SAINT PAUL, Minn – Over 300 guests attended the third annual African Awards Gala presented by Mshale Newspaper on October 8 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Seven honorees were honored for their achievements and contributions to the African community. Those attending included the inevitable who’s who in the African immigrant community but also a good cross section of the African community and civic leaders.
City of Saint Paul Council member Patrick Harris, who represented Saint Paul mayor Chris Coleman at the gala, welcomed guests to Saint Paul and commended Mshale for its work in the community.
Former White House Social Secretary and current CEO of Johnson Publishing, Desiree Rogers, was the keynote speaker. She was making her first public appearance in Minnesota since leaving the White House.
The Minnesota African Women’s Association (MAWA), received the Non-Profit organization of the Year Award. BCS African Food Wholesale, based in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota was honored as the African Business of the Year. Peter Kerre of New York received the Spirit of the Moran Award, one of the new categories introduced this year alongside the Non-profit and Artist of the Year awards. This year’s Community Leadership Award went to Ogo Sow of Atlanta while Fatawu Sayibu of Minneapolis became the first recipient of the Artist of the Year award. The Friend of the Community Award went to Catherine Rose, founder of Mindful Generations. James Chepyegon, a student at Southwestern State University in Marshall, Minnesota was this year’s Student of the Year.
As in previous years, winners were selected through a nomination and voting process. Mshale readers submitted nominations at AfricanAwards.org. A panel of judges, chaired by retired Hennepin County Judge, Harry Seymour Crump, went through the nominations and selected the final three for each category and submitted them for a vote by readers. Voting this year was via text messaging which Mshale Founder and Publisher, Tom Gitaa, said saw increased participation in the voting due to the ease with which participants could take part. In a message to gala attendees, he said the success of the text voting via mobile phone “turned out to be a successful initiative which we plan to maintain.”
Speaking to a captive audience, Ms. Rogers shared her own success story in corporate America and her eventual appointment by President Barack Obama as the nation’s first African American White House Social Secretary.”You should not be afraid of people who are smarter than you”, she told attendees. Being in charge of those smarter than her, she said, sharpened and increased her knowledge during her early years in corporate America.
On her exit from the White House following the Salahi gate crashing incident, “I had to take one for the team”, she said with a laugh.
Introducing Ms. Rogers to speak was Dr. Robert J. Jones, Senior Vice President for System Academic Administration at the University of Minnesota. He described the Harvard educated Rogers as “one of America’s most successful businesswomen”.
It was a special evening, especially for the honorees. Thanking Mshale and its readers for the honor, some got emotional during their acceptance speeches with Catherine Rose stating how special it was to receive the award “especially coming from you”. She has done work with communities in Africa and the Caribbean.
The 2011 gala not only featured expanded award categories, the entertainment was superb. Runway Africa, which debuted in Minneapolis in 2010, made their only 2011 appearance in the state at the African Awards gala. Featuring two acts and two African designers, models strutted the stage as guests munched on their tilapia and rice. The two designers, Hilda Mauya and Satu, showcased their 2011 fall lineup.
Sandwiched in between the break from the fashion show was a Cirque de Soleil inspired circus act by Circus Juventas, the only Youth circus school in state. The school’s presentation drew gasps from audience, some of whom had never seen a circus presentation in person.
Speaking on behalf of all the sponsors, Tashitaa Tufaa, CEO of Metropolitan Transportation and last year’s recipient of the African Business of the Year award, expressed his company’s pleasure in partnering with Mshale as the year’s title sponsor. The evening’s emcee, Dr. Edwin Bogonko, thanked all sponsors on behalf of Mshale.
Closing out the evening was Mshale founder, Tom Gitaa, who thanked guests and volunteers for another successful presentation of the African Awards Gala.