Sylvia surprised by President Obama praise

Exactly how do you feel when the President of the United States singles you out for special mention during a keynote address to an audience of hundreds?

Wednesday, 26th June 2013, 7:52 am
Singled out for Presidential praise - Sylvia Gordon.
Singled out for Presidential praise - Sylvia Gordon.

‘Completely and utterly surprised’ says Sylvia Gordon, Director of Groundwork NI.

Sylvia, who lives in Ballymena, was ‘standing up in the rafters’ at The Waterfront Hall when the most powerful man in the world commended her for her part in the creation of the ‘peace gate’ in North Belfast.

The President also looked for Sylvia as he spoke about her, calling for her to wave at him from where she was in the hall.

“I was standing up at the back, we were all at the back in the rafters. It was a complete and utter surprise,” said Sylvia.

“He mentioned my name and I thought, ‘I don’t believe this, what is going on here. Just let the ground open up!’”

Mr Obama spoke about the work done by Sylvia and her colleagues to have a gate put into a peace wall in Alexandra Park.

In September 2011, more than 15 years after the barrier went up, a gate was opened, allowing people to explore the entire area.

Groundwork NI worked alongside the Alexandra Park Steering Group, local residents and community groups to enable the regeneration of the area.

Mr Obama said: “As long as more walls still stand, we will need more Sylvias.

“We will need more of you – young people who imagine the world as it should be, and bring a community together to make it happen – who make even the small impossibilities a shining example of what’s possible.

“That, more than anything, will shape what Northern Ireland looks like 15 years from now and beyond.”

Sylvia is, however, extremely modest and attributes Mr Obama’s words to her colleagues at Groundwork and its partnership organisations.

“This is validation of and a wider accolade for the voluntary and community sectors and the work we do,” she said.