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Harry Jerome’s daughter wants famed sprinter’s name removed from embattled charity’s awards | CBC News

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The daughter of renowned Canadian sprinter Harry Jerome wants his name and likeness removed from a Toronto charity’s annual awards — which are this weekend — until it is cleared of alleged financial mismanagement.

Debbie Smith, 61, sent a cease-and-desist letter through her lawyer last week after learning about the alleged misappropriation of funds at the non-profit Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA). This year’s Harry Jerome Awards, which celebrate achievement in Canada’s Black community, are set to take place on Saturday.

The allegations are “putting a black cloud over my dad’s name, which to me is unacceptable,” Smith told CBC Toronto. 

“That breaks my heart.”

Jerome became the fastest man in the world in July 1960 when he set a 100-metre world record in Saskatoon. Despite facing racism throughout his life and career, Jerome went on to set six more world records, winning bronze in the 100-metre at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and gold at both the 1966 British Empire Games and 1967 Pan American Games.

He died in 1982 from a brain aneurysm at 42. Smith was a teenager and said, soon after, she was approached by prominent members of the community about honouring her father by naming an award after him. The BBPA was founded the following year, to address equity and opportunity for the Black community. 

Jerome’s daughter, Debbie Smith, has been involved with the Harry Jerome Awards on and off since their inception more than 40 years ago. (Submitted by Debbie Smith)

“I’ve never made a dime off my father’s name,” Smith said. 

“I’ve always used it, and let people use it, in good faith. This was a good faith handshake 42 years ago with an organization.”

Smith says the BBPA has not responded to her letter.

In it, she demands the organization stop using Jerome’s name and likeness in general and in connection to the awards until it has “addressed and rectified any and all proven instances of financial mismanagement.”

The BBPA’s board of directors did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. But in a letter emailed to its members on March 21, board chair Ross Cadastre denied allegations “regarding the misappropriation of funds.” 

CBC Toronto has seen both letters and another — sent to the board, from a lawyer on behalf of a group of BBPA members — detailing the allegations.

Olympians on podium with medals.
Jerome, right, stands on the podium at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics after winning a bronze medal in the 100-metre. (Allsport Hulton/Getty Images)

One of those members, former donor Chandran Fernando, says the BBPA has a vital mission to empower Black entrepreneurs and professionals.

In a statement to CBC Toronto, Fernando says they petitioned the board to disclose documents necessary for a third-party audit, but their requests have not been granted. 

“I am deeply troubled by the lack of transparency and accountability of the BBPA by its board of directors and leadership team” he said. 

“This organization must uphold the highest standards of transparency … any misappropriated funds must be repaid and properly redirected to support Black communities.”

In his letter to members, Cadastre said the allegations were taken seriously by the board and led them “to review the particulars with board directors, our treasurer, our auditors and with our legal counsel.”

The board “takes seriously its responsibility to act in the best interests of the organization, and it categorically denies these allegations,” he wrote.

“The BBPA remains committed to transparency, accountability, and partnership with stakeholders like yourself.” 

Smith hopes speaking up will get results because she doesn’t have the means to take the BBPA to court for continuing to use her father’s name.

“Those two words shouldn’t go together — ‘Harry Jerome’ and ‘allegations,'” Smith said.

Old photo of three men and young girl sitting on a couch.
Jerome, left, is pictured with Debbie. (Submitted by Debbie Smith)
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