open communication has her commercial pilot’s license, a PhD from the University of Waterloo in satellite remote sensing, and her Rescue Scuba Diver certification — all steps to get into the astronaut program at the Canadian Space Agency (maybe someday!). She was a professor at the National University of Singapore before moving to Vancouver.

Heather was elected to the Vancouver Park Board in 2005 and served as Chair of the Board. She currently sits on the Boards of The Nature Trust of BC, The Pacific Carbon Trust, Honorary Board Member of Sage Foundation and Volunteer Writer for The Afro News with monthly article contributions for the Financial Matters column and she also volunteers as a Big Sister to a fabulous young teenager.

She appreciates hard work, having fun and enjoying life. Sports have been a big part of her life—she was a competitive gymnast in Ontario for years, then a varsity rower, sometimes a triathlete, always a runner and forever a yogi. Her husband, friends and family, dog, and Little Sister fill her life with smiles.

The Afro News (TAN) Community Leadership Award Elsa Piassa

Elsa Piassa moved into the City of Vancouver in 1989. Living in a new town could be intimidating, but she did not let that break her confidence. When she unpacked her bags, she was unaware of the impending love and aid that was waiting for her.

Elsa went to the Déjà Vu International School of Cosmetology, the first of its’ kind in Vancouver at that time. Not certain of where to start, Elsa knew that she needed a place to call home, and guidance to encourage her. She was introduced to the Cross family and they quickly became her support system. She stated that she met them through a friend, when she started working here in Vancouver. They were the first family she met in Vancouver; Anthony, Lukas, and the Mother, Delores Cross. Being in a new city, one can feel lonely but, having a connection with a family can ease that feeling.

The Mother of the Cross family, Delores Cross, had a salon of her own. Cross was Elsa’s mentor and gave her the stepping stones in business management and hair treatments. Elsa graduated and studied advance cosmetology training in North Carolina. Mrs. Cross helped me a lot; in fact she is a lot like my Mom declared Elsa. Mrs. Cross introduced her to the business side of hairstyling. Once Piassa knew the in and outs of owning a salon she pursued her dream. Elsa has an innate passion for her career she always loves to make people look beautiful. She could now put this to work as that is what she loved about working in a salon. Piassa is not only her last name, but also the name of her birth place. “There is a little town in Ethiopia called Piassa where I grew up and I wanted to name my salon after my home.”

Elsa admits if it wasn’t for the aid of the Cross family, especially Mrs. Cross, she wouldn’t have thought about opening her own business and said that “I’m in my position all because of the Cross Family.”

Elsa is the mother of 9 year old twin boys Nathaneil and Romel. She commented that she got double what she bargained for. “I always wanted one boy, but then God gave me two, so that is a great blessing!” She looks forward to supporting and mentoring her own children. “I wish to keep the same business, and keep working in hairstyle, but most of all; I want to raise my kids.” She did not let fear overcome her when she was opening up her shop, and she welcomes young Mothers to pursue their potentials. “If you like to do something or have a passion… go for it, I’m the type of person who likes to take risks. Back then I really didn’t know if I would make it or not, but I then I would say ‘why not? If it works out well, that is great, if not, that is OK.”

Elsa states the need for everyone, especially young women to find a support system. “It is hard trying to manage a business and being a single Mother, but I have a lot of heart because of great friends and family. That is why I made it; I have a lot of help.” She admits that Delores Cross is one of the biggest anchors in her life, and she states that she is grateful for the building blocks used to construct her business. “She is like my Mother back home, and I will always see her as my Mother.

The Afro News (TAN) Lifetime Achievement Legacy Award Michael Okoth

In 1993 the Okoth family opened a beauty supply business called, Abantu Beauty Products Ltd. The shop was geared towards the people of colour mainly the Afro Canadians and people from the Caribbean. Michael states “The name Abantu which means ‘people’ was opened to provide quality Afro Canadian products to the growing ethnic community in Vancouver. We carried just a few brands of hair and skin care products, make-up for women of colour and various types of synthetic braiding hair.” Michael & Birgit Okoth and their children, Michelle, Samali and Mark were all involved in running the business.

Michael Okoth and his late wife, Birgit Okoth, owned successful business’s in Kenya and Uganda including a donut factory, but they decided to take a risk and moved to Vancouver in 1984. Michael admits his wife was responsible for the concept of the hair shop. “She was the brain behind Abantu. She taught Michael, Mark, Michelle and Samali everything she knew about the business.

After a long battle with breast cancer, Birgit Okoth passed away in February, 2010. Michael states, “She was creative and will always be loved and missed.” Most of the Okoth family is continuing to take part in business operations, carrying the legacy Birgit Okoth created. This February 3 will be the 3rd anniversary of Birgit’s passing she is dearly remembered by her family as a trusting, loving, kind person and one that supported the community a lot.

As the community grew, the business did as well. Michael states the shop was not just a business, but a community dwelling for newcomers, and people seeking clients for new businesses “We encourage business owners to bring information about their company to our shop to let people know what they were doing.” The years after Abantu opened proved to be quite busy, as the business expanded once again. “Abantu had grown over the years to three locations, throughout Vancouver and Burnaby. The Okoths continue to operate Abantu and serve as a community beacon, not only to help their clients, but to inspire owners of starting businesses. “We are proud to state that it opened the door so that members of the community can start their own business.” Michael also reiterates the service of the store, and the impact it has had, “The highlight of the company is the excitement from the people as they have a store of their own where they can come and buy hair wigs, hair care and body care products all in one place.”

In 1984 there were no black businesses like ours. We were the first business that provided product for people of colour. We used our store as an information centre where the community obtained information and this worked well and brought lots of customers to us. Before the Afro News, Michele Lee Williams published the Afro Caribe News which was distributed to the community; we faithfully advertised in this newsletter and people got to know us and that’s how we became successful. A big thank you goes to Michelle and Rico . Without the support of the community Abantu will not be where it is today and our aim is always to support the community by giving back in many different ways.

Hard work and education for both, parents and their children are important factors. The members of the community must know that working hard and making good choices will also result into success. Don’t be afraid to build confidence and never give up!

SAGE FOUNDATION Recognition of Excellence Award Science Fair Medalist Mackenzie Finch

Mackenzie lives in Merrit, BC. In addition to working part time on weekends, traveling

twice a week from Merritt to Kamloops for dance lessons, achieving and maintaining great grades in school and participating in a number of extracurricular activities she also for the last four years has been an active participant and competitor in both Regional and the Canadian National Science Fair where she won a bronze medal for her projects the last two years.

Ali Senyama & Nambooze Marvin with Senator Yonah Martin and Helena Kaufman

Ali Senyama & Nambooze Marvin with Senator Yonah Martin and Helena Kaufman

SAGE FOUNDATION Recognition of Excellence Award Family Leadership Ali Senyama and Nambooze Marvin

Two years ago Ali Senyama and Nambooze Marvin, brother and sister arrived in Canada as refugees from Burundi via Uganda when they were seventeen and fourteen. At this age, some teenagers are preoccupied with sex, drugs, and rock and roll. However, although Ali dreams of becoming a famous rapper, his favourite subject is…his mother! Meanwhile, Nambooze combines care for her four younger siblings (aged 1-12 years) with homework and other responsibilities associated with high school attendance. Having come to Canada too late to graduate from high school, Ali is working determinedly towards his GED. Although these two young people have also had to deal with the stress of migration and family separation, along with integration into a new culture and language, they provide a solid foundation of support for the younger members of their family, as well as to their mother, a former refugee who is raising six kids on her own and has a permanent disability.

The respect and care that Ali and Nambooze demonstrate for their family members is truly awe inspiring. They are always available without complaint to cook and prepare a feast for 20 people single-handed. Ali is the chapatti king; drives the little ones around day and night (Ali got his driver’s license shortly after arriving); change diapers, kiss away the pain of scraped knees, prepare bottles AND help their mother in her work as a vendor of African art at local markets. Without question, Ali and Nambooze work harder than most adults, and it’s all for their family. They never refuse to help and they don’t wait to be asked. The little ones look up to Ali like a father figure and are never happier than when they are snuggled up on his broad chest. Nambooze has a little one permanently attached to her hip – even while chatting with her friends on facebook!

Although they are both intelligent, friendly, and popular young people, neither Ali nor Nambooze is involved in a romantic relationship. If you ask them why, you will discover that it is due to their profound devotion to their mother and younger brothers and sisters.

Romance would take time away from what they see as their primary obligation—family—and both insist that their main objective in life is to help their mother. She, in turn, insists she could not manage without them. Of course, African families often expect older children to assist with childcare, but Ali and Nambooze take that responsibility to new heights. And they do it in a cultural milieu in which teenagers are more commonly expected to be dating, working outside the home, or otherwise exerting independence from family. Ali and Nambooze are truly an inspiration to other young people!

Marika Siewert receiving her Recognition of Excellence Award Arts and Culture from Senator Yonah

Marika Siewert receiving her Recognition of Excellence Award
Arts and Culture from Senator Yonah

SAGE FOUNDATION Recognition of Excellence Award Arts and Culture Marika Siewert

Marika is a young and vibrant Trinidadian Canadian Pop singer/ songwriter since 2003. She was born in San Fernando, Trinidad, raised in England and immigrated to Canada in 1992 and lived in Medicine Hat, Alberta and currently resides in Langley, BC. MARIKA has had two top 40 radio singles in Canada.

Her song ANGEL was featured on the Lifetime network’s original movie Sins of A Mother. You Know I Will got MARIKA nominated as best new artist in the Urban Category at the Canadian Radio Music Awards in 2007. MARIKA performed back in Medicine Hat for the 2010 Winter Olympics Torch relay where she shared the stage with County Superstar Terri Clark.

MARIKA – released her second album ‘UNSTOPPABLE’ to iTunes in November 2012.While she would love to sign with a big-name label, the 32-year-old Langley resident isn’t willing to compromise her values or beliefs to do so. She’s striving with her songs and actions around this new album, to send a message to everyone to be true to themselves and follow their dreams.

“I’m an artist. Naturally, I want to be heard; what artist doesn’t want to get their music in everyone’s ears?” she told the media. But she has to do it on her terms, wanting the music and everything around it to empower.

“My desire is to be a positive influence on my audience and inspire them. After feeling like I’ve failed many times in this industry, and not being accepted for being who I was, not compromising my integrity, and being a respectful artist and business woman, I was given the gift of this album, and what feels like an incredible step in my career. I want as many people to hear this and hopefully be inspired by the journey, too.”

“I won’t change who I am, I won’t compromise my integrity, my ethics. At all times, I want to be someone my kids can be proud of.”

Marika added that the music industry has been good to me, but also had many challenges that I never talked about. My music is an honest representation of my journey till now. It has songs of hope, of hardship, of perseverance, and of freedom, and ultimately is really a reminder to myself and others to keep dreaming big, and keep being the best you can be!

Congratulations to all the 2012 TAN and SAGE Award Recipients

Photo of the reception and