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Holland award winners ‘aren’t going to be voiceless’

Posted on Monday, February 27, 2017
Award winners

John Rennison,The Hamilton Spectator
John C. Holland award winners, back row, from left, Natasha Martin, Michael Ssemanda, Hailey Summers, Michael St. George, Isaiah Williams, Sheilah Mwaura, David Parkes and Gachi Issa. Front row, Sarah Jama and Jovaune Rhodes.

The best and brightest of Hamilton’s black community were honoured Saturday evening (Feb. 25) at LIUNA Station as part of the Rev. John C. Holland Awards.

It marked the 21st edition of the awards presentation, co-founded by Marlene Thomas-Osbourne and Evelyn Myrie. This year’s event marked the passing of the torch as a new organizing committee stepped in place.

“As we look at the first 100 days of the leader of the free world, we can’t help but be nervous,” co-chair Kathryn Crooks said to close out the ceremony. “But as I look at these award winners, I know these are young people who aren’t going to be voiceless.”

Here is the list of 2017 award winners:

Award of Merit – Jovaune Rhodes

The Rhodes family, one of the first black families in Hamilton, arrived in Canada via the Underground Railroad in the 1800s. In the 1980s, Rhodes earned a social work degree from McMaster University as an adult student and then helped pioneer several programs for young black people in Hamilton. Event co-chair Marlene Thomas-Osbourne called Rhodes “a walking history book.”

Nelson Mandela Award – Gachi Issa

Issa is an executive member of the McMaster Womanists organization and a founder of several clubs at Westdale Secondary School, including the Social Action committee and the Black History Month committee. “These organizations have helped me to further my identity as an activist, as a youth organizer, and help me establish my role in the community,” Issa stated.

Community Service Award – Maurice Brown Jr.

Brown has helped run programs for thousands of children at the Les Chater Family YMCA. Before that, he was an assistant coach with Special Olympics Canada, coaching basketball. He played varsity football at McMaster and is now on Redeemer University College’s basketball team. Brown also helps at-risk youth through an organization called Liberty for Youth.

Lincoln Alexander Award – Sheilah Mwaura

Mwaura came to Canada from Kenya when she was child. She is part of her school’s Diversity Committee, the Best Buddies program and the Christmas Miracle program, and is a junior leader at her church’s summer camp. She plans to study accounting at Brock University.

Raymond G. Lewis Award – Michael Ssemanda

Ssemanda has volunteered to raise funds for poor people in Uganda, Haiti and the Dominican Republic and has also collected food in door-to-door drives. He has been a student council member and honour roll student at Cathedral High School and will be attending Canisius College in Buffalo this fall on a baseball scholarship.

Ally Award – Bob Morrow

Morrow, former mayor of Hamilton, was recognized for his political stand against racism back in the 1980s when a local taxi company fired a number of visible-minority drivers. He later helped establish the Mayor’s Race Relations Committee, which set a precedent for other Canadian cities.

Jackie Washington Award for Arts – Michael St. George

Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, St. George’s musical work is dedicated to justice and social equity. He has worked with a number of musicians around the world, and his music is infused with reggae, ska, jazz and rhythm and blues. St. George is a past winner of the Ontario Federation of Labour Art and Culture Award.

Youth Award – Hailey Summers

Hailey and sports go hand in hand. She is an accomplished cross-country runner, track and field athlete, soccer player and basketball player. She is a past winner of St. Mary’s High School basketball MVP award. She has received a full scholarship to play soccer at the State University of New York at Albany.

Audre Lorde Scholarship Award – Natasha Martin

The scholarship is for LGBTQ young people. Martin is currently in the Social Service Worker program at Mohawk College and she hopes to help LGBTQ youth in the community when she completes the program. “My family did not accept the fact that I am lesbian. As I got older and more comfortable in my own skin, I was able to start to advocate for others around me who I knew were struggling to come out,” Martin stated.

Youth Achievement Award – Isaiah Williams

Williams certainly has a busy schedule. At Westmount Secondary School, he is head of the environmental team, the business club, the future health care professionals club and the Model United Nations. Outside of school, he volunteers at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Williams’ goal is to become a surgeon.

Inspiration Award – David Parkes

Parkes, a Grade 12 student at Cathedral High School, is an honour roll student and a member of the school band and choir. He volunteers as a coach and mentor for Spelling Bee of Canada and he hopes to graduate from university with a double major in music and mathematics and statistics.

Evelyn Myrie Political Action Award – Sarah Jama

Jama has been the Ontario director of the National Educational Association of Disabled Students and the Orientation and Transition Assistant at McMaster University, as well as an advocate for student rights at the university, where she has been a social psychology student.

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