Caribbeans receive Queens Ambassador Awards

“I represent the most diverse district in the United States—the UN of all state Senate districts, ” 13th State Senate District Sen. Jose Peralta.
By Tequila Minsky

Four Caribbean-born awardees were among those honored last week at the Queens Ambassador Awards, which celebrated the contributions of 25 stellar foreign-born Queens residents.

Eighteen countries worldwide were represented, turning the event held at LaGuardia Plaza Hotel into a veritable United Nations. In addition to the Caribbean, honorees from India, former Yugoslavia, Ecuador, China, Hong Kong, Romania, Ireland, Liberia, Taiwan, England, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Greece, and Malaysia were celebrated.

Residents of Queens hail from over 120 countries and speak over 200 languages.

Giving the keynote speech, State Senator Jose Peralta, the first Dominican-American elected to the NY State Senate — 13th State Senate District — representing Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, and parts of Woodside, and Astoria, said, “I represent the most diverse district in the United States — the UN of all state Senate districts.”

Haitian-born Ricardi Calixte is deputy director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation.
By Tequila Minsky

Entrepreneur Antigua-born Winnie Benjamin who trains small business owners based on her extensive small business experience received recognition. Benjamin’s instinct for business started as a child helping her parents sells fruit and vegetables to hotels in her homeland. She arrived as a teen, finished high school in Queens, later studying cosmetology before attending University.

By asking customers what they want, she built a thriving hair care and skin care business. Always valuing customer service and business management for success, during the last three years she uses her expertise to help others at Stewardship Masters International. She and her team train small business owners in leadership, customer service, sales, and team development as well as strategic planning and collaboration. She also is active in many civic and church involvements.

Ricardi Calixte, born in Port-au-Prince and who grew up in Brooklyn said, “I like to see communities thrive.” He is the deputy director of Queens Economic Development Corporation, which he joined a decade ago.

At the neighborhood level, he works with merchants, property owners, electeds, and other community stakeholders providing technical assistance in implementing development programs. “I’m particularly focused on strengthening local neighborhood retail corridors,“ Calixte said. He also provides business counseling and training services to aspiring entrepreneurs and works with minority and women-owned businesses, assisting with government contracts and procurement opportunities.

Defending employees and fighting for their rights, Trinidad-born, President of Local 372, Shaun D. Francois I.
By Tequila Minsky

QEDC guru Rob MacKay nominated Calixte and says of him, “I especially respect his efforts at grassroots economic development and graffiti removal. But, his ability to get along with others is probably his best trait.”

Trinidadian Shaun D. Francois I was also feted at the awards ceremony. After working for the Board of Education in many capacities for 22 years, Francois in August 2014 was elected vice president of Local 372 — the union representing Board of Education employees, the largest in District Council 37. Two years later, he was elected president. When he entered the workforce, he was always defending wrongdoing for employees. He said that landing a job with the Department of Education was his best challenge and the most rewarding, as he became a shop steward. Working to enhance those who are paid the lowest, among his successes, he signed a contract with Mayor de Blasio to increase school crossing guards’ salaries.

The Queens TimesLedger, part of Community News Group, which publishes Caribbean Life sponsored the Ambassador Awards. In its special supplement its editors write: These newcomers have already left an indelible mark on Queens, achieving success despite some tall challenges along the way. At the same time, they have never forgotten their roots and are committed to giving back to the communities where they now live.

Active in civic, church, and business Queens resident, born in Antigua, Winnie Benjamin.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

More from Around NYC