Yes, on the evening of Thursday, April 16, 2015, Jeanne Beker made me cry.  She made a lot of other people cry.  And, she was crying by the end of her acceptance speech as one of the honourees at the DAREarts (Discipline Action Responsibility Excellence) Leadership Awards Gala at the Allstream Centre on the CNE grounds.

Jeanne Beker, well known author, columnist, fashion designer and television personality from Fashion Television, and Waneek Horn-Miller, Olympic athlete and human rights advocate, were the two honourees presented with 2015 DAREarts Cultural Awards at a Gala event hosted by Marci Ien of CTV’s Canada AM.  This annual event does more than honour celebrities who are role models for children and youth. Beyond that, the Leadership Awards honour youth who have graduated from the DAREarts programme to become intelligent, educated, committed, confident and mature individuals and outstanding examples of leadership for their peers and all people who are fortunate to encounter them.

“DAREarts is a Canadian charity that works annually with over 13,000 9-to-18 year old children in under-served urban and rural areas across Canada. As the children explore world cultures and paint, sculpt, sing, dance, compose, design, write, act and create alongside arts professionals, they experience a broader range of activities beyond what is (otherwise) available to them and learn to express themselves and problem-solve in positive ways. DAREarts students become leaders when they are charged with the responsibility of returning to their schools and communities to teach others what they’ve learned. Since its founding, DAREarts has influenced more than 190,000 underprivileged Canadian children.”

On Thursday evening, five youth graduates of the DAREarts programme were honoured for their Leadership skills and achievements:

Kohilan Mohanarajan, a seven year participant currently in grade 11;

Dante Royale Scholar, a grade 11 student whose character made him the choice to carry, in conjunction with Cirque du Soleil, the Pan Am torch at the opening in July;

Michelle Khela, a grade 12 student who, at 17 years of age, was forced to flee years of abuse from her single mother to live in a shelter while attending school at the South East Year Round Alternative Centre;

Blake Perryman, a three year participant currently in grade 10 in the Leonard Braithwaite Program at Winston Churchill C.I., the only Afro-centric high school programme in North America;

Judith Beaver, a grade 9 student in the remote northern “fly-in-only” community of Webequie First Nation in Ontario, who told of the high incidence of youth suicide and her very personal experience with the recent suicide of her cousin who had once been involved in the DAREarts programme.

Finally, The Patina Prize, an award from the Patina family to help with post-secondary education expenses, was awarded to Elizabeth Ward who looks forward to breaking a multi-generational cycle of poverty and government housing.  In her acceptance speech, Elizabeth spoke of her status as an orphan whose parents had both succumbed to the ravages of drug addiction.

The stories of all of these young people were very moving and caused wave upon wave of emotion to wash over the audience of 350 people; however, there were more moving stories to come.  First Waneek Horn-Miller accepted her Cultural Award and spoke of her history as the third of four daughters raised by a single mother who absolutely forbade alcohol and drugs to anyone who entered their door. She sacrificed any personal comfort to involve her children in all available sports programmes, insisted on education, and saw all four of her daughters through post-secondary institutions.  Further, Waneek, a human rights advocate, was involved in the OKA Crisis of 1990 where she was stabbed with a bayonette, and spoke of how she used the deep resentment and anger of this experience to fuel the passion for her sport of women’s water polo, taking her to the 2000  Sydney Olympics as co-captain of her team.

After Waneek’s emotional though wittily phrased narrative, Jeanne Beker stepped before the podium to receive her Cultural Award dressed in a surprising outfit of stunning black palazzo pants and matching short-sleeved blouse topped with a slightly incongruous brown suede vest.  Struggling with obvious emotion, Jeanne began to recount her past several years of involvement with DAREarts and the impressions made on her by the various youth she had encountered.  Fighting to hold back tears, Jeanne told the story of the vest she was wearing, It had special memories and a special place in her closet, because it had been presented to her a few years previous by a youth from the Webequie First Nation who had made it and even embellished it with an almost antiquated bead-work patch gifted from a mentor.  It was then related that Jeanne had just recently discovered that this vest she wore had been made and presented by the cousin of Judith Beaver, who had only minutes before told of the suicide of that same cousin.

It was at this point that Jeanne Beker made me cry.  As if all the preceding were not enough to destroy my eye make-up, Jeanne then took the additional step which illustrates exactly why she is an award winner; she gifted the vest back to Judith.

I have attended DAREarts galas in the past; I hope to attend more in the future.  This is a charity whose projects speak volumes of their success in the words of the young people who have achieved a life of promise and potential salvaged from desolation.

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