The Philadelphia-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organization of Pennsylvania, Inc. on Saturday night honored two individuals for their exemplary service to the community at a gala banquet marking the nation’s 36th anniversary of political independence.
The group bestowed the special awards on its ex-vice president Emille Williams and author and non-profit founder Isabelle “Lorna” Lewis.
The honor ceremony, which also marked the group’s 21st year of incorporation and served as its annual dinner and dance, took place at the Vincentian-owned Calabash Banquet and Catering House on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia, renowned as the “City of Brotherly Love.”
“This great organization of Pennsylvania has given me the opportunity to be who I am,” said Williams, a mechanical engineer and private pilot, after receiving the award from his fellow Biabou villager, Lorenzo DeCaul, the group’s president.
Later, in an exclusive interview, Williams, told Caribbean Life that he “felt humbled and really honored” to be recognized his contributions.
“But what was really recognized were the people who supported me — my wife (Dr. Erica Belton Williams) and my kids (Justin and Sierra Williams),” said Williams, who had served as vice president under James Cordice and DeCaul’s presidencies.
Lewis — founder and president of the Philadelphia-based Giving Life Anew Meeting — said she accepted the award for “those who died from domestic violence and those who are being raped.”
Lewis, who doubled as the guest speaker, shocked some patrons — and put a slight damp on the proceedings — with her claim that she was “raped (in Diamond Village] and continued to be raped until 11 years old.”
However, new Counsel General Howie Prince, in his maiden address, sought to put some zest in the ceremony, with relatively terse and witty remarks.
Without reading Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves’ Independence message to the Diaspora, which was inserted in the souvenir journal, Prince, the former head of the National Emergency Management Organization, said he will speak for only four minutes — a significant departure from previous speakers — adding that Gonsalves had asked him to “tell you that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is still very beautiful.
“We have a lot to be thankful for, but we still have a lot to do,” said the New York-based Counsel General, referring to the prime minister’s remarks, before applauding the group’s “noteworthiness.”
In the past, some executives had complained about lengthy addresses by speakers at the Independence gala, preferring that they be cut short to accommodate more time for dancing and socializing. Patently, abiding by some of the tenets of public speaking, Prince quickly recognized them. Prince — who had trekked to Philadelphia, with 20-odd nationals from New York, on a bus organized by the Brooklyn-based Vincentian umbrella organization in the United States, Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, U.S.A., Inc. — noted the group’s involvement in helping to bring Vincentian athletes to the Penn Relays.
That effort, for the past six years, was initiated, coordinated and spearheaded by Cordice, with support from the Council.
While stating that he was not Santa Claus, “bearing gifts,” Prince then used pop quizzes in invoking patrons’ participation: “If you think you’re the oldest person, stand up and come forward; what is the name of the group (Vincentian) that sang, ‘People who ran from Bablyon’; (and) who are the people who made me coming here seamless?”
The respective answers were: Denniston Wood, 67, chaplain; Affetuousos; and Kenrick Mitchell, co-founder and former president.
In wishing nationals “Happy Independence,” DeCaul said: “We want you to think from where we came.”
Noting that the Vincentian community in Philadelphia is “very small,” he urged nationals in the Pennsylvania area to become part of the group, adding that it works “very well, very hard to support” the homeland.
More about the honorees
Williams has been a member for more than 10 years, serving as the education committee chair, treasurer, and vice president.
Professionally, Williams is currently Vice President of Operations for The Central Ohio Transit Authority, a regional transit company providing transportation services in the Columbus Ohio Metro area.
A recognized industry leader, Williams said he is a frequently sought-after technical advisor, with more than 25 years of combined transportation management in vehicle engineering, maintenance and transit operations experience.
He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Drexel University in Philadelphia and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in finance from La Salle University, also in Philadelphia.
On arrival in the United States, Lewis, who was an illegal immigrant, said she worked as a housekeeper and waitress before becoming homeless.
However, she said her circumstances changed significantly when she gained employment at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital as a benefits administrator. In that position, Lewis said she assisted Caribbean nationals in ensuring that they “enrolled in all the benefits to which they were entitled.”
Lewis is currently employed in the technology department at an unidentified New York City agency. She said she founded her group in September 2011, adding that, since 2012, at the beginning of the school year, the organization has been providing 3,000 Caribbean children, at the primary school level, with “much-needed educational supplies.”
Since 2011, Lewis said she has also been shipping barrels with food items and household supplies, at Christmas time, to the needy in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In addition, she said, since that time, she has provided monetary gifts to families in Diamond Village, where she was born, and the surrounding areas.
Lewis holds a Bachelor of Science degree from St. Joseph’s University, as well as real estate licenses for New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and certificates in insurance and investment and Microsoft system engineering.