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The Africa-America Institute to Celebrate 70 Years at Sept. 19 Gala

In celebration of the seven-decade milestone, this year’s Gala will feature a Presidential Fireside Cha with the presidents of Botswana and Namibia.

The Africa-America Institute (AAI) is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The AAI connects Africa to America through education, training and dialogue. 

In celebration of the seven-decade milestone, this year’s Gala will feature a Presidential Fireside Chat with H.E. Hage Geingob, President of the Republic of Namibia and AAI alumnus, and H.E. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana.

The 70th Anniversary Gala is set to take place on Tuesday, Sept.19, 2023, at Cipriani 42nd St in New York City during the week of the United Nations General Assembly. The evening will also include an exceptional performance by much-lauded mezzo-soprano Alicia Olatuja and an original poetry reading by storyteller Donovan Beck.

“For any institution to reach 70 years is a remarkable achievement and I am so exceptionally proud to be part of this journey,” said Kofi Appenteng, AAI’s President, in a press release. “For seven decades, AAI has stayed true to our purpose, and we will continue to carry the torch. This year’s honorees are so closely and directly connected to our mission and, in some cases, our history as with Evelyn and I can’t think of a more fitting group to recognize as part of this milestone moment.”

The 2023 Awards and Honorees include:

Corporate Responsibility Award: MTN Group to be accepted by President and CEO, Ralph Mupita

Telecommunications giant MTN Group will receive the 2023 Corporate Responsibility Award, with its President and CEO Ralph Mupita set to accept the Award on the company’s behalf. Since its founding in 1994, MTN has been at the forefront of telecommunications in Africa. MTN’s expertise and success have contributed to a revolution in how Africans communicate with each other, bridging the digital divide, catalyzing economic growth and raising living standards across the continent. 

Legacy of Teaching Africa and Excellence Award: Evelyn Jones Rich

AAI will recognize one of its own and will bestow lifelong educator and activist Evelyn Jones Rich with the Legacy of Teaching Africa and Excellence Award, recognizing extraordinary scholar-activism in promoting Africa-focused curricula. From her role as a student activist in the 1950s through to her career as an educator, foundation executive, and advocate for senior citizens, Jones Rich has always fought for justice. Jones Rich oversaw the educational programs at AAI from the mid-to-late 1970s, which were largely responsible for outreach efforts to infuse Africa in K-12 education across the United States and also helped to shape the content of elementary and secondary curricula in Africa. She advanced the idea that Africa should be taught in schools not simply as an object of foreign policy but as a source of knowledge essential to any meaningful understanding of humankind and the modern world. 

Business Leadership Award: Debra Lee

BET CEO Emeritus, Author of "I AM DEBRA LEE" and founder of Leading Women Defined Debra Lee will receive the 2023 Business Leadership Award recognizing her lifelong commitment to promoting diversity, not only on-screen but in the boardroom. Lee served as CEO of Black Entertainment Television Networks (BET) from 2005-2018. Her 30+ year tenure at BET also extended to roles as General Counsel and COO. She is also the founder of Leading Women Defined and the co-founder of Monarch Collective — both organizations wholly dedicated to mentoring, supporting, and empowering both women and people of color at large. 

Philanthropic Impact Award: The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, to be accepted by President and CEO, Peter Laugharn 

AAI will recognize the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation with the Philanthropic Impact Award in acknowledgment for the organization has made through its work on the African continent and commitment to localization in its grant-making. Peter Laugharn, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation will accept the Award on behalf of the Foundation. Under his leadership, the Foundation’s commitment to reaching 25% localization in its international grant-making by the end of this year leads the field where the current commitment is 25% by the end of 2030 under the ‘Grand Bargain.’

For more information about AAI’s 70th Anniversary Awards Gala and Ceremony, visit