In her job as neuroradiology fellowship coordinator, Pauline Ford-Caesar meets fellows from all around the world, and she said she knows firsthand the hardships of moving to another country. That is why she helped create the Central Alabama Caribbean American Organization, which, among other things, provides a familiar presence for students from the region who come to Birmingham to pursue higher education.
For her work with the organization during the past three years, Ford-Caesar, originally from Jamaica, was given the Motivating Women Award by the Birmingham International Center at its annual International Women’s Day dinner.
“I tell people I have two jobs,” Ford-Caesar said. “My regular job and the other when I go home and on weekends. My fellow board members will tell you I am in constant motion.”
Iris Gross, executive director of the center, said the awards are given to 10 women each year selected from nominations submitted from people in the community. The nominator must show in 200 or fewer words how the nominee inspires them.
“Pauline’s devotion and energy in motivating the Caribbean community in Birmingham to share its cultural treasures with the city and the nation is second to none,” said an excerpt from Ford-Caesar’s nomination letter by the United Nations Association-USA Greater Birmingham Chapter. “Her ability to generate top-of-the-line ideas and to work with organizations and individuals in the Birmingham community to bring these ideas to fruition is mind-boggling. As a result, CACAO has been able to execute events in a manner that is far above expectations for most new and small organizations.”
Ford-Caesar said she started the idea of forming CACAO after she kept meeting people from the Caribbean in the city, including Pauline Jolly, Ph.D., professor of public health, and Eric Jack, Ph.D., dean of the School of Business. Both Jolly and Jack serve on the CACAO board.
|"Caribbean people have been a part of the American story almost from the very beginning, including Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers..."|
“We thought [CACAO] would be a great addition to the City of Birmingham,” Ford-Caesar said. “And we wanted to share some Caribbean culture and history to show people we are more than beaches and world class athletes.”
Although CACAO is not yet able to award scholarships, Ford-Caesar said the organization strives to help students through the transition and answer any questions they may have. Additionally, the organization has raised the profile of Caribbean culture in the city with Caribbean festivals and an annual Christmas Dinner Dance.
“Caribbean people have been a part of the American story almost from the very beginning, including Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers, who was born in Nevis,” Ford-Caesar said. “In 2006 when President George W. Bush designated June as Caribbean American Heritage Month, it was in recognition of the long history of service Caribbean people have given to their new home country and a way of introducing Americans to the richly diverse Caribbean history and people.”
Locally, Gov. Robert Bentley proclaimed June 2014 as National Caribbean American Heritage Month in the State of the Alabama. In celebration, CACAO will host a mini-Caribbean carnival in Regions Field June 13 before the start of the Birmingham Baron’s game. The event will continue the next day at Linn Park.
Ford-Caesar said she’s happy with the progress the CACAO has made since 2010.
“Hard work is its own reward,” Ford-Caesar said. “The fact that we are now being invited to do presentations at the Birmingham Library, the main post office and local schools is a testament to the work we have done in just three years to raise the profile of the Caribbean in Birmingham.”