Soap star-turned-activist Tonya Williams says being recognized by Canada's Black community at Sunday's Legacy Awards holds special meaning.

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

"I started my career in the late '70s. So you understand where I'm coming from. I used to be the only Black person in front of the camera and behind," Williams said Saturday.

"An award like this says to me that I did that. That's how it feels to me, that the community is saying, 'We applaud how you stood in the Black community and what you've done for us,' and it really means a lot."

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.

She was among several stars set to mark the second annual Legacy Awards with singer Keshia Chanté hosting the celebration of Black Canadian talent.

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

R&B singer Jully Black, filmmaker Director X and pop artist Lu Kala were among the honourees in fields including arts, entertainment and sports.

The platinum-selling, Juno Award-winning Black was set to receive the icon Award for her global influence, and Julien Christian Lutz, professionally known as Director X, was set to get 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."

"There's a part of me that's still just amazed that this exists on the CBC and is put together by two brothers that have found real success in the arts," Lutz said by phone Sunday before the televised bash.

Congolese-Canadian singer Lu Kala was set to be honoured with the Emerging Artist Award and Hamilton-native WNBA star Kia Nurse was named for 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.”

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.

The awards broadcast was set to feature live performances honouring late pianist and composer Oscar Peterson and hip-hop group the Rascalz for their hit single "Northern Touch," celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Anderson said there had been a void among awards shows that he and James hoped to fill with the Legacy Awards.

“I think the community needed this,” Anderson said hours before the presentation.

“This is really for us by us. It’s a responsibility for us, but we really do believe that it’s been a group effort.”

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