Evelyn Myrie and Hamilton's mayor, Robert Bratina
Evelyn Myrie and Hamilton's mayor, Robert Bratina

Holland awards recognize Hamilton’s best

By Admin Thursday February 09 2012 in News
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It is the premier African-Canadian Achievement Awards gala in the Golden Horseshoe.


Over the past 16 years, a number of Hamiltonians and other Ontarians who have made significant contributions in the areas of art, business, community service and youth engagement have been recognized with Rev. John Holland Awards.



Born on Christmas Day 1882 to a runaway slave who came to Canada through the Underground Railroad in 1860, Holland was a railway porter for 33 years, the pastor at the historic Stewart Memorial Church which was founded by fugitive slaves and free men 177 years ago, and the first Black Canadian to be honoured for humanitarian service with Hamilton’s Citizen of the Year Award in 1953. He died a year later.



Last Saturday night, recipients proudly accepted their Holland Awards, but none was more proud than educator, journalist and public servant, Nerene Virgin, who was presented with the Business and Professional Achievement Award.



She is Holland’s great niece.



“There is both a sense of pride and relevance for me,” said Virgin, the fourth generation in her family to call Hamilton home. “My great grandfather fled slavery in Maryland as a teenager and swam across the Niagara River to his freedom. If he was willing to do that to be free, I have an obligation to do something with that freedom.



“Receiving an award is gratifying, but what is more important for me is honouring my ancestry. I feel as if I am part of a dynasty that has instilled in me the importance of freedom and literacy because my great grandfather could not read or write.”



In the aftermath of Virgin’s acclamation as the Ontario Liberal Party candidate in Hamilton East-Stoney Creek in the 2007 provincial elections, she was racially slurred by a Hamilton newspaper that described her as a “tar baby”. The paper later apologized.



Hate crimes in Hamilton have surged by nearly 50 per cent in the past year and the most frequent targets of hate-related incidents are members of the city’s Black community.



“That will only change when our importance and our contributions are shared with others,” said Virgin, a Hamilton Committee Against Racism member and the daughter of retired Canadian citizenship court judge and labour union activist, Stanley Grizzle. “Our stories need to be incorporated into the everyday curriculum of our schools instead of being told just once a year during Black History Month.”



A former elementary and special education teacher, Virgin provided Canadian families with an alternative to American children educational programming with her role as Jodie on the award-winning TV Ontario show, Today’s Special. The cast included National Ballet of Canada’s artistic director, Karen Kain.



“When I joined the cast, I was aware of Nerene’s considerable talents as a performer,” said the retired ballerina who supported Virgin’s nomination for the award. “But what impressed me the most about her was her ability to hold her own dancing with a professional of the calibre of her co-star Jeff Hyslop who is internationally respected.”



Canadian actress Sarah Polley credits Virgin with her development.



“She took endless amounts of time with me to nurture my curiosity and to answer all my questions about how she used her voice and movement to create a timeless character,” said Polley. “It was my first experience with the idea of ‘technique’ and I will always remember the way she inspired me and her generosity of spirit in taking such time with me as a child.”



Virgin spent almost two decades with CBC TV before leaving to secure English as a Second Language certification and teach in Mongolia.



CBC producer David Burt said Virgin’s professionalism impressed him.



“Twenty-four hour network news is fast moving business,” he said. “I never saw her crumble under pressure, flub a line or raise her voice against another employee. She was never late, never angry, and never moody. She’s among the most professional TV news anchors with whom I have had the pleasure to work.


“Over the course of her career, Nerene has generously mentored up-and-coming journalists and has been an exceptional role model, personifying what attention to task and professionalism means. She is an inspiration to many and an extraordinary example of what can be achieved.”

American-born musician John Ellison, who received his Canadian citizenship six years ago and is best known for writing Some Kind of Wonderful, was the recipient of the Arts Award while fifth generation Canadian Dennis Scott was presented with the Community Service Award.

“Hopefully, this award will motivate others to volunteer and participate in their communities,” said Scott, the ex-chair of the Owen Sound Emancipation Festival which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

Award-winning author Lawrence Hill was the recipient of the Award of Merit and 85-year-old Rev. Dr. Francis Chisholm, a friend ofHamilton’s Black community, was presented with the inaugural Ally Award.

Youth Achievement Awards were presented to five high school and post-secondary students for academic excellence and community service.

The recipients, each of whom received $1,000, were Tiana Traficante, Kristian Ferreira, Dejehan Hamilton, Kemarr Cumberbatch and Yolanda Ajak.

Traficante is a Grade 12 student at Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School and an aspiring musician; 18-year-old Hamilton is enrolled in Mohawk College’s music program and Cumberbatch intends to become a police officer.

Ferreira is studying Psychology at McMaster University and Ajak, who migrated from Sudan 15 years ago, is enrolled at Trent University.

Jamaican-born Evelyn Myrie, who was inducted into the Hamilton Gallery of Distinction last November, co-founded the Holland Awards.

“The idea was conceived in my living room 16 years ago in response to the City of Hamilton’s request for our community to organize an event to mark the city’s 150th anniversary,” said Myrie.

Tributes were paid to Awards co-founder Vince Morgan who passed away four months ago. Arriving from England in 1964, he also served as chair of the Stewart Memorial Church’s board of trustees and as Worshipful Master of Mount Olive Lodge #1.

“Vince was a dedicated community leader who served us well,” said Myrie. “He’s sadly missed, but not forgotten.”

Previous Holland Award winners include entrepreneur Michael Lee-Chin, Canada’s first Black Member of Parliament Lincoln Alexander, Toronto District School Board director of education Dr. Chris Spence, late Olympian Ray Lewis, who won a bronze medal in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics 4 x 400-metre relay event and Jamaican-born Canadian soldier Mark Graham who was killed in Afghanistan six years ago.




  • Headley Squire said:

    Dear Editor, Please print the following:

    First World or Third World Status?

    An article I read recently stated, “The complete New Testament Bible in Patois will be ready in 2012 to coincide with Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary celebrations.”

    The bible will be translated into patois, according to an article written in 2008. The estimated cost will be $60 Million and will take approximately 12 years to complete. If we divide $60 Million by 2.8 Million (the population of Jamaica) it would be $21.4 Million for each Jamaican. Even if the cost is 1/10th of the estimate, it would be $2.14 Million for each Jamaican. Does that make sense? Will the result make us more intelligent and advance us into first world status or keep us in third world loop?

    Jamaica is considered a third world country and is one of the most indebted countries in the world. It is plagued with high unemployment, crime, poverty, lack of educational opportunities etc. A large percentage of Jamaicans are under-educated, and speaking, reading and writing are skills that need to be taught. There will be continuous cost to develop curriculum to teach the art of reading and writing patois. The process will take away valuable resources from areas that need to be focused on.

    Barbados is considered a first world country due to emphasis placed on education. The Right Honourable Portia Simpson Miller acknowledged their success in one of her speeches.
    Jamaica is part of the English speaking Caribbean and we should seek to communicate with them and others in any English speaking country or people in the same language. In order to prosper and become a first rate country, we need to develop ourselves to appeal to a global audience and communication is the first step.

    It is the competency of being able to communicate well that helps to divide the privileged from the under privilege. People who communicate on an international level are more progressive. The greater the level of education the more likely the distribution of wealth and the less there will be crime and poverty. A disciplined educated English speaking country will attract international investors – thus job creation. One of the barriers that plague some Jamaicans abroad and prevents them from getting suitable employment is their inability to communicate effectively in the English language.

    When I hear Jamaican politicians and intelligent Jamaicans speak, they have a beautiful distinct Jamaican accent, they are respected and communicating in a form that any English speaking country or people can understand. Why don’t the people of influence not promote the value of good communication skills to the Jamaican people at large?

    When the Prime Minister, or anyone of influence for that matter, addresses the nation, all Jamaicans should be able to understand what they are saying because they speak the same language. Let the people learn to communicate as the ones who are influencing them. In developed countries, the population at large speaks the language of commerce, politics, education and religion.

    Some of the most dangerous people are those who have some knowledge and a captive audience but lack wisdom. I read a comment that says patois defines Jamaicans. Patois should not define us. We should take the emotion out of the equation and define it. Tradition, culture or dogma should not outweigh the acceptance of knowledge that will ensure a better future. There should be a focus to merge into the 21st century on a global scale.

    The major link to the world is good communication skills that will open doors for our people and garner international respect. This medium should be encouraged and promoted. Culture should not make us – we should make culture and be the architect of our future. The past is a guide – not a leader and observation is the greatest teacher. If we want change, we need to change. We are living in a global world that connects people more than any other time in human history. Thus, we should think locally, but act and speak globally.

    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscious stupidity.” Those who are promoting the advancement of patois prompt one to ask, is this conscious construct in order to maintain power and control over the masses? Are we free to enslave ourselves? Does sentimentality completely outweigh reasoning? Was Bob Marley right when he stated: “Brainwash education to make us the fools.”

    The English language that we speak today is very different from the one spoken in medieval times. Many languages spoken years ago are no longer in use today because the world is constantly changing. We should document and preserve our journey in history books, archives, and museums. Embracing change that adds value to our lives and leave a legacy for future generation is the way to go.

    There is Canadian English, American English and others. There are English words and phrases that are indigenous to Jamaica, when weaved into the English language, they give it a special Jamaican flavour – why can’t we embrace Jamaican English?

    Whoever controls the media controls influence. I have noticed some radio station announcers intertwining English and patois when speaking. If their audience speak patois and it defines them, why don’t they present their entire program in patois? In addition, why don’t radio and television stations broadcast solely in patios?

    I have also noticed quite a few Jamaicans written comments incorporated a blend of patois and English. Why don’t they choose to write in one language? It gives one the impression that they are too lazy to think and lacking discipline and focus.

    Finally, those who are pushing for patois to be the mode of communication, what contributions are they making to transition Jamaica into first world status? Are they furthering a two tier Jamaica of the haves and have-nots? Their intentions may be noble, but they lack wisdom and foresight. “If they are not part of the solution – they are part of the problem.”

    Yours Truly,

    Headley G. Squire

    Wednesday February 15 at 1:34 pm

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