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African Canadian Achievement Awards (ACAA) Founder Reflects On The Organization’s 30-Year History

African Canadian Achievement Awards (ACAA) Founder Reflects On The Organization’s 30-Year History

By Michael Van Cooten
ACAA Founder, Chair and CEO

Wow — 30 years!

Looking back from the present perspective, it seems that the last 30 years went by so fast, but in reality, that time period was painful, overshadowed by mountainous debt, beset with challenges and obstacles and plagued by hurdles, giving it the ghostly, hideous appearance that the time was crawling slower than a crippled turtle.

There were times when I, literally, did not want to get out of bed, because I knew that voracious wolves were baying at the door, anxiously anticipating sinking their fangs into my being, in an attempt to rip out my soul.

But, I held on — tenaciously — to the vision, and mission, I had for the organization; I persisted, doggedly; refinanced the debt at lower rates; armoured myself with faith in God; hurdled the obstacles; faced down the challenges; jumped the hurdles; reached out to some community members for assistance and, importantly, in 1995, I hired Joan Pierre — our current President — and, WE OVERCAME!

Thank God Almighty we overcame!

In June, 1985, when I started the African Canadian Achievement Awards (ACAA), which was called the Canadian Black Achievement Awards at that time, we honoured one recipient, Hon. Alvin Curling, and the event was held at Cutty’s Hideaway — a popular restaurant/lounge, now defunct — on Danforth Avenue, in Toronto.

I don’t have a clear recollection of how many people were in attendance but, I am almost sure it was less than 50. Little did I know at the time, that my newborn idea would grow and mature into its current manifestation.

I remember, a few years after Joan joined us as our Producer at the time — in the late nineties — we adopted the dinner format and held the event at a prominent hotel in Markham.

The event went off without a hitch; the majority of the attendees complimented us on what an uplifting, inspiring and professionally-run show we had staged; the guest speaker’s message was educational, insightful and awesome, as young people would say; the entertainers performed flawlessly; everyone we contracted with were paid what they were promised; the award recipients were overjoyed at receiving their tributes and, we felt good that we had accomplished our social goals.

But financially, I took a bath!!

In the wee hours of the next morning, after everyone had left and the hall was deserted, and the dishes taken away and cleaned, Joan; my wife, Donna; and I, retired to the room the hotel have included in the rental price of the venue, and did our accounting.

When it became clear to us that we had lost thousands that I did not have, we hugged each other and cried. Yes, I cried, like a baby!

But, after we had wiped our eyes, calmed down and consoled each other, we resolved not to be beaten and, we persisted, and persisted, and persisted — and, after many, many more years of taking several beatings, and falling down, time and time again, finally, we overcame!

Fast forward to tonight: As of this year, our 30th, the ACAA has paid tribute to over 400 distinguished, successful, high-achieving African Canadians in fifteen categories of vocation and, over the last five years, we have not lost a penny, covering our costs each year.

And the ACAA has become an institution and beacon in the African Canadian communities, contributing, significantly, to Canadian society, by unearthing, recognizing and recording Black history in Canada.

This year, for the thirtieth time, we gathered, on Saturday, February 21, to honour 13 of our community “brothers” and “sisters”, to pay them tribute, and to say rather, to shout, to them — from the rooftop: ” YOU DID GOOD! WE ARE PROUD OF YOU!

How do I feel about this 30th anniversary milestone?

I feel grateful, appreciative and thankful.

Thankful to God for infusing me with the vision, the wisdom and strength to accomplish its realization; thankful to my wife, for her love and support, and who has borne much of the financial burden and sacrifice, especially during the lean years; and my children, for their understanding and support.

I feel a deep sense of gratitude to Joan Pierre, whose professionalism, mental brilliance, effectiveness, tenacity and doggedness has contributed, almost single-handedly, to our current success.

I feel gratitude to the staff, volunteers, committed individuals and companies, who, unselfishly, gave — and continue to give — of their time and money, thus helping us to realize our mission.

To our sponsors, without whose financial contribution, we surely would not have reached where we are today, I say, from the deepest depths of my being: “THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

I feel grateful to the thousands of individuals who have attended our gala over the last 30 years and, finally, I thank the ACAA award recipients — past and present — for the inspiration and motivation they have provided our community, and for the pride their accomplishments have infused into our collective bosoms.

And, the ACAA journey — of recognizing excellence, and chronicling Black history in Canada — continues……….

Michael Van Cooten, the founder, Chair and CEO of the African Canadian Achievement Awards (ACAA), is also the Publisher and Editor of Pride News Magazine and Pridenews.ca, and the Chair and CEO of Pride Inc.

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