This year’s Black History Month became a special one for Michael Abraham when the twenty year-old McMaster undergraduate became the first recipient of the inaugural Nelson Mandela Award at the recent John C. Holland Awards ceremony on Feb. 1.

The first-year Social Science student was thrilled to receive the new award commemorating the late black icon, but humbly acknowledged he wasn’t expecting to win anything.

“I thought all the awards for youth achievement had been handed out, so I thought, ‘Oh well, I guess I didn’t win anything this year, it’s cool’.”

Abraham said his dejection quickly turned to elation when he heard his name called in connection with an award that is meant to go to a young member of Hamilton’s black community who “rises above challenge and difficulty to make a difference” and “uses the spirit of kindness and helpfulness to build a better and more inclusive community.”

Having lived in Cape Town, South Africa for a decade, Abraham is well versed in the anti-apartheid leader’s accomplishments and said the award was “a lot to live up to”.

Abraham is heavily involved in social work as a director of programming for the Youth Action Council of the NGen Youth Centre, a Summer Literacy Camp counselor for the Focus on Youth Program and a volunteer in the learning resource office at Hess Street Elementary School.

To keep up with his studies, Abraham said he’s had to make sacrifices like stepping down from his previously mentioned position within the Youth Action Council so that he could devote more time to studying and Steel Express, a breakdancing group he teaches.

He’s been asked to take on a more senior role within Steel Express as the two founders look to bolster funds for a retreat called “Breaking Barriers” in March, but he relishes the added responsibility.

Abraham is aware of the privilege he’s been afforded in coming to Canada and takes any opportunity he can to pay his dues, noting that he is indebted to multiple mentors who have helped develop him into who he is today.

“I always felt that I needed to do something to pay back the fact that I’m here when I felt unworthy of that.”

He was also quick to point out that the old adage, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” rings true in his case.

“I just really enjoy working with others and learn so much from each experience. As I’m helping them, they’re helping me just as much”

Abraham would look to emulate the modesty and drive that Mandela exemplified in the future.

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