The 31st Annual Harry Jerome Awards are one day away, and I couldn't be more excited! As part of my official HJA blogger duties, I've been posting interviews with various award and scholarship winners - and today I'm hittin' y'all with one more before the big night!
The Harry Jerome Awards celebrate excellence in the African-Canadian community in all different arenas, and today I'm highlighting Anne-Marie Woods, winner of the G98.7FM Excellence in Entertainment Award.
Anne-Marie a.k.a. Amani is an actor, poet, singer, writer, artist educator, producer, and creative consultant. With a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre from Dalhousie University, Woods has used her talents to achieve some incredible feats. Performances at the St. Lucia Jazz Festival, opening for legends like Maya Angelou and Roy Ayers, and headlining at the world-famous Nuyorican cafe in New York City are some of the items on her resume. She is a resident Artist Educator at Young People's Theatre, created a theatre outreach program for youth called Word Up and continues to give back to the community via workshops on literacy, anti-bullying, and diversity at schools and organizations around the world. Without further ado, let me take it away to Ms. Woods, who tells us a bit more about herself in my 7 Questions series.
Tell us a bit about your business and what you do. Also, what is one interesting or little-known fact about you?
Imani Enterprises is the name of my company and it was founded in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1994 as a response to the need for positive cultural programming with an arts education focus. I moved to Toronto in 2000 and my company has continued to evolve over the years. We are now a Global Arts Education Service that introduces creativity as a means of communication and outreach. We provide creative and innovative services to individuals, schools, community based organizations and corporations. Our services are designed to help our clients realize that arts and creativity can add to a better quality of life and we make our clients part of the creative process. I am also currently in the middle of developing my third diversity presentation contract for TJX Canada/Winners Distribution Centre in Mississauga and Brampton, Ontario.
As a multi-disciplinary artist I am a: singer, writer, dancer, spoken word artist, producer and artist educator. I started my company and often have to deal with the many misconceptions about what being a professional artist actually means. My degree is in theatre, I have an SEB Small Business Certificate, and years of experience as a professional performer.
In the 90’s I founded the Imani Women’s Artistic Project, a theatre program developed for young women in Nova Scotia aged 16-25 to enhance their self-esteem through theatre and performance art. In 2011 during my Artist Educator Residency at Young People's Theatre I started I started the Word Up Spoken Word and Theatre Youth Outreach Program and have directed three productions - the first two at YPT and then the last one this February as part of Kuumba at Harbourfront Centre. So, the question is: how do I earn my living when I do so many different things? To me it’s simple. I teach, write, act, produce, perform and create. I will focus on three major projects a year and I make sure that my work is excellent which is why I have recurring clients. I have been teaching theatre at Young Peoples Theatre for five years now and have also done work for various schools and school boards repetitively since I moved here in 2000.
One interesting or little known fact about me is that I have been on my own in every way since I was in grade 12. So, I know the true meaning of success through hard work, of finding a way to be able to put myself through University and finding my way from a very young age. It’s why I have that fighting entrepreneurial spirit to this day. Another fun little known fact is that I started out as a rapper and won the first major Rap Contest in Nova Scotia held at George Dixon Community Centre in 1986.
What was your first reaction when you heard you won your Harry Jerome Award? What did your family/friends/colleagues think?
My reaction getting the news was probably a bit out of the ordinary (just ask Angelina [Harry Jerome Award Chair] who called me). I was taking a nap because I had a performance that evening for the Viola Desmond Awards. My phone rings and this lady says “Hi, this is Angelina Williams and I’d like to congratulate you for winning the Harry Jerome Award for Excellence in Entertainment!” To which I responded…"huh?" so she repeated herself, and then I said “What um uh…is this a real phone call?” She laughed and assured me the call was real. So, I was definitely completely thrown off guard, and I stayed that way for a few weeks - probably until the actual Media Launch in March. My family is proud of me, including my siblings in Nova Scotia and my family back home in Trinidad. I have had emails and support phone calls from various key members of the Black Community in Nova Scotia as well.
My cousin who has never been to Toronto is coming up to support me the night of the event, my niece will also be there and 2 of my good friends bought their tickets right away. My really good friend Tara was also proud, and the youth that I work with also gave me props. It’s been an interesting journey for me. But the praise I also listened to was the congrats and well deserved comments from the many mentors in my life…that was definitely a good feeling. And of course the public congrats from Diaspora Dialogues on Twitter and their website and also from the Playwrights Guild of Canada made me smile deeply when I ran across them online.
The one feeling I didn’t know I would have was a bit of sadness having lost a sister to lupus and my mother to breast cancer, and it made me sad to think they aren’t here to experience this. However, that soon passed and I feel that their spirits will be with me on the 27th smiling and cheering me on.
Have you been to the Harry Jerome Awards before? If so, what was one of your top memories of the event?
I have never attended the event outside of being a performer, and that is primarily due to me being self-employed. In the year 2002 I opened up the Harry Jerome Awards with a poem I wrote for the event called I Am Canadian. It was a take on the beer commercials that were on at that time, but I made it about African Canadian History. That poem earned me a lot of recognition in Toronto and I performed it at many galas, conferences and events for the rest of that year, and to date I have integrated into one of my artivational speeches “Why Black History Month is for Everyone”. I remember being nervous because I opened up the entire award show… but I had the full support of the audience for that performance and it was exhilarating!
What are you most looking forward to at this year's awards? Is there anyone you're looking forward to meeting?
I am looking forward to sharing this special night with my cousin and niece and my good friends that will be attending. I am also looking forward to sharing the night with the other recipients and hoping to really be able to connect with them though we represent so many different walks of life. When I was at the Media Launch in March what I truly loved about the recipients was that amongst us there are those who are well recognized for their contributions and there are a few of us that are unsung Sheroes and I really liked that element… that perhaps some of us who are involved in grass roots work may not be the type of person that is normally recognized.
I also hope that there will be youth in attendance who will find each of our stories motivational and inspirational. As far as looking forward to meeting anyone, I really am just looking forward to living, breathing, and taking in the entire experience because it is a true blessing.
What do you feel is the significance of the Harry Jerome Awards in today's African-Canadian community?
Having also performed at the Awards last year, as well as having to look up the history of Harry Jerome, I feel that knowing our history is so important. A few ladies in my church were friends with Harry Jerome so since this happened I got to hear about the type of person he was, how he truly cared about community and was humble. I feel that by recognizing individuals through his name we are keeping the history of his story alive in Canada. It is so important to let our HIS stories and HER stories continue to live!
What does winning this Harry Jerome Award mean to you personally?
Personally, this means that for those of us who are self-made, and who may have been voted least likely to succeed when we were younger because of our skin colour or behavioural issues, that we can persevere through anything and gain recognition. It means that the little girl who came to Nova Scotia from Trinidad that they wanted to kick out of nursery school for telling the kids scary stories had a future after all. It means that dedicating my life to performing and working with youth and always being diligent and excellent in my artistic endeavours has proven to be a good thing. It means that I am glad I have always faced my fears or else I would still be sitting in a room in Nova Scotia dreaming about many of the places I've traveled or performed or taught. I have always been one to face my fears even when I was truly afraid to make that phone call or pursue that festival or showcase - I would never let that fear stop me. Finally it means that even when we think no one is paying attention…someone out there is, so always be mindful of what messages you are putting out there. I am a product of my family, my culture, Nova Scotia, Trinidad, my education and my miseducation. So it means that if I can live dreams especially doing this on my own, then anyone can!
Finally, what is your key to success?
My key to success is my sticktoitiveness, my perseverance, and my ability to never take no as an answer. My key to success is also having faith and a huge sense of humour to get me through the challenging and difficult life moments. I believe in what I’m doing, have done and will continue to do. I will continue to be organized, focused, driven and never see my confidence or the successes that are yet to come as a negative. And I will continue to live by my daily Mantra “Work Hard, Play Hard, Rest Hard, Pray Hard!”
Keep up with Anne-Marie via her Imani Enterprises site! Will you be at the Harry Jerome Awards tomorrow night? If so, make sure we meet! If not, keep up with my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as I capture the night - and tune in to Caribbean Connections TV for a live feed of the blue carpet at the awards! Stay tuned for more awards fun!