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'You get what you believe:' Jully Black champions Black talent at the Legacy Awards

TORONTO — R&B singer Jully Black spoke through tears as she saluted those who supported her with an impassioned speech at the Legacy Awards on Sunday, where an ebullient crowd celebrated Black heroes including Tonya Williams, Director X and the l
Jully Black poses for a photograph on the black carpet for The Legacy Awards in Toronto on Sunday, September 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin

TORONTO — R&B singer Jully Black spoke through tears as she saluted those who supported her with an impassioned speech at the Legacy Awards on Sunday, where an ebullient crowd celebrated Black heroes including Tonya Williams, Director X and the late Oscar Peterson.

The platinum-selling Juno Award-winning Black received the Icon Award for her global influence.

“In the words of Alicia Keys, you don’t get what you ask for, but you get what you believe.... There was a time I believed I was washed up, done and irrelevant,” Black said to a captivated crowd at Toronto’s History venue where the second annual bash was held.

“But in the words of Faith Jenkins, I’d start over as often as necessary because I’m not starting from scratch, I’m starting from experience.”

Black was among several stars honoured at the annual Legacy Awards with singer Keshia Chanté hosting the celebration, broadcast on CBC and CBC Gem.

Actors and brothers Shamier Anderson and Stephan James founded the event to spotlight exceptional Black Canadians.

Soap star-turned-activist Williams, who gained fame on “The Young and the Restless” and went on to found the Reelworld Screen Institute and the Reelworld Foundation, was this year's winner of the Visionary Award for her philanthropic work.

In her speech, Williams underscored the crucial role Black storytellers play in shaping narratives that authentically reflect the Black experience. She stressed why it matters who tells them.

"I have heard primarily white male producers, writers and directors who appropriate our stories say it shouldn't matter who tells the story," Williams said to an audience of rapt onlookers.

"Stories about the trauma of Black people, Indigenous, Asian, South Asian people of colour are the stories that win awards, and whoever tells those stories are more likely to win those awards.... You know what happens to those who win those awards? Doors open for them."

Williams founded Reelworld in 2000 to draw attention to underrepresentation of racially diverse and Indigenous talent in mainstream media, both in front of and behind the camera.

Meanwhile, Julien Christian Lutz, professionally known as Director X, received the Trailblazer Award for his influential contributions to music videos and visual esthetics.

Lutz built a deep catalogue of music video credits, including Drake's "Hotline Bling," Rihanna's "Work" and Usher's "U Got It Bad," that dovetailed into feature films and television, including the upcoming Global drama, "Robyn Hood."

Lutz took the opportunity to underscore Canadianachievements, urging the enthusiastic audience not to take it all for granted.

"It wasn't long ago we were fighting for our rights as human beings, so stand up, Black Canada, hold your head high," he said.

Congolese-Canadian singer Lu Kala was honoured with the Emerging Artist Award and Hamilton-native WNBA star Kia Nurse was presented with the Legacy Athlete Award.

Kala, whose music leans into genres of dance, R&B, rock and soul, spent 15 weeks in the top 15 of Top 40 radio in Canada with her single “Pretty Girl Era.”

"As a Black woman in pop music, I’ve often been the only one in the room, so being surrounded by my community tonight means so much to me,” Kala said with a wine glass raised in one hand and her award in the other. “I hope to inspire Black kids to break down the barriers and build their own legacy.”

Nurse accepted her award from her sister Tamika, making sure to express her gratitude to her family.

“At the heart of my village lies the people who deserve the most," said Nurse, who thanked her husband and sister who stood next to her on stage.

"Thank you for sticking with me Tamika, without you, there is no me. I picked up a basketball when I was four years old because (she) was Michael Jordan, this is who I wanted to be,” she said, gesturing towards Tamika.

Nurse represented Canada in the Olympic Games, clinched gold medals in the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup in 2017 and 2015, and was a WNBA all-star starter in 2019. Off the court, Nurse provides basketball analysis on TSN and founded the basketball academy Kia Nurse Elite to offer opportunities to young women.

Quebec comedian and TikTok creator Tiawon the Digital Creator Fan Choice award.

The awards broadcast featured rousing live performances honouring late pianist and composer Peterson and closed with young rappers Taaylee G, Tamir, YSN Fab and Zach Zoy delivering their take on the 1998 rap anthem "Northern Touch," originally performed by Rascalz, Checkmate, Kardinal Offishall, Thrust and Choclair.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2023.

Noel Ransome, The Canadian Press

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