Saturday November 30th saw the 3rd Annual African Diaspora Awards take place at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater in New York City. Presented by Applause Africa, a quarterly lifestyle magazine covering the people, cultures, philosophies and successes of Diaspora Africa, the award ceremony is part of a mission to raise the consciousness of African professionals about their collective responsibility and to support efforts to build a better Africa. The Awards, much like the magazine itself, encompass an interest in a wide swath of subjects ranging from arts and entertainment to entrepreneurship and humanitarianism. This year’s ceremony opened in both English and French with keynote speaker, Nobel laureate and African Diaspora Lifetime Achievement awardee Leyhmah Roberta Gwobee.
“We must learn to sit with ourselves comfortably,” she stated, recounting a lesson from her mother, “to not have others dominate our space.” And such was the tenor of an evening filled with individuals who not only dominated their own space, but inspired those around them. Gwobee herself was one of several key leaders of The Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement which was seminal in ending the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.
The stories of each of the awardees were nothing short of extraordinary. While their words at the podium may have (on occasion) tended towards the lengthy, the evening merited unabridged expression of thanks as well as definite acknowledgement of the adversities over which many awardees had triumphed. Among the winners was humanitarian of the year: Manyang Reath Kher, one of the 20,000 Sudanese Lost Boys. “I was a lost boy, but I am not a lost boy anymore. I am found,” he proudly stated. At the age of only 23 Manyang has not only started a new life in the United States, he started the Humanity Helping Sudan Project. The nonprofit organization provides medical needs and agricultural training to the Sudanese Diaspora in the Gambella region of Ethiopia along the eastern boarder of south Sudan.
Actor of the year was awarded to Yaya Alafia, who starred in “Lee Daniels: The Butler” as well as the highly acclaimed Mother of George. Modestly stating that she was fortunate to be chosen for her recent roles, Alafia told Afropop that the focus of her life is her two and a half month old son. While good fortune and family may be driving forces in her life, her successful career in films depicting positive images of blacks in the diaspora and the persistence of African tradition beyond the boarders of the continent are a strong testament to her taste and skill as an actress.
The evening concluded with a performance by Musician of the year Blitz the Ambassador. The Brooklyn based, Ghanaian born rapper moved the crowd to its feet with “Akwaaba.” He continued with an interlude depicting a land mired by dictatorial rule, replete with curfew and threats of lethal force imposed on those stepping outside of the strict laws. When asked about the song choice he replied, “There needs to be an educational element to the party. We are very fortunate to be where we are, to be privileged. But we can’t forget the other side.”
With music as a reflection of himself and a tool to return home, Blitz has not forgotten the other side, nor has he forgotten the strong emphasis many African traditions place on family. “It felt good to hold it.” [the award] “It is the most important award I will ever receive.” Obviously a statement holding the ceremony in high regard, but more importantly noting that recognition from your own people is the highest honor one can receive. A reminder that one is moving in the right direction, and hopefully that Africa is moving in the right direction as well.