Mark Henry is the new president, Sharon Nelson is 1st
vice-president at Jamaica Association

Egbert Gaye

Not many respond to the call of community.
You see, oft-times it’s work characterized by long hours, little or no pay and thankless. So it’s not uncommon for those who might have something to offer choose instead to detach themselves rather than get involved in community work.
Mark Henry knows that reality too well.
In fact he would tell you that he was one that was prepared to stand on the sidelines and criticized those doing community work, especially those in leadership positions.
Well, today Henry has come full circle.
As the president of the Jamaica Association of Montreal and in addition to shoring up and taking this organization, one of the longest-serving groups in the city, to a next level of development, Henry is working assiduously to encourage young Montrealers of Jamaican heritage to be part of the organization and help build better futures in our community.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, to mobilize resources to build our association as well as to help other community organizations reach their potential, those are some of the things I’m committing myself to during my presidency,” says Henry, who assumed the position this past January.
He holds a Commerce degree from Concordia University and serves as the regional sales and service manager for Quebec and Eastern Ontario for a major material handling and supply chain company.
“I was on the other side of community building, in fact I was part of the problem before I chose to change my life and acquire the education and skills that I can use to help build my community.”
Standing shoulder to shoulder with Henry is Sharon Nelson, who is currently serving as the vice-president of the association and as her president readily attests, a backbone of the organization.
She too brings a lot of heft to the service of Jamaicans in particular and our community in general, as the assistant director for the Executive MBA Program at the John Molson School of Business (Concordia University), in which she hires, train and supervise staff while managing a one million dollar budget.
A long-standing activist, her foray into community work came a few years ago when she decided that she wanted to use her talent and the resources available to her to “help lift the level of the Jamaican community in Quebec.”
I have the time, I have the energy and it feels good working to create something bigger with like-minded people,” says Nelson who holds two bachelor degrees from Concordia University (Montreal) in Biology and Civil Engineering as well as a Masters degree in Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) from McGill University.
Today, she is serving as the 1st Vice president following an extended stint as secretary-general, the position she held since 2016.
Together, Henry and Nelson are united in their commitment to elevate the association to another phase in its development.
And they’re aiming high.
Ultimately, both agree the association has to be placed on a path of financial viability and must be able to stand on its own financially, while assisting emerging entrepreneurs.”
“We can’t continue to be dependent on government grants indefinitely.”
So in addition to having a fundraising arm (The Jamaica Association of Montreal Foundation, headed by past president Michael Smith) which is dedicated solely to buffering the financial base of the organization, Nelson and Henry are focused on a business plan that ultimately will lead to independence.
Nelson, who oversees management and staff as well as programs and services for the association, also dedicates a lot of effort to elevating the level of conversation among members of the association and the community by bringing to the fore issues such as mental health, financial literacy and heightening awareness of the language of Jamaican patois.
“So important for us to look at these aspects of ourselves in a more positive way,” she says. “For so long our stories have been self-erasing and haven’t been adding value to our community.”
For his part, Henry says his focus is to continue to build the membership of the association, which means trying to get back those who have walked away for one reason or the other and at the same time distancing it from the “party image” that many hold about the organization.
He’s especially focused on opening up the association and making it a lot more inclusive and says he is proud of the new blood of enthusiasm flowing through the association.
He points to an executive that’s rejuvenated and engaged, that include veterans Mr. Alexander Townsend, serving as 2nd vice president, and Aston Mendez, treasurer, as well as relative new-comers Shelley Morgan, a former professor at the University of the West Indies, who is the new secretary and Carlene Clarke and Brian Kotler, who are both directors.
Henry says he is particularly excited to have someone like Omar Ramus, a young Montrealer who is joining the board as youth representative because of the potential that he brings to open the membership to a whole new demographic.
Henry, who carries with him proudly his values as a Christian, is known widely for his profile as a noted Gospel singer and was a former mentor with the Black Star Big Brother program.
He says his efforts to build the association goes way beyond his love and commitment to other Jamaicans, but extends to his will to empower the entire Black community of Quebec.
“I think we’re on the right path as far as the association is concerned. We’re financially stable and through the assistance of the Honorary Consul, Mr. George Grant, we’ve been able to create solid linkage with the (home country) Jamaica, now I think it’s important to use our standing to help other Caribbean-based organizations and start to strengthen our community as a whole.”
Henry says he’s looking forward to working with groups such as the Barbados Association, the St. Vincent and The Grenadines Association of Montreal as well as other island-centered organizations to help consolidate resources and strengthen the base of the community.
Henry says the idea is to maintain your identity but also create a joint and somewhat unifying perspective for the community.
“In the end we’ll be stronger as a group and we’ll be able to speak with one voice on many issues.”
Even as Henry and Nelson sharpen their focus on helping Blacks find their footing and build better lives for themselves and their families, they’re conscious of those who are standing with them at the association and around the community in their efforts.
“We’re surrounded by strong community-minded people who are devoting much of their time and energy to help build the Jamaica Association and in the end, everyone, our community and the city of Montreal will benefit.
The Jamaica Association of Montreal was founded in November 1962. Its objective is to
“assist in improving and enhancing the quality of life for the Jamaican Community.”
Throughout the year it organizes a series educational, cultural and social as well as financial activities for members and the wider community.
Its annual Jamaica Day celebrations held every summer is one of Montreal’s largest outdoor festivals and one of the longest-running in the city.
Info on the Jamaican Association of Montreal: http://jam-montreal.com or 514-737-8229
Email: info@jam-montreal.com