Disappointment and shock swept over the seven St. Maarteners who had been nominated for a Dutch Caribbean Pearl Award when at the end of the 4th annual gala and award show in Schiedam Saturday evening it became evident that not one of them had won. All awards went to persons from Aruba and Curaçao.
Seven St. Maarteners had been nominated for a Dutch Caribbean Pearl Award, four different categories: Melissa Gumbs and Cyriel Pfennings (community), Kyle “DJ SPY” Brown (community), John Brooks (entrepreneurship), John Sandiford (entrepreneurship), Thomassio Kelly (student) and Jernaldo “Dr. Rum” Thielman (music and entertainment).
Two persons were nominated from Saba, Sue-Jean Janga (student) and Angie Ignacio (arts and literature). Ziggi Recado from St. Eustatius was nominated in the music and entertainment category for a Dutch Caribbean Pearl Award, a yearly event of the Foundation for Dutch Caribbean persons in the Netherlands OCAN.
The Windward Islands had good candidates, more than ever and expectations were high. But, as the evening proceeded, hopes that the Windward Islanders would win an award diminished. One by one the winners were announced and every time it was someone from Curaçao or Aruba.
Gumbs and Pfennings, cofounders of the successful Unified St. Maarten Connection (USC), received a very loud applause, possibly the loudest of all evening, when their nomination was displayed on the video screen, but here too, the award in this highly popular category went to two persons from Curaçao.
Clearly disillusioned, the group of St. Maarteners assembled near the exit at the end of the award ceremony. They found it hard to believe what had happened. They wondered how it was possible that St. Maarten, which had more nominees than Aruba which had fi ve candidates, ended up with nothing. Fact is that Curaçao had the most nominees with 18 persons.
Melissa Gumbs commented on the course of events: “While I am disappointed that no St. Maartener won, I am glad that were able to be a bright spot in a sea of negativity. We are of the belief that between all nominees we adequately showed the true unity among the islands. I hope that next year there will be even more St. Maarten nominees and also a St. Maartener on the judging team.”
OCAN Chairman Glenn Helberg said on Sunday that he was extremely sorry about what has happened. He assured that there was no malintention and promised that for the next Dutch Caribbean Pearls the criteria would be changed whereby diversity, a balance in representation from the islands, would become a rule.
“It is terrible what happened. I feel the hurt. The unity of the Kingdom, the involvement of all islands, is very dear to me and that is why I feel even more bad about it,” Helberg told The Daily Herald. “I feel strongly responsible for what took place and I will make sure that this will not happen again.” In the coming week OCAN will amply evaluate what transpired.
Helberg explained that the rules with which the jury team works are very transparent. Part of the process to judge the nominees includes the gathering of information on the nominees and elaborate consultation and discussions by the judging team, which consists for the greater part of people from Curaçao.
Things that the jury specifically looked at include social responsibility and community outreach, not only within the Dutch Caribbean community, but also outside of that community. Possibly insufficient information was available about the Windward Islands nominees.
The OCAN Chairman said that until now the diversity in winners had always worked out. In the previous years, there have been several winners from the Windward Islands. “This year it didn’t work out, because the candidates from the Windward Islands didn’t secure suffi cient points. But I have decided that from now on diversity will become a rule, an explicit criteria in the judging process,” said Helberg.
The award winners were: Jennifer Fun (student category, Aruba), Inti Angelo Brazil (science category, Curaçao), Joeri Oltheten (entrepreneurship category, Curaçao), Curt Fortin (arts and literature category, Aruba), Marvin de la Croes (sports category, Curaçao), Shayveca Kreuger (music and entertainment category, Curaçao), Ashaki Leito and Sherlon Gerard (community category, Curaçao).
The Most Outstanding Pearl Award, the public award, went to videographer/ visual artists Ken Wolff from Aruba who secured the most votes from the people that voted online. Olympic swimmer Edith Brigitha from Curaçao was given the Special Achievement Award by the organisation. Brigitha was the first black swimmer to win an Olympic medal in swimming and was included in the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) in California this year.
The award ceremony was well-attended. People of Dutch Caribbean descent were present from all over the Netherlands, including many St. Maarteners. Aside from music and dance, there were speeches by Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb and OCAN Chairman Helberg. Rotterdam was one of the main sponsors of the event.
Aboutaleb said he was very proud of the Dutch Caribbean community in Rotterdam. “We are gathered here to celebrate the strength of the Dutch Caribbean community. You are an important link in the Rotterdam community. “I am proud of all of you, even though I don’t personally know all of you.”
Aboutaleb said the islands needed the help of the many talented Dutch Caribbean persons and that people may want to consider contributing to their island. “But if you decide to stay here, I will embrace you in my arms.”
The Mayor spoke of a “we community” where people helped and supported each other opposite to a “me community.” He said he had “great admiration” for volunteers, people that put others first. It is that volunteering, being a role model for others that the Dutch Caribbean Pearls event is aiming to highlight.