Hall of Fame honour for ‘phenomenal’ public speaker

by Ron Fanfair
0 comment


At perhaps the lowest point in his life, Orlando Bowen was looking for something to lift his spirits.
Beaten, falsely arrested after being set up by police, facing prison time and losing his job as a professional athlete, he turned to the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) to sharpen his oratory skills.
Already an accomplished speaker, Bowen felt he might be in a welcoming place. There were, however, some doubts as he sat in his car before attending his first meeting.
“I remember crying and, as a vehicle with headlights would come around the corner, I would lean my seat back so that no one would see me for fear that I might be in a space that I would not be accepted,” Bowen said.
It took the former Canadian Football League (CFL) player a while to pull himself together.
For over a decade, Bowen has used storytelling, fitness activities, and cognitive exercises to teach resilience, leadership and teamwork to over 300,000 people.
The CAPS member since 2012 was inducted into the Canadian Speaking Hall of Fame last December.
“I am because we are,” he said in his acceptance speech at the 2023 CAPS convention at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. “Imagine we choose to live through that lens and show it in a way that honours each other’s humanity. Then we will have a chance and we will understand that everything we do can give hope to folks who have reasons to believe that they shouldn’t have any.”
Bowen is the first Black person to join the Hall and the 42nd inductee since the launch in 1995.
“This honour is a blessing in that it is the speaking community recognizing excellence and consistency in terms of impact,” he said. “It is not just like you are able to deliver and move people but are you able to do that sustainably over a long period of time. This is about what’s possible. I am blessed to be in the position to be regarded as a trailblazer.”
Bowen did not set out to be a public speaker. He just wanted to make a difference.
Asked by a Toronto public school vice-principal two decades ago to fill in for a speaker who fell ill a day before the event, he agreed.
“I said I got you; she told me we are on, on Wednesday at 11 a.m. and there are 2,200 kids,” Bowen recalled. “I said ‘what?’ and she said not to worry as they would be split into two groups of 1,100. I have a younger sister and I thought if I only had 60 minutes for the rest of my life to say something to her, what would I say. That is exactly what I said to the young people.”
Very impressed with Bowen’s presentation, the vice-principal recommended him to other schools without his permission.
“I was offended she did that because I maintained at the time I was not a speaker but just someone who was here to serve behind the scene,” he said. “As I complained to a friend about the audacity of this school administrator who gave out my contact information, my friend asked if I wanted to make a difference. I said I did and she told me speaking is one way I could do that. That was the beginning of me being open to that as a thought.”
In March 2004 while on his phone in a parking lot behind a Mississauga nightclub waiting for friends to celebrate a new contract he signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, two Peel Regional Police plainclothes officers confronted and brutally beat Bowen.
Left with a concussion that forced him to quit the CFL in 2005, a nasty gash on his forehead and blackened eyes, he was arrested.
Bowen alleged at the time that one of the officers – Sheldon Cook – planted drugs on him. Found guilty of seven criminal charges in June 2010, including charges related to the disappearance of fake cocaine used in a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) sting, the cop received a 68-month sentence. On bail after launching appeals, Cook finally surrendered to police. He went to prison in October 2014 and served 11 months.
Bowen was acquitted of drugs and police assault charges in 2005 and a $14.6 million lawsuit he filed against Peel Regional Police and several officers was settled out of court.
Prior to the police beating, he had conducted racial sensitivity training for Peel Regional police officers and worked with Peel Crime Stoppers.
Not one to hold a grudge, Bowen forgave Cook and Grant Gervais, the other officer involved.
The retired linebacker wrote a letter to them that he shared at the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted’s (AIDWYC) Wrongful Conviction Day event in Toronto in October 2015.
“To my brothers Sheldon and Grant, life is a game and we can win this thing,” he told them. “I come to you humbled and broken, yet with a calming peace. I apologize for blaming you for my feelings, anger, disappointment and malintent towards you, towards life and towards the system during this ordeal…I want to courageously express the fact that I am thankful, grateful and forever indebted to you for this experience as it has forever changed my life.
“It has made me a better father, a better husband, a better human being and someone who can fully understand what it means to feel alone, broken and like the weight of the world is on my shoulders…I love you guys unconditionally and embrace you with every fibre of my being…Please know that you are forgiven 100 per cent and loved 99 per cent.”
Words and actions can be powerful.
While using his compelling story of triumph over adversity to captivate audiences and empower them to unleash their potential, Bowen is also inspiring hundreds of young people through the One Voice One Team organization he launched in 2008.
In the last 15 years, the non-profit has impacted over 400,000 young people in Canada and the United States through assemblies, workshops, summer camps and other service activities.
Trey Walsh has been part of the program for the last 11 years.
“When Orlando came to my school and spoke at assembly,” I was turned on,” said the 24-year-old videographer/photographer. “At that time, I didn’t have much life experience, but I learned that day I could make useful contributions to my community if I were prepared to. Since then, this program has been part of my life.”
Walsh is always ready to give back to the program.
“Anytime Orlando needs anything done in my field, I am always there to assist,” he said. “The guy is very authentic unlike some Black leaders in the community whom I have met. He has been an inspiration to me and hundreds of young people.”
Alexi Couto, 27, joined the program in Grade Nine.
“I have learned valuable lessons like working hard, leading by example, how to overcome adversity and striving for excellence,” said the singer/songwriter.
Karen Murray, the Toronto District School Board’s superintendent with responsibility for Equity, Anti-Oppression and Early Years, said One Voice One Team build young leaders.
“The way that they design their program between building character, talking about what it means to be a leader in your own community, what it means to walk with confidence stands out,” she said. ‘Then, they build in opportunities for those kids by moving them to leadership to then mentor others. When we work with them, we don’t have to worry about that.”
As a school administrator, Murray has called on One Voice One Team for guidance.
“One of my students needed to figure out what it means to belong in the building and to sometimes navigate community,” she said. “Orlando and his team did an awesome job. The kids love his energy and his story. He is phenomenal.”
At One Voice One Team’s first fundraising banquet last October at the Toronto Board of Trade, nearly $50,000 was raised.
Part of the funds will be used to hire a part-time grant writer in Toronto and staff to help develop its Manitoba branch.
“That is the first province that we have a physical location,” said Bowen who is the recipient of Harry Jerome and African Canadian Achievement Awards. “There is a need there and we were able to partner with the Winnipeg Kinsmen who approached us to form the partnership. We have been training educators and others that work with young people so that the impact could be even more sustainable. We know that lives are on the line.”

You may also like

Leave a Comment


Soledad is the Best Newspaper and Magazine WordPress Theme with tons of options and demos ready to import. This theme is perfect for blogs and excellent for online stores, news, magazine or review sites. Buy Soledad now!

© 2009 Sharenews. All rights reserved.
All company names, product names and logos included in this site may be registered trademarks or servicemarks of their respective owners