It's good to be hard-headed: Caiso awards honours founder Colin Robinson, activists

Colin Robinson reads from his book You Have Your Father Hard Head in New York in October 2019. File photo/Sean Drakes. -
Colin Robinson reads from his book You Have Your Father Hard Head in New York in October 2019. File photo/Sean Drakes. -

There is a new award on the block, and it celebrates Caribbean stubbornness, creativity, and exceptional leadership.

The Colin Robinson Hard Head Award had its inaugural and virtual ceremony on November 21. Hosted by CAISO: Sex and Gender Justice, its first winner was Nadella Oya, founder and director of createfuturegood. Honourable mentions went to Francis Escayg, owner at Cause An Effect and artist Stephanie Leitch of Womantra.

CAISO director Angelique Nixon said the judges acknowledged the “dynamic, exemplary activism” of the five finalists but agreed the scope and creativity of Oya’s advocacy and work for social transformation tipped the scales.

“Oya’s work with Createfuturegood primarily focuses on children's rights but also covers intersecting issues such as mental health, education, crime and violence against women and girls, to name a few. By foregrounding creative mediums, Createfuturegood projects have had over 300,000 viewers, sparking conversations about these and other issues.”

She also highlighted Escayg’s use of creative design entrepreneurship to advocate for the rights of disabled people, and Leitch’s combining art installation, film and traditional mas portrayals to advocate on feminist issues.

Nadella Oya, winner of the Colin Robinson Hard Head Award for the work of her NGO createfuturegood. PHOTO BY SUREASH CHOLAI -

Nixon explained that the award was created to recognise and honour exceptional leadership in transforming how others see and imagine the world, particularly in the spheres of transformational activism, artistic boldness and meaningful solidarity.

“The purpose of the annual award is to support individuals working towards equity and justice for all, whose work, like Colin’s (Robinson, CAISO’S founder), connects political advocacy, creativity, and coalition building.”

The award was named for Robinson’s poetry collection, You Have You Father Hard Head and celebrates the Caribbean understanding of the phrase, “hard head” – persistence, stubbornness, relentlessness, and focus.

She said these attributes, along with radicalism and resilience, were necessary for speaking out against power and how it was exercised, in the home, community, or by economic and political elites.

“For the purposes of this award, ‘Hard Head’ reflects Colin’s own praxis in speaking out insistently against injustice while demanding change and transformation.”

The Honourable Mentions awards went to Francis Escayg, owner at Cause An Effect and artist Stephanie Leitch of Womantra. -

Robinson, who is CAISO’s director of imagination, has terminal cancer so the working board of CAISO has been succession planning with him. The board also wanted to organise a few events to celebrate and honour him.

The first event, The Treachery in Every Poem, was hosted on July 29 in collaboration with Bocas Lit Fest to celebrate his poetry. While that was in the preparation stages, regional director of UN Women for the Asia Pacific Roberta Clarke came up with the idea to create an award in Robinson’s name.

“We ran with it, created a committee, and started organising and fundraising.”

Robinson, a Sunday Newsday columnist, said when Clarke approached CAISO with the idea, there was a lot of excitement about it. Although covid19 created a challenge, funds were raised and everything was organised in a few months, although he wished they were able to do something “richer and fuller.”

“I’m honoured and humbled. It also provides an opportunity for me to feel that I am contributing something to younger people and organisations in a tangible way.

“However, the award is not about my work. It’s about recognising a certain kind of work that people say that I do. It’s about recognising certain aspects of organising work in TT that are really important to recognise and that I want to help nurture.”

He said the award was about organising that was creative, imaginative, bold-faced, not run-of-the-mill, and about people challenging systems and engaging questions of power.

He hoped the work he does embodies those qualities.

“Despite my illness I continue to work. I have faced some challenges obviously, but I will continue to do work whether it’s collaborative, that reaches out, that listens to other people, that focuses on things that we share in common.”

The award was launched during The Treachery in Every Poem and an open call for nominations was made. By the submission deadline of the end of September, 12 nominations were received.

The categories included anti-violence education using martial arts; building individual and organisational transformational and conscious leadership; creative interventions for children’s rights; culture and the creative arts/industries; disability advocacy and rights; feminist advocacy against gender-based violence; gender equality and gender justice; mental health advocacy; LGBTQI rights and advocacy; women’s rights; and youth development and empowerment.

A short list of five people was created by the Hard Head Award Committee – Clarke, and CAISO board members Cathy Shepard, Omar Mohammed and Nixon. The five were invited to submit additional information about their work and three external judges were then invited to adjudicate.

These were graduate student and gender and LGBTI advocate Richie Daly; performer, theatre practitioner and songwriter Wendell Manwarren; and Barbadian actress, drama educator and development consultant Varia Williams.

Nixon said CAISO plans to keep this going and to continue securing funds for future awards, and have already raised enough to cover next year’s ceremony.

“CAISO salutes the winner, finalists and nominees of the Inaugural Colin Robinson Hard Head Award and looks forward to launching the 2021 call for nominations.”

See WMN for story on Nadella Oya and her NGO createfuturegood.


"It’s good to be hard-headed: Caiso awards honours founder Colin Robinson, activists"

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