The Hamilton Spectator
John C. Holland Awards celebrates excellence in Hamilton’s Black community
Gala award show returns to in-person celebration for the 27th rendition at Liuna Station
The annual gala honouring Black history, leadership and youth achievement in Hamilton celebrated its 27th edition over the weekend.
After a few pandemic-stricken years, The Reverend John C. Holland Awards returned to an in-person setting Saturday night with an event at Liuna Station attended by hundreds. Nearly two-dozen scholarships and bursaries were doled out to celebrate youth excellence in Hamilton’s Black community.
Hosted by the Hamilton Black History Council, the awards are named after Rev. John C. Holland, an iconic Hamilton man who was the first Black individual to be named Citizen of the Year in a Canadian community.
Lincoln Alexander Breaking Down Barriers Scholarship Esther Goombs
is a community outreach assistant with ACORN Canada who advocated against mass evictions and educated several residents about tenant rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A student at the University of Ottawa, she has participated in student associations that aim to increase diversity and inclusion within the student body. Beyond organizing events focused on the rights of vulnerable groups, Goombs has also helped kick-start an equity committee that worked with local BIPOC activists and professors to highlight systemic issues, such as the need for allyship and the detrimental effects of colonization on academia.
Evelyn Myrie Political Action Bursary Alice Okpere is an exemplary student
leader whose grades, volunteer work and political know-how have helped give a voice to racialized students in Hamilton and beyond. A Grade 12 student at St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School, Okpere has made honour roll for four consecutive years with a stellar 90-per-cent average and accumulated more than 300 community volunteer hours. She is the vice president of the school’s student council — where she has served every year since Grade 9 — and a member of the St. Thomas More Unknighted Against Racism and Diversity Committee.
Nelson Mandela Social Justice Scholarship Chanice Olokesusi
is a student at Saltfleet High School passionate about mental well-being and social justice. Her involvement in school clubs such as Saltfleet’s Inclusion and Equity for Students of Colour Committee and the StormLink Crew — which works to help Grade 9 students adjust to life in high school — has seen her experience first-hand just how important it is that students feel supported through mental health troubles. Olokesusi is also part of the school’s Writers Club, penning on topics such as racism, suicide and abuse. In an effort to continue helping others, she plans to pursue a business humanities degree at McMaster University.
Rev. George Horton Scholarship Serenity Thompson
is a student at Bernie Custis Secondary School and writer of poetry who has strongly advocated for women’s rights in their school and community. They study at the school’s nonprofit Special High Skills Major program (SHSM) and gained great knowledge about women’s struggles by working alongside, strong, independent, local female leaders. After enduring a difficult journey of self-identification and acceptance, Thompson has a goal of practising self-love and assisting other students who struggle with their identity.
Audre Lorde LBTQ2S+ Scholarship Omowonuola Adelusi
is a queer, first-generation landed immigrant with a unique perspective on the barriers facing those with similar identities. The McMaster University student co-founded the DeGroote School of Business’ first Black-focused club — DeGroote B (L) ack in Business — that aims to create equitable opportunities in business. Currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Integrated Business and Humanities with a minor in Computer Science, Adelusi hopes to provide technical solutions to issues women and racialized communities face, as well as open more room for Black, queer voices in STEM fields.
Marlene Thomas Community Advocacy Bursary Mofiyinfoluwa Saka
is a member of the Black Futures Lab, through which she has educated her peers on racism, mental health, Black history and the successes of her Black classmates. Additionally, she is an active member of her school’s math club, science club, health action team, and volunteered with seniors, food banks and the BeYouth Initiative. Saka plans to study software engineering at McMaster University, with a focus on cybersecurity and to help empower underrepresented women in a maledominated field.
Immigrants Matter Scholarship Abraham Oroma
is a natural student leader at Sir Allan MacNab Secondary School who moved to Canada from Uganda in 2019. Boasting an average of over 90 per cent, the hard working student has excelled in his grades while juggling other commitments such as working part-time and tutoring fellow classmates in math. Oroma is also member of the school’s soccer team and serves as a church leader.
Hosted by the Hamilton Black History Council, the awards are named after Rev. John C. Holland, an iconic Hamilton man who was the first Black individual to be named Citizen of the Year in a Canadian community
Dr. Ethilda (Tilly) Johnson — Business/Entrepreneurship Bursary
Yasmeen Elkheir is the first person in her family to attend school in Canada, showing great academic drive by overcoming the challenge of learning a new language. A participant in SHAD Canada — a STEM-based, pre-university program for select high school students — Elkheir was awarded the SHAD Cup after developing an app that uses artificial intelligence to detect and minimize cyberbullying. Additionally, she has completed the CS50 Artificial Intelligence course held through Harvard University.
Raymond G. Lewis Sports Leadership
Laila Hampson is an accomplished track and field athlete and student at Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School. As president of the school’s athletic student council, Hampson has grown into a highly-regarded leader among her teachers and peers. Her passion for helping other athletes led her into coaching, where she helped Bishop Ryan earn its first regional team title and send 11 students to OFSAA. Additionally, despite facing personal challenges, Hampson has great patience and responsibility by maintaining an outstanding academic record.
YWCA Girls Rock Scholarship
Kiyara Millwood is a well-rounded student athlete who was nominated as her school’s athletic council president this year. She has maintained a 93-per-cent grade average while also being an active member of her school’s step team, diversity committee and LGBTQ+ committee. Additionally, Millwood has been selected as the winner in the literary arts category of Say It Loud Canada, a national Black youth summit.
Hamilton Steelworkers Area Council Community Matters Scholarship
Ademide Abogunrin is a caring, passionate and well-respected student who works hard to spread positivity and lift others. She is a member of the Celtic Calibrate team at Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School, a group that looks to reverse the decline in well-being since COVID-19 through raising awareness about mental health. Additionally, she is part of the school’s principal council, writer’s circle, and is a dedicated student with an over 80-per-cent grade average. Inspired by the women in her family, Abogunrin hopes to become an ICU nurse.
Tune-In Foundation Bursary
Olivia Purnell is an extremely talented musician with a bright future as a singer. Studying at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s Program of the Arts, Purnell is part of the school’s general band and jazz band, choir and small group ensemble while also doubling as a soloist. Additionally, she has performed for seniors in the community, including a rendition of her own, original piece dubbed “Shatter.” Purnell plans to attend Humber College’s Bachelor of Music program next fall.
Youth Achievement Bursary Winners
■ Suzanne Abdullah learned how to code on her own at nine and has been fascinated with technology, digital music production and game development ever since. She boasts a 90-per-cent grade average and is involved in her school’s student leadership group and eco-summit team.
■ Cynthia Oyogo is an executive member of student council at Bernie Custis, playing a pivotal role in kick-starting new traditions like the Winter Semi-Formal CultureFest. She has received a principal’s honours award for her 90-per-cent average, and is involved in several extracurricular activities.
■ Devlyn Tagoe is a well-rounded, committed student at Bishop Ryan who has hopes of studying electrical engineering. He has overcome mental and physical challenges while achieving academic success and participating in several after school programs.
■ Cyrena Hamilton is a student at
Westmount whose love for literacy was sparked by opening up about her own learning struggles. Musically gifted, she has also written and recorded melodies to help bring smiles and joy to kids during COVID-19. Her songs were played in local preschools, elementary schools and nursing homes.
■ Khairiya Haji is a student council vice president and honour roll student at Bernie Custis who has shown great leadership skills through hosting dances, fundraisers and activity days. Additionally, she is a member of her school’s basketball team and volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club.
■ Joshua Cote is an Indigenous Student Trustee at the HamiltonWentworth District School Board who advocates for safe and caring spaces for students of colour. An honour roll student, Joshua has received the DECA Rising Star Award and Breakout Award.
■ Keionna Cousins is a volunteer with the Help a Girl Out charity, which aims to promote women’s menstrual health through funds for reusable feminine hygiene products. She is also proud to participate in the Black Development Association STEM Camp and the Black Students Alliance.
■ Derron Alleyne is an instructor in the Hamilton Youth Steel Orchestra who has competed in music festivals across the province. He is a member of the 2347 Argyll Cadet Corps, where he won the Lord Strathcona Medal for outstanding performance, leadership and dedication.
■ Shante Paddy is a first-generation Canadian from Guyana who has a deep passion for the arts and volunteering. A talented musician, Paddy is a tenor saxophone player who awarded Saltfleet High School’s Musician of the Year Award in 2022.
■ Josiah Bowen is a student leader involved in several clubs, committees, and sports. He has received the St. Thomas More Spirit Award and School Letter Award for extensive involvement. Josiah’s goal is to become a social worker to give back to the community.
Abigail Smith Bennett
Luca Di Gregorio Zotti
Jackie Washington Arts and Culture Award
HBHC Award of Merit
Community Service Award
BLK Owned HamOnt
Vince Morgan Ally Award