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Technical achievement makes Black Canadian History

28 February 2011 5 Comments

Jean Emile Jean-Gilles is the first Canadian to be honoured with the Henry Ford Technology Award

By Elesia Stewart

“With an education you can become somebody great.  Always do your best and if your best is not good enough then we’ll discuss it.”

The words of his late mother echoed in Jean Emile Jean-Gilles’ ears as he and five of his associates from south of the border were handed  a 2010 Henry Ford Technology Award (HFTA) for the design, development and implementation of the programmable side door hinge fixture.

When Jean-Gilles was hand-picked to be a part of the product development team three years ago, he never thought his team would be nominated for their product innovation.  It never crossed his mind that if he won he would make history as the first Canadian recipient of the automotive company’s highest technical commendation since the inception of the HFTA in 1981.

Jean-Gilles never dreamed that his decision to leave his homeland of Haiti in his teens would culminate with such an achievement. The youngest in a family of five, Jean-Gilles came to Montreal in the mid ’70s to live with his sister after his mom passed away. He came to the French-speaking city already licensed as an electrician and engineer.  Nevertheless, knowing the importance of a good education, he continued his quest for knowledge attending the Université de Montréal, then went to Brock, Laurier and Michigan Universities throughout the ’80s, studying computer science, electro-mechanics and business management.

Shadowing his father at a young age, he learned technical skills in auto mechanics.  At the age of 10 he built his first radio and was nearly arrested when he was caught listening to stations broadcast from Cuba, prohibited under the Duvalier regime.

Jean’s mother was also influential in his life, instilling confidence and the belief that, “if your mind can conceive it, you can achieve it.” Empowered by the lessons he learned, Jean-Gilles never let the racist actions of others hinder him.  Armed with integrity and a black belt in judo, he saved the life of a student who was being beaten in the streets of Montreal; the same student who, not long before, refused to work with him on a class project because he was Black.

Jean-Gilles’ academic and professional accomplishments show how vital a good education, support, hard work and a positive attitude are to success.  Today, just as his father and mother mentored him, he mentors high school girls in his hometown of Oakville, ON, teaching them that they too can make history.

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  • Jennel said:

    Lovely article. I like the way you captured his story. I find Jean-Gilles’ story to be very uplifting!

  • Gretha Jean-Gilles said:

    I am so proud

  • Agathe césaire said:

    Congratulation brother

  • Marcie said:

    Well said Elesia!
    Kudo Brother John and keep doing good job. Indeed, we in the diaspora are proud of you!

  • Pauline said:

    So proud of my dad! <3

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