Jamaica Gleaner / QUEENS, New York:

The cold winter air could not withstand the heat radiating from the Hilton New York JFK Airport Hotel last Saturday night. Fashionistas within the Jamaican diaspora and friends of the organisation made their entrance to the Children of Jamaica Outreach’s (COJO) 23rd Annual Gala.

The evening began with cocktails inside the dimly lit Lexington Meeting Room. With an open bar, guests mixed and mingled as they enjoyed hot and cold hors d’oeuvres – bun and cheese, beef patties, barbecued wings and assorted fruit platters – as they grooved to the melodies of the Tropical Rhythms band, who played selections such as Sly Mongoose and Linstead Market .

With teased palates, guests quickly made their way to the grand ballroom for the main event. The master of ceremonies for the night, Ruschell Boone, reporter and anchor of NY1, acknowledged the death of Golden Krust CEO Lowell Hawthorne, who passed away hours before the event. A moment of silence was observed in his honour, as a wave of sadness engulfed the room.

Later, the atmosphere was once again lightened by Tropical Rhythms, who had the room rocking and singing along to songs such as Evening Time , Johnny Too Bad and Pocomania Day .

After dinner, guests were treated to an eclectic fashion show which featured bright, colourful and fun selections from Johniest Wiltshire’s Signature Closet and Boutique. Models Kesha Blackwood, Antonia Allen and Marcia Deans ripped the runway as they delighted members of the audience with their high-energy and ‘fierce’ poses.



Since its inception in 1994, chairman and founder of COJO, Gary Williams, has dedicated his life to helping to improve the health, education and general well-being of underserved children in Jamaica and the United States. This year, the organisation donated more than US$20,000 in scholarships, as “education is a sure-fire way to get out of poverty”. These scholarships are made possible through the continuous support from corporate entities and persons who believe in COJO’s mission.

As such, COJO awarded four individuals who, over the years, have assisted the organisation in meeting their goals. Dennis Sherwood, Dr Fitzclaud Grant, and Kaye Chong were presented with the Contributions to COJO and Community Development Award. The Corporate Service Award was presented to GraceKennedy – accepted by Ryan Mack, CEO of GK Foods International Business, who acknowledge the similarities between the two organisations.

“We, like you (COJO), believe in community service. We, like you, believe in giving back to everybody in Jamaica and wherever we operate … because we recognise, just like you, that they (children) are the future, [so] they are the ones we continue to invest in. I really implore you, on behalf of all of us at GraceKennedy, to continue to [do] the wonderful work you’re doing. We’re here to assist you as an organisation … and make it another 23 years, Gary. Congratulations and thanks for the award,” said Mack.

A surprise presentation of the Visionary Award was made to Marcia Erskine of Erskine & Associates for her unwavering dedication and support over the years.

After the presentations, singer/songwriter Ikaya, who headlined the event, wooed the crowd with her sultry voice. She performed songs such as Hard Way , Ugly Girl , Fly Away which featured The Professor, and For You .

In high spirits, guests piled on to the dance floor in their Santa hats and Christmas beads and danced the night away to The Electric Slide and Cupid Shuffle .


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