Father of slain Canadian soldier among Hamiltonians recognized at John Holland event
February 20, 2019
As a new member of Stewart Memorial Church (SMC) in Hamilton almost 25 years ago, Albert Graham couldn’t understand why Rev. John Holland’s name often kept popping up.
“There was this one guy that everybody was talking about and I wanted to know what he did to make him this popular,” he recalled. “I asked then pastor George Horton so many questions about Holland and was very humbled to learn about what he did in the community.”
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 SMC founded by fugitive slaves and free men and women 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.
Since 1996, Hamiltonians and other Ontarians who have made significant contributions in the arts, business, community service and youth engagement have been recognized with awards bearing Holland’s name.
Graham is now on the illustrious list.
He humbly accepted an award for community service at the 23rd annual event on February 2.
“When someone called a few weeks ago saying they wanted to nominate me for the award, I told them I didn’t think I was qualified,” said Graham who was an SMC trustee and assistant treasurer. “However, to receive an honour at an event celebrating Holland is something I accept with great pride and humility.”
Hamilton has been the Jamaican immigrant home for the last 45 years.
The retired steelworker fell in love with the Golden Horseshoe port city while working on a Flamborough farm in 1972.
“The people were friendly then and now and I just felt comfortable in a small city,” said Graham.
Moving to Canada in 1974, his children – Mark and Jason – joined him a few years later. A younger son, Daniel, was born in Hamilton.
Mark, who represented Canada in the 4x400-metre event at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, was killed in a friendly fire attack in Afghanistan in September 2006. He joined the Canadian military two years earlier.
Sir Allan MacNab Secondary School, Mark’s alma mater, started a track and field meet in his name in 2007. Three years ago, the school dedicated its new track – a four-lane circuit with a six-lane sprint stretch – in memory of the star athlete who earned a full scholarship to the University of Nebraska.
“I loved seeing Mark run,” said Graham who, with other family members, created a scholarship to memorialize the fallen soldier. “When the school said they wanted to do something to honour his memory, I was so happy. I still think about him every day. The pain is not as bad as it used to be. It’s still there.”
Activist Ken Stone, who was raised in Forest Hill, also finds Hamilton very appealing.
Firmly rooted for the last 50 years, Stone – who was unsuccessful in his bid to be a Hamilton alderman in 1988 -- was the recipient of the Vince Morgan Ally Award.
Migrating in 1964 to work in the steel industry, Morgan – who left Jamaica at age 10 for England – succumbed to cancer eight years ago.
Stone accepted the award on behalf of the city’s Black community leaders who he worked with in the last four decades to effect change. They include Doreen Johnson, the first Black candidate to run for local office in Hamilton, and Marlene Thomas who migrated from Dominica in 1975 and played a pivotal role in the creation of the Rev. John Holland Awards.
“They along with others put themselves at the forefront of the fight against racism in this city,” he said. “It has been such a pleasure working with them. Unfortunately, many of the gains we made in the 80s and 90s have been reversed and that’s the sad part of it.”
Stone’s parents imbued him with a passion for activism.
“They believed in social justice,” he pointed out. “As targets of anti-Semitism in Canada, they believed that everyone should be treated fairly. I learnt that from them and so when I saw other communities being subjected to racism, I decided to do what I could about it.”
The community worker and activist made headlines in 1968 when he tore up his honours Bachelor of Arts degree during convocation at the University of Toronto.
“There was a large student movement at the time and we weren’t satisfied with the education we received and the role that the university was playing in society,” the former Innis College Student Society president pointed out. “People that were working with the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee and other groups told us what was happening. We felt that we were part of a world movement and that we had to shake things up. Those were pretty heady days.”
In the last four years, Cree Bell has put in the hard work to excel in academics and athletics.
It has paid off.
She secured a 95 per cent average in all of her Grade 12 classes and won a track scholarship to attend the University of Montana.
Bell, who specializes in the 100-metre sprint, was rewarded with one of the two Hamilton Steelworkers Area Council Community Matters Awards.
“This award is a reminder of what can be achieved once you put your mind to be the best in something,” she said.
Receiving an award at the event was special for Bell whose relatives include Holland, Lincoln Alexander and Ray Lewis.
Alexander was Canada’s first Black Member of Parliament, federal minister and Ontario’s first Black Lieutenant Governor while Lewis was the first Canadian-born Olympic medallist. He was a member of the 4x440-yard relay team that won a bronze medal at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.
The student-athlete, whose father Curtis Bell is a former Canadian Football League wide receiver, plans to study sports medicine and become a sports therapist.
Bell shared the spotlight with her grandmother, Sandi Bell, who was honoured with the HBHC Award of Merit.
She is a former Canadian Human Rights Commission commissioner, Hamilton school trustee and Immigration & Refugee Appeal Division and Ontario College of Teachers member.
Canada is the fourth home for Mohawk College first-year student Faisal Mohamed and he hopes it’s the last.
Born in Somalia, he lived in Saudi Arabia for a year and Syria for six years before the family – his mom and six other siblings -- came here as refugees when he was 11.
Enrolled in the police foundations program, Mohamed aspires to be a police officer.
“Policing is the only career where I believe you could give back and protect people,” the Sir John A. MacDonald Secondary School peer mentor said. “I want to do that because a lot has been given to me and others have reached out to ensure my safety along the way.”
Mohamed was the recipient of the Rev. George Horton Memorial Award.
The former Guyana police officer was an SMC pastor and Hamilton Police Service’s first Black chaplain. He died two years ago.
Grade 12 student Aba Ansa-Sam was excited to win the Girls Rock scholarship.
“It means everything and I feel so uplifted,” said the Bishop Tonnos Catholic Secondary School student.
Ansa-Sam’s goal is to be a midwife and advocate for women empowerment.
The other award winners were Sonia Igboanugo, Salsabil Sarhan, Rebecca Matsakawo, Tatyanna Burke, Tobenna Kwazu, Gabriela Roberts, Cordell James, Mark Stewart and Israel Crooks.
Camille Mitchell, an architect who was born and raised in Hamilton, was honoured to be the keynote speaker.
“I was born 100 years after Mr. Holland and therefore it’s an extreme honour to be associated with his legacy, at any level, so many years later,” she said. “I am amazed and inspired by his story and persistence to do better for himself, to do better for his family and to do better for his entire community.”
Mitchell, who has a Master’s degree in architecture from the University of Waterloo and has been with KPMB Architects for the past decade, congratulated the award winners and shared some lessons learned from the obstacles she faced while pursuing her career.
“I prepared for a successful career through building a strong foundation when I was in high school,” she pointed out. “I was academically strong in math, visual arts and French Immersion, I was involved in many extracurricular activities and, outside of school, I volunteered, fulfilled my dream of working at Home Depot and was an avid Toronto Caribbean Carnival supporter. I also knew I wanted to be an architect and I sought opportunities and mentors.”
Part of the design team for the New Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Mitchell is the managing director of Building Equality in Architecture, Toronto (BEAT).
“Our programs are dedicated to creating events and web content to support mentorship, networking and leadership opportunities for women and visible minorities in the profession,” she added. “My involvement with BEAT has provided opportunities to continue the conversation about the obstacles women and visible minorities continue to face.”
Two years ago, Mitchell was among a diverse and distinguished group of 150 Black women featured in ‘HERstory in Black’ which is a digital photo series celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation.