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

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.

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.
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
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.”
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.
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”.)