OUTSTANDING CARIBBEAN WOMEN – 2/2014

KN GLITZ & GLAM

MARY ANN CHAMBERS

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When MARY ANN CHAMBERS (born September 8, 1950) arrived in Toronto from Jamaica in 1976 with her husband and two little boys, she had two things on her mind. “I was determined Canada was going to be good for us and that we were going to be good for Canada.”

More than 30 years later, Chambers’ wish has been granted. Both she and Canada have been very good for each other. Not only is Mary Anne’s professional career the envy of most people, she’s managed to improve life for a number of Canadians along the way, making her more than amply qualified for the YWCA’s 2010 Women of Distinction Award for Community Service.

Mary Anne received her university education at the U of T (University of Toronto) and from there entered the world of banking as a computer programmer/analyst, moving up the corporate ladder to become a Senior Vice-President at Bank of Nova Scotia in 1989. She graduated from the Executive Management Program at Queen’s in 1995.

Mary Anne also got involved in a variety of volunteer organizations, including the United Way of Greater Toronto. She found her volunteerism so satisfying that she took early retirement in order to have more time free to get involved. However, she soon found herself wooed by the provincial Liberals, who wanted her to run in the upcoming election.

Mary Anne had never considered a political career, but she felt a responsibility to run. “There aren’t many black women at that level of public service, so here was an opportunity to blend minority voices with those in the broader community,” she explains.

Mary Anne won election as the MPP for Scarborough East, serving from 2003-2007 and she was appointed Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities. She had previous experience in the world of higher education from her tenure on the Governing Council of the U of T, where she helped establish a policy (adopted by other Canadian universities) ensuring that lack of money would not be a barrier for students accepted at university. During that time, she had also learned the strengths and shortcomings of Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and when she became Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities she improved access to the initiative.

In 2005, she was appointed Minister of Children and Youth Services, where she established the first regulatory college for early childhood educators in North America along with the largest expansion of licensed subsidized child care in Ontario’s history– 22,000 new spaces. Mary Anne herself was also responsible for legislation making it easier for children in the child-welfare system to find permanent homes.

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DOCTOR OF LAWS: Mary Anne Chambers receives an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree at convocation and is congratulated by U of T President David Naylor, centre, and Chancellor David Peterson, at right. 

She recalls some of what she calls “tricky times,” but there were also many rewarding ones. “I remember my first funding announcement,” she says. “Parents and staff at children’s mental health treatment centers cried because they hadn’t had an increase in funding for so many years.”

Mary Anne says her ministry also changed the age limitation for children with autism to receive intensive behavior intervention; it had been the age of six. As well, she helped to establish the first independent office for the province’s child and youth advocate.

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Mary Anne decided not to run again but was grateful for the experience. “In hindsight I realize if you’re conscientious and committed you can have a really significant impact on the lives of a substantial number of people.”

These days she keeps busy with her volunteer work. In addition to sponsoring a mentor-ship program at the U of T, she sits on the board for the Center for Addiction and Mental Health and the board of directors of the Project for Advancement of Early Childhood Education through which she sponsors two schools in Jamaica. Last year, two schools were adopted in Toronto in low-income areas through the program.

Mary Anne also speaks with children in schools and seeks to inspire them. “Young people are always looking for role models. It’s not just black kids, these are all kids. Whenever I visit the schools I find it so energizing. You know you can have impact.”

So all these years later, Mary Anne Chambers can look back with satisfaction in knowing that she has helped bring about positive changes here in Canada. “I still love Jamaica, but I’m proof that you can love more than one country. Even when I go to Jamaica, when I return here, I’m so happy to call Canada home.”

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YAANI KING

Yaani King

YAANI KING is an American actor of Guyanese descent. The only daughter of an NYPD officer mother, Yaani was born August 10/1981 in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and raised in Queens. She has two elder brothers, she spent most of her childhood around the theater, as her mother was a stage and commercial actress before becoming a police officer. As a teen, she was accepted into the High School of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (New York). After moving back to Brooklyn at age 17, Yaani decided to pursue a career as an actor and was immediately cast Off-Broadway in the production of “The Alchemist” at The Classic Stage Company and received wonderful reviews.

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Yaani King. 3 “The Prince and Me”

She played Amanda, one of Julia Stiles best friends in Paramount Pictures “The Prince & Me”. She also appeared in “In The Cut” as one of Meg Ryan’s students. Yaani frequently guest stared on several TV series. Her television credits include CSISex and The CityCriminal Minds and Law & Order.

In April 2007, she began filming the role of Anthony Mackie’s sister in Bolden!, which also stars Academy Award nominee Jackie Earle Haley. The film was executive produced by jazz musician Wynton Marsalis.

In February 2008, she was added to the regular cast of the television series “Saving Grace” opposite Holly Hunter.

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ALYSON CAMBRIDGE

al cAmerican soprano, ALYSON CAMBRIDGE of Guyanese descent, has been hailed by critics as “radiant, vocally assured, dramatically subtle and compelling, and artistically imaginative” (Washington Post) and noted for her “powerful, clear voice” (New York Times) Her rich, warm soprano, combined with her striking stage presence and affecting musical and dramatic interpretation, have brought her over a decade of success on the leading opera and concert stages throughout the United States, with The Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Washington National Opera among them, as well as recent debuts in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Beijing, and other musical capitals throughout Europe and Asia. Her repertoire includes the roles of Mimi, Violetta, Liu, Thaïs, Marguerite, Donna Elvira, among others.

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When she was a student at Sidwell Friends, Alyson Cambridge hid her singing lessons from her classmates. “I didn’t think it was cool,” she says. Cambridge’s Washington roots have stood her in good stead. Not that she set out to be an opera singer at all. As a child, she sang and imitated everything she heard, including her mother’s opera recordings. When a neighbor reacted by telling her, “You know, Alyson, that’s not half bad. Maybe you should take some voice lessons,” she ended up at the Levine School of Music for a lesson.

“The teacher said, ‘You’re way too young to be thinking of singing opera,’ ” Cambridge says. “And I said, ‘I don’t really want to sing opera. I like Madonna and Whitney Houston.’ She said, ‘Well, do your opera voice for me,’ and I did, and she said, ‘Only 12 years old? Really?’ I said yes. And that’s kind of how it all started.”

What started was a trajectory that led Cambridge to Oberlin (where she had a double major in music and sociology and briefly considered law school); then to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia; then to a victory in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions that led her to abandon her master’s degree in favor of a coveted spot in the Lindemann program, the Met’s training ground for young artists.

Not many singers have such a smooth ride. Giving an interview to the college paper her senior year, she responded to a question about her goals by saying that she wanted to make her Met debut before she was 25. “They laughed at me,” she says. “But sure enough, I did.” A year before that debut, she had appeared in Washington for the first time as a professional, singing Adina in “L’Elisir d’Amore” with the Wolf Trap Opera.

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Cambridge’s repertory encompasses the bread-and-butter roles for a light lyric soprano who’s feeling her way into slightly heavier roles as her voice matures: Mimi and Musetta in “La Bohème,” Juliette in “Romeo et Juliette,” Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni.” Her wish list includes Marguerite in “Faust” and Violetta in “La Traviata.”

None of these are roles associated with any particular ethnicity, and Cambridge, with her mane of gold-brown hair and green eyes, could come from a number of ethnic backgrounds (in fact, her father is from Guyana, on the Caribbean coast of South America, and her mother, of Danish and Norwegian descent, is from Minnesota). This season, however, she’s effectively turned the spotlight on African American roles, with “Porgy and Bess” in Washington and a just-released recording of a song cycle by William Bolcom, “From the Diary of Sally Hemings,” about the slave who was thought to be the mistress of Thomas Jefferson.

“That is pure coincidence,” Cambridge says of the juxtaposition of the two works. “I’m certainly proud of my Caribbean roots . . . my history and culture, but I wouldn’t want that to define me.” 

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Justice MARGARET RAMSAY-HALE

Pamela Hale

She was educated in Jamaica to the age of 16 before going to England in 1977 to do her “A-levels”. She entered the London School of Economics in 1979 and read for a degree in economics, graduating with a bachelor of science degree with honors in 1981.

In September of 1986 she entered the University of the West Indies to study law. She was called to the Bar in October, 1991, and entered the practice of law in the distinguished Chambers of Howard Hamilton QC. In January 1994, she accepted the invitation of the Director of Public Prosecutions of Jamaica to join the Public Bar as Crown Counsel.

Ramsay-Hale is the daughter of the late legendary Jamaican attorney Ian Ramsay, QC, who is widely regarded as one of the best lawyers in the history of the Caribbean and who was the first Jamaican lawyer to earn the distinction of Queen’s Counsel.

In 1995, she was appointed a Judge of the Family Court in St James, Jamaica, eventually moving to the Criminal Courts as a Resident Magistrate for the parish. In September of 1998, she came to Cayman to serve as a Magistrate of the Summary Court of the Cayman Islands. In 2006, she sat as an Acting Judge of the Grand Court over the course of several months. In 2008, she was appointed Chief Magistrate.

Justice Margaret Ramsay Hale was sworn in as the acting Chief Justice (CJ) of the Turks and Caicos Islands by His Excellency Governor Ric Todd today, Thursday, 11 April 2013.

Justice Pamela Hale

The many facets of the woman

Outside of the Courthouse, the Chief Magistrate is engaged in many other pursuits. She was a tutor in Criminal Law at the Cayman Islands Law School from 1999 until April, 2010. She was appointed to the National Drug Council in 2000 and served on that board for over five years and was re-appointed to the Council in 2010. She is an honorary member of the Business and Professional Women’s Club, Rotary Sunrise, Rotary Central, Rotary Sunrise and the Lions Club of the Cayman Islands, and has been the Chairman of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cayman Islands since 2001.

She has three children, Matthew 19, Sarah 17 and Lauren 16 who she regards as her greatest accomplishments to date, and is devoted to the issue of children’s rights and to securing their safety and success in our community.

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