A Belizean-born centurion and a popular community advocate were among honorees during the recently-concluded Harlem Week.
The Board of Directors of Harlem Week, Inc. and New York City Senior Citizen’s Committee, Inc. bestowed the honor on Caroline Lightburn, 105, and Verna Arthur, Manhattan Community Outreach Director and Senior Advisory Council Liaison with the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA).
They received the awards during the “Elders Jubilee” Luncheon and Awards Ceremony, on Aug. 5, at the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building in Harlem.
Harlem Week celebrated its 40th anniversary, while the Elder’s Jubilee celebrated its 37th anniversary.
Lightburn, the oldest female honored at the event, was born on Jan. 12, 1909 in St. Ignace, formerly Cayo District, Belize, and grew up in Belize City, the capital.
She said she never drank nor smoked, and was a baseball player and a member of the Belize All Stars team.
Lightburn also said that she loved dancing, and now “likes to watch people dance, adding that she loves to look at Western movies and going places.
She said she is good health, eating “everything and anything any time of day or night.”
Though she has a hearing program, the centurion said she does not like to use her hearing aide, disclosing that she “hides them.”
The reason for this, she said is because she does “not want to hear what people have to say,” stating that it may force her to respond.
Lightburn said she was never a big talker while growing up, adding that, if she said something twice, she would not repeat it.
As a housewife, who later became a domestic worker, Lightburn said she raised nine children, four of whom are still alive.
She has 21 grandchildren and 32 great grandchildren. Her late father, Joseph Ingram, was a sergeant in the Belize Police Force; and her mother, Jan Ingram, was a seamstress.
Her son, Ludwig Lightburn, a boxer in Belize, performed at Madison Square Garden and was inducted into the New Jersey Boxers Hall of Fame.
Arthur is also considered a cultural icon in the Vincentian community in New York.
She received the Public Service Award for her “many contributions to the success of Harlem Week, especially her commitment to the seniors,” organizers said.
“I am truly humbled and honored to receive this prestigious award,” Arthur told the reception. “Never in my 13 ½ years as a member of the Harlem Week Senior Citizens Committee has the thought crossed my mind that, one day, I will be standing before you as an honoree of this distinguished culture event.
“My only objective was to serve the seniors and (to) assist with the Harlem Week, now a month activities, the largest cultural event in the U.S.A., to the best way possible,” she added.
Arthur said that Harlem Week, celebrating its 40th anniversary, is “nothing to sneeze at.
“There are so many moving parts to this event, it’s unbelievable,” she said. “The amount of work which goes into this event, one marvels when you look at the space that’s being utilized to get this month’s celebration come to fruition. The committee has outdone itself for its 40th anniversary.”
Arthur said she was grateful to Lloyd Williams, president and chief executive officer of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, his board members and the Harlem Week Senior Citizens Committee, for “bestowing this award on me.”
“Seniors, remember, I am here to advocate on your behalf,” she said. “And I was told by one of your peers, senior issues are in my DNA.”
Arthur’s role with DFTA involves advocacy initiatives and community outreach on aging-related issues.
She also represents DFTA and the commissioner at special events, sponsored by elected officials and other community organizations and agencies.
Additionally, Arthur serves on aging-issues panels at the request of local groups, several interagency councils, district service cabinets, and community and advisory boards.
Prior to working at DFTA, Arthur was the director of a senior center in Brookly, formerly known as Grant Square Senior Center, from 1999 to May 2001.
She is a past president of Club St. Vincent, Inc., one of the leading Vincentian educational and cultural groups in the United States. She currently serves as the group’s public relations officer.