Over the past dozen or so years, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to attend/cover a range of galas, dinners and awards ceremonies – from chamber of commerce functions to community dinner theatres.
Nothing I’ve been to previously prepared me for the joyful celebration that was this year’s John C. Holland Awards at Michelangelo’s banquet centre.
The event, organized by the Hamilton Black History Month committee, highlights the achievements and recognizes the contributions of members of Hamilton’s black community for their work in areas such as the arts, business and community service. As well, several youth achievement awards are handed out (one of which is sponsored by Hamilton Community News, I’m proud to say).
The festivities included drummers, African dancers, a great meal, a silent auction and the upbeat sounds of Lola Fadipe and the Melody Makers. Some random dancing event broke out, much to delight of the organizers.
But, as each person took the stage to present or accept an award, it became clear that the real star of the evening was the ongoing narrative of the black community in Hamilton.
It’s not a coincidence that the word “story” is contained in the word history; it is by passing on the tales of our lives, and of those who came before us, that our culture remembers. And that tradition was very much alive in Hamilton last Saturday night.
Guests learned about life in “mineshaft communities,” as described by Rev. George Horton, minister emeritus of Stewart Memorial Church, who earned the Award of Merit. Nursing educator Elene Witter talked about her early experiences and her eventual gravitation to practise and teach in the mental health field, and Hamilton firefighter Ron Summers brought down the house with his heartfelt acceptance of the Community Service Award, relating his father’s struggles, then his own efforts to combat racism in the workplace.
Children’s author and storyteller Jody Nyasha Warne, winner of this year’s Jackie Washington Arts Award, spoke of the need to continue telling the stories of those who came before, to remember that the need to face down racism is not just a thing of the past. She recalled speaking to a group of Toronto students who asked if there is still racism in the world; she urged them to look at the faces of their diverse classroom and then at the faces of their political representatives to see if they were the same.
Guests at the John C. Holland Awards were also treated to the video made by CTS in honour of Lincoln Alexander’s 90th birthday. In it, he remarks that “Black History Month should be every day.”
Certainly, the stories are there. All we have to do is take the time to listen.
The list of this year’s John C. Holland Award recipients also includes Ancilla Ho-Young (Community Service), Stephen Lewis (Ally) and Elene Witter (Business Professional). Youth Achievement awards were presented to Don Mahleka, Henry Idehen, Jamie Kasiama, Alexandra Yhan-Thomas, Alexis Ethilda Brown and Daoui Abouchere.
For much more on events celebrating Black History Month in Hamilton throughout February, visit www.johnhollandawards.com and click on “Upcoming Events.’