Deaf Activist Ian Dhanoolal Wins
2023 Colin Robinson Hard Head Award!

Deaf leader, activist, researcher, interpreter & storyteller, Ian Dhanoolal, was adjudged winner of the 4th Annual Colin Robinson Hard Head Award, at a ceremony last evening at ThinkArtWorkStudio, Port of Spain. Dhanoolal, 49, is the founder of Trinidad and Tobago’s first Deaf-led advocacy organisation, the Deaf Empowerment and Advancement Foundation (DEAF). 

The event recognised five other finalists: Khaleem Ali (human rights and youth activist); Gillian Goddard (systems thinker, community organiser, chocolate maker); Conrad Mitchell (activist and human rights educator); Amílcar Sanatan (artist, academic, and activist); and Cyrus Sylvester (activist and community organiser). Sanatan and Sylvester were singled out for special mention by the Judges.

Inspired by the fearless ways in which Colin Robinson – late co-founder of CAISO: Sex and Gender Justice – used creative imagination to speak out against injustice, CAISO’s Hard Head Award supports individuals working towards equity and justice for all, whose work connects political advocacy, creativity, and coalition building. This year’s Call attracted 14 nominations across a broad range of human rights and social justice work, that included Comedy for Social Causes, Deaf Community Support, HIV/AIDS Advocacy, LGBTQ+ Rights, Mental Health Support, Protest Mas and Rainforest Habitat Protection.

2023 Nominations and Selection Process

CAISO issued the Call for Nominations across various media platforms, from October 5th to November 14th, 2023. The Award Committee shortlisted six Finalists (from a field of 14 nominations received) and the independent Panel of Judges submitted their decision on December 4th. This year’s Panel of Judges comprisedBrooklyn-based, Trinidadian writer, Anton Nimblett; writer, researcher, musician and composer, Sharda Patasar; and journalist and media consultant, Franka Phillip

2023 Hard Head Award – Judges’ Citation

In delivering the Judges’ Citation, Franka Philip said that the trio applauded the continuing efforts of Amilcar Sanatan, Conrad Mitchell, Cyrus Sylvester, Gillian Goddard, Ian Dhanoolal and Khaleem Ali to not just make a difference, but to transform the lives of the communities for which they advocate. 

Ian Dhanoolal, she noted, “represents not just the Deaf community but his presence gives voice to the work of most marginalised groups. Awarding him the Hard Head Award opens up the much-needed conversation about disabilities and places focus on the urgent need to put in place, the physical and imaginative infrastructure that shifts the term disability into an ability that is different but no less.”

She continued: “Communities like the Deaf community will be left behind if advocates like Ian and organisations like the Deaf Empowerment and Advancement Foundation are not given the means to take proactive steps to ensure that Deaf people can benefit from tools such as artificial intelligence in all areas of development and communications.” 

Judge Sharda Patasar opined that Amílcar Sanatan’s work from academic to artistic spaces “is an example of a dynamic spirit willing and able to imagine difference. …His focus on men and masculinities, in particular, is an important and necessary side of feminist discourse that strives to balance the conversation. I see his work as critical in a fast-advancing world where technological innovation necessitates an increased focus on the human and human life.”

About Cyrus Sylvester, Judge Anton Nimblett had this to say: “Before legislation to decriminalize homosexuality, before PrEP and available medications, before and before and before, Cyrus Sylvester created a space where his community could gather, tend to one another, create art and culture. …Decades later, the space he helped create, lives on as a cultural hub, not only for one particular community but for the Trinbago community as a whole. Black Box is a national treasure.” 

A presentation of CAISO’s Year in Review, highlighting the organisation’s achievements across three thematic areas of Wholeness, Justice and Inclusion preceded the Award Ceremony. This was followed by the launch of CAISO’s 2nd Annual Art Exhibition, featuring the work of nine (9) artists on the theme, Empowerment | Resistance | Defiance. 

CAISO salutes the winner, finalists, and all nominees of the 4th Annual Colin Robinson Hard Head Award. May this annual Human Rights Day celebration become a beacon for illuminating activism and advocacy across a range of human rights and social justice issues.



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