Africa-America Institute’s 38th Annual Awards Gala — Connecting People, Connecting Worlds

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The gala reception for Africa-America Institute’s 38th Annual Awards Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street.

Last week in New York, more than 425 guests gathered over at Cipriani 42nd to celebrate the Africa-America Institute’s 38th Annual Awards Gala, recognizing the vast contributions of Africa and its worldwide diaspora. This year’s Awards reflected the theme of “Africa in the World,” and honored a group of illustrious leaders across industries who have used their platforms to advance and affect substantive change locally, nationally and globally.

The evening kicked off with a festive reception hosted by the NAACP with welcoming remarks from NAACP President Derrick Johnson followed by the dinner and awards ceremony co-hosted by author Bozoma Saint John and New York Times bestselling author Luvvie Ajayi Jones.

Derrick Johnson.
Bozoma Saint John.
Luvvie Ajayi Jones.

AAI President & CEO Kofi Appenteng highlighted the organization and set the tone for the evening in his opening remarks declaring that the mission for the night was to “…connect people who might not otherwise cross paths and highlight connections between ideas that might otherwise be obscured—connections between the arts, commerce, technology, and the basic necessities of life—all the while centering Africa.”

AAI Trustee, Founder of Life Line Financial Group and Philanthropist, Humble Lukanga, and Tanzanian-American filmmaker, producer, and screenwriter, Ekwa E. Msangi presented the first award of the evening to Founder and Executive Director of the African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF) and Executive Director of the New York African Film Festival, Mahen Bonetti who was bestowed with the Ambassador for African Cinema Award.  Ms. Bonetti was honored for her role as a master curator of African films and champion of African Diaspora filmmakers and her commitment to creating platforms that have given a voice to African filmmakers and their work for more than 30 years.

Humble Lukanga, Mahen Bonetti, and Ekwa E. Msangi.

This year’s Science and Technology Leadership Award recognized Vice President of IBM Research Dr. Solomon Assefa for his work in leading IBM’s efforts to develop core technologies for climate change mitigation and adaptation, healthcare and life sciences, computing and technology. Additionally, Dr. Assefa is responsible for IBM’s Africa Labs, forming new models for partnership with government, industry, academia, non-profits, and start-ups.

Under his leadership, researchers from IBM’s global labs are applying and advancing disruptive technologies that will transform industries and benefit society. AAI trustee and Chief Communications Officer at the ACLU Rebecca Edwards and Professor Phillip Clay, Former Chancellor of MIT who first met Dr. Assefa as a student at the university, served as presenters.

Professor Phillip Clay and Rebecca Edwards.
Lozenge and Osagie Imasogie, Meron Demisse, and Dr. Solomon Assefa.

Betty Wambui Kibaara — Director of the Food Initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation and an AAI alumnae received the Distinguished Alumna Award. Presented by  AAI Trustee & Alumna Professor Ousseina Alidou, and Former AAI Trustee & Vice President for Africa at The Rockefeller Foundation William Asiko, the Award recognizes an alum from an  AAI program who has made significant contribution to their country or field of work.

Kibaara runs the Rockefeller Foundation’s investments in food systems and its efforts in increasing access to nutritious foods and improved nutrition. She serves as the regional champion for the Foundation’s initiatives in strengthening food security, agribusiness, and resilience to the devastating effects of climate change to enable real, sustainable, and equitable economic growth.

William Asiko, Betty Wambui Kibaara, and Ousseina Alidou.

The final award for the evening feted the people Republic of Botswana with the National Achievement Award in recognition of the country’s commitment to democracy and stability in the region as well as its focus on addressing the importance of education, healthcare and youth development. The Award was accepted by His Excellency Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana. In a dynamic and engaging speech, His Excellency detailed the successes of Botswana which includes its focus on addressing the issues of education, healthcare and youth development. The country boasts one of the world’s longest economic booms, with growth rates since the late 1960’s on par with some of Asia’s largest economies.

AAI President & CEO Kofi Appenteng, His Excellency Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana, and Christal Jackson.

Under President Masisi’s leadership, Botswana has also begun moving from a minerals-led to a knowledge-based economy, and the government has implemented reforms to make its products and services more competitive in the global market. With regards to healthcare, the country has shown strong commitment to tackling the HIV/AIDS crisis, having achieved and exceeded the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets: with 95% of the population being aware of their HIV status, 98% of those on treatment, and 98% virally suppressed. Mamadou Beye, AAI Trustee & General Manager, Corporate Affairs for the Middle East, Africa and South America at Chevron, and Professor Benedict Oramah, the President & Chairman of Afreximbank presented the award.

Michelle Gavin, David Bonfili, HE. Hilda Suka-Mafudze, First Lady Neo Masisi, H.E. President Mokgweetsi Masisi, Christal Jackson, Peter _ Marie Laugharn, John Olajide, Mamadou Beye

The evening included an incredible performance by classical singer, poet and humanitarian Abiodun Koya and closing remarks from Chair of the Board of Trustees Christal Jackson.

Other notable guests included: H.E. Prime Minister Philip Davis and First Lady Ann Marie Davis of the Bahamas, H.E. Neville Gertze (Namibian Ambassador to the United Nations); Hon. Linda Thomas-Greenfield (US Ambassador to the United Nations); Hon. Dr. John Nkengasong, (U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator); Hon. Patrick Gaspard (President & CEO, Center for American Progress); H.E. Hilda Suka-Mafudze (African Union Ambassador to the US); H.E. Dr. Mamadou Tangara (Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Gambia) John Olajide (President & CEO Axxess); Florie Liser (President and CEO, Corporate Council on Africa); Hon. Ed Royce (Former Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee); John Damonti (President, Bristol Myers Foundation); Travis Adkins (President and CEO, US African Development Foundation); Hazel Dukes (President of the NAACP New York State Conference and civil rights activist); and Hon. Joe Kennedy III (Former Member of Congress).

L. to r.: Abiodun Koyo and Tosan Aduayi; HE Prime Minister Phillip Davis and First Lady Ann Marie Davis (Bahamas).
L. to r.: Stephanie Appenteng and Bruce Hubbard; Bernardo Cuaresma, Diana Espitia, and Gene Kornegay.
Chester Higgins.
L. to r.: Hazel Dukes; Joe Kennedy III.
Kalaa Mpinga, Amb. Linda Thomas Greenfield, Samuel Debessay, Desiree Smith Cormier, and Ghebre Selassie Mehreteab.
Brandi James, Dana Banks, Travis Adkins, Deniece Laurent-Mantey, Desiree Smith Cormier, and friend.

Launched in 1984, the AAI Awards Gala is the most anticipated African-centered event convened in New York City. Held during the week of the United Nations General Assembly, the Gala brings together a host of distinguished notables including heads of state, diplomats, government officials, business and civil society leaders, scholars, journalists and other leading figures for an unforgettable evening. AAI is already looking ahead to next year’s Gala which will celebrate the organization’s 70th Anniversary and is scheduled for September 26, 2023.

The Africa-America Institute (AAI) strives to enrich the social fabric of humanity by connecting students and leaders across sectors, facilitating access to reliable information about Africa, and transforming the way we understand Africa and its worldwide diaspora.

Since its founding in 1953, AAI has awarded scholarships and fellowships to over 23,000 Africans. These individuals comprise an esteemed network of alumni, many of whom are leaders and influencers across public, private, and governmental sectors in Africa and globally. Included in this network are current Heads of State, H.E. Hage Geingob, President of the Republic of Namibia; H.E. Alassane Ouattara, President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire; H.E. Mohamed Bazoum, President of the Republic of Niger; and H.E. Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the Republic of South Africa. Many of AAI’s Alumni have left an indelible imprint, including the late 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Mathaai and the late Barack Obama, Sr.

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