Kings Plaza Mall celebrates Caribbean Heritage Month

NY: Kings Plaza mall celebrates Caribbean Heritag Month
(L-R) Senator Roxanne Persaud, Emma Dawson, Shamila Pantaleon, Gardy Brezela, Kathleen LeBlanc, Calvin Sennon, Jean Joseph, and Tristan Massalay-Ellis celebrated their Caribbean heritage at Kings Plaza Mall.
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Kings Plaza Mall hosted its annual Caribbean Heritage Month celebration on Wednesday, June 26, honoring six outstanding locals for their contributions to Brooklyn’s Caribbean community and commitment to preserving and promoting Caribbean-American heritage.

This year’s recipients of the King’s Plaza Caribbean Heritage Month Celebration awards for their outstanding achievements were Shamila Pantaleon, Calvin Sennon, Dr. Melony Samuels, Kathleen LeBlanc, Gardy Brezela, and Judge Inga O’Neal.

Tristan Massalay-Ellis, vice president of Corporate and Legislation at Kasirer LLC, led the evening’s program. DJ Selectah Spadez had the crowd on their feet, dancing to reggae and soca tunes. Young dancers with the Sesame Flyers, dressed in colorful Caribbean costumes, showcased their skills and were tasked with handing out the awards, while the Brooklyn Canarsie Lions handed out Caribbean food staples such as beef patties and salmon cakes.

Kings Plaza General Manager Emma Dawson kicked off the award ceremony.

“It’s very important that we, as a community partner, thank you for doing your part in being a community partner,” Dawson said. “And to the rest of us, may we find our callings to be good community stores.”

Calvin Sennon, an immigrant from Trinidad, the owner of TriniJam BK, and founder of Visit Canarsie, was honored for “his passion for sharing the rich flavors of his heritage” and leading the Canarsie Merchants Association. 

The Sesame Flyers showed off their dance skills.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

City Council Member Mercedes Narcisse (D-Brooklyn) nominated Sennon for the award because of the passion Sennon has shown for the community Narcisse loves. 

“As a former business owner, I see the passion that you have to make sure Canarsie is relevant when we talk about the city of New York,” Narcisse told Sennon.

State Senator Roxanne Persaud nominated Shamila Pantaleon for donating her time and money to community events “without asking for anything in return.” 

“Without putting your hand out or standing under a spotlight and saying, ‘Look what I have done,’ the people will see what you’re doing. And that’s what Shamila does,” Persaud said. “She does it in her quiet way, and that’s the reason why I nominated her for [the award] this year.”

The crowd proudly showed their Caribbean heritage.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

The Brooklyn Canarsie Lions Club president, Jean Joseph, nominated award recipient Civil Court Judge Inga O’Neal. 

“[O’Neal] is the past president of the Brooklyn Canarsie Lions, and she’s always there. You may call on her; she is there. She gives her time,” Joseph, owner of Joseph Tax and Consulting, said. 

O’Neal was born in Antigua to Grenadian parents and grew up on several Caribbean islands before immigrating to the United States.  

“Gowing up in the Caribbean shaped me into the person who I am today,” O’Neal said. “Both of my parents instilled in me and my brother strong work ethic, the importance of a good education, as well as the value and the deep commitment to service.” 

State Senator Kevin Parker nominated Dr. Melony Samuels, founder of “The Campaign Against Hunger,” for her continued and long-term work in service.

Dr. Samuels shared that her organization serves 14,000 New Yorkers every week. 

“We are serving 145 zip codes in the city and reaching way beyond anyone else in our city. So we are grateful and thankful for this award,” Dr. Samuel said.

A Sesame Flyers dancer holds one of the awards.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Wardrobe consultant and style blogger Kathleen LeBlanc, owner of Luxe LeBlanc Styling Co., believes everyone is a celebrity in their own right and was nominated by City Council Member Farah Louis (D-Brooklyn). 

The “Wardrobe Therapist” and daughter of Haitian parents said she couldn’t have done it without her community and wants to share her passion with fashion students who look like her. 

“I now have such a passion to give back to the students who look like me and teach them what I know getting them into the fashion industry because I didn’t have that,” LeBlanc said. “So, I developed a sustainable fashion course that will now be throughout New York City.”

The final honoree of the evening was Gardy Brezela, president of the 69th Precinct Community Council and founder and president of “Friends United Block Association,” the largest social service provider in Canarsie.

“Throughout the [COVID-19] pandemic, when many folks went without, he was someone who stepped up and helped to provide. Be it water, be it food, be it masks, be it any type of service,” Massalay-Ellis shared. 

Brezala said that Caribbean Americans were “supportive” people. 

“We have made a great contribution to the state of New York. Without the Caribbean, I don’t know what the state would be,” Brezala said, “so we need to give ourselves a big applause for that.”

Simon, the area senior marketing manager for Macerich Kings Plaza, told Brooklyn Paper that many shoppers at the southern Brooklyn mall are Caribbean-American and explained Caribbean American Heritage Month was a great opportunity to honor shoppers and the community by acknowledging Caribbean-Americans for their contributions to the Caribbean diaspora. 

Kings Plaza General Manager Emma Dawson kicked off the award ceremony.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“We went to our elected officials and asked them who would they nominate, and the outpouring was amazing,” Simon said. “[The elected officials] know the community members they’re nominating; they’ve worked with them. They know exactly what they’re doing in the community and the impact they’re making. So for them, the hardest choice is probably deciding who of Caribbean decent they should select for the award.”

Michelle Mathison, development director of Sesame Flyers — which recently celebrated its 41st anniversary in April and serves over 7,000 families a year — shared that they have been part of the celebration in the past. 

“We’ve been a part of the Caribbean celebration before, but this one was really special,” Mathison said. “I think because the kids were involved. It kind of broke the ice; bringing out the kids, I think, was a hit.”