MINNEAPOLIS – The African Awards, organized annually by Mshale Newspaper, held its glittering seventh African Awards Gala on Saturday, October 13 at the World Headquarters of Target Corporation in Minneapolis. This year marked the first time that the African Awards have been held away from a hotel ballroom or convention center, a result of a major commitment at last year’s gala by Target VP for Diversity and Human Resources, Caroline Wanga to host them at Target. The company was also the main sponsor for 2018.
The three-hour formal gala program was preceded by a red carpet walk for attendees, awardees and presenters and a TV interview by WOW Africa and a heavy hors d’oeuvres that featured South African wines. The main highlight of the evening being the honoring of individuals and organizations that have exemplified excellence and distinction in serving the community while pursuing their business or scholarly objectives as defined in the criteria for their respective award categories. All finalists were nominated and voted on by their community.
Before the formal gala program could begin however, local up-and-coming rapper, FANAKA, lunged on to the stage to warm up the crowd with a song to set the tone for the festive evening. He performed throughout the evening his energizing songs, blending traditional African rhythms and hip-hop. In honor of the African Awards, FANAKA released his latest music video, “Naka from the Block.”
After a welcome from Mshale founder Tom Gitaa, who thanked Target for hosting the gala, he invited Target’s Wanga to the stage. Wanga said, “You are here tonight because it is important for Target to tell you that you matter to us.” She went on to say that, her company cares about the African immigrant community. “The investment in this awards are a small token to tell you that we see you, that you matter, are important and that it is not because I am an African immigrant that this came through, but because you are important demographic to a company that makes money and thus we are honored to have you here tonight,” Wanga said.
Wanga went on to breakdown the important demographics of the African immigrant community that are of interest to her company, including the estimated 200,000 plus African immigrants in Target’s home state of Minnesota.
Minneapolis based R & B singer, the Lagos born and bred Carolyne Naomi, delivered a soulful acoustic set during an African dinner prepared in-house by Target.
The evening gala, already elegant in all aspects, was taken to another level with the entry of Soweto Street Beat. A world music ensemble based in South Africa and Atlanta, the magic of the drums delivered by the group had almost everyone take out their cell phones to record the performance. “We don’t do this for money but to promote our culture as I love my people,” said Soweto’s director, Peter Ngcobo.
Retired Minnesota judge, Lajune Lange was the keynote speaker. Before speaking, she invited Ngugi wa Thiong’o to stage to make brief remarks. Thiong’o was in town for the Twin Cities Book festival happening the same day as the African Awards and Gitaa, who hosted him the night before, invited him to the awards as a special surprise for the guests. The author and former political prisoner added to the significance of the evening by noting the pan-Africanism that was on display. Thiong’o was warmly received and he stressed the importance of African languages, a cause he has championed all of his life, he said. Also gracing the evening was the National High School Debating champion, Halima Badri of Apple Valley High School who was invited to the stage by the MC Charles Dennis to greet the guests.
Judge Lange, the founder of the International leadership Institute, told the audience the importance of education and why America and Minnesota in particular, needs to look to Africa on how to get education right. She said when in Africa “When I walk in any school (in Africa) children aged three can read English and write in cursive and it does not matter whether their parents can read or not.”
Lange also revealed to the audience that in the United States, Kenyans have the most PhDs awarded to loud applause. She concluded by saying, “you are part of the future plans of Africa.”
“Remember that song, ‘oh what night’,” Leon Rodrigues, chair of the African Awards Panel of Judges, asked the audience in reference to the spectacular evening as he took the stage and got ready along with fellow judge Miata Getaweh to announce the award winners. First, he asked to audience to join him in congratulating Dr. Getaweh for getting her doctorate recently. Rodrigues said their fellow judge Godson Sowah could not join them at the gala this year as he was out of town.
The evening also featured a video message from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey congratulating the finalists. State Representative Ilhan Omar, a past recipient of the African Awards’ Community Leadership Award, also delivered a video message congratulating the finalists. Omar, who is running for the US Congress and destined to be the first black person born in Africa to be in Congress, said in her message that her winning the African Awards a few years ago is what prompted her to first run for office.
The following are the winners of this year’s African Awards. Each winner, in addition to the coveted trophy that is made by hand in Nairobi, also received a laptop computer and six months of free internet access courtesy of Comcast, which returned for the second year as a sponsor.
Artist of the Year: Yusuf Shalita
Student of the Year: Hajaratu Jaafaru
Business of the Year: Afro Deli
Spirit of the Moran: Abdullah Kiatamba
Community Leadership: Jonathan Rose
Non-profit Organization of the Year: Mercy International Missions
The next African Awards gala will be on Saturday, October 12, 2019.