A milestone event took place on Thursday evening September 29, 2022, in New York City when the African American Irish Diaspora, an organization whose mission is to foster relations between African Americans and Ireland based on shared heritage and culture, held its Inaugural Diaspora Leadership Awards Gala. In addition to a stellar line-up of honorees, the event featured Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States, Geraldine Byrne Nason; philanthropist Loretta Brennan Glucksman, and an enthralling dance performance by Tony Award winner Savion Glover. Micheál Martin T.D., Taoiseach of Ireland, praised the work of the African American Irish Diaspora Network and its Founder and Chairman Dennis Brownlee. He paid tribute to the honorees via video from Dublin.
Co-chaired by Dr. Miriam Nyhan Grey and Keith Wright, the event honored four leaders with international reputations in social justice, scholarly excellence, business leadership, and advocacy: President Mary McAleese, the former President of Ireland and Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin, who received the Frederick Douglass-Daniel O’Connell Social Justice Award; Henry Lewis “Skip” Gates Jnr., Harvard University Professor and Executive Producer of “Finding Your Roots” who was awarded the AAIDN Inspiration and Vision Award; John Samuelsen, International President of the Transportation Workers Union, who received the John Lewis-John Hume Leadership Award; and Fionnghuala “Fig” O’Reilly, 2019 Miss Universe Ireland, NASA Datanaut and Executive Director of the NASA Space Apps Challenge, who was awarded theAAIDN Heritage and Diaspora Spirit Award.
Proceeds from the event support initiatives to develop scholarship opportunities in Ireland and at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), as well as activities that amplify the artistic and cultural dynamism of the African American and Irish artists. The network also supports the Black, Brown, and Green Voices program which originated at New York University in 2019.
President McAleese delivered a remarkable keynote address, entitled Widening the Lens of History: A New Future from a Recast Past. To a captivated audience McAleese observed: “We do not revise history for the sake of it but forge new collaborations to tell it anew for the sake of truth, inclusion, equality in our time-to right the record, to right the old catalog of wrongs, to repair where we can and take responsibility where we must. Above all to learn. And above all to heal. For there is much to heal.’
Among the luminaries in attendance were CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, as well as authors Kia Corthron and Colum McCann. New York University, University College Dublin, Notre Dame University, Sacred Heart University, and Quinnipiac University were all represented, as were the diplomatic corps of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Photos by Nuala Purcell