The Keepers of the Dream Awards Dinner Was A Time of Celebration, Exhortation and Remembrance

The Keepers of the Dream Awards dinner was a beautiful extension of what had already commenced earlier in the week on Tuesday and Wednesday during the workshops and panels of the National Action Network convention. It was a time of celebration, exhortation, and being in remembrance. A common thread that was a continuum throughout the panels and workshops, as well as the awardees of the night’s gala, was the notion that we are all connected. And, it’s our responsibility and privilege of fighting to retain all that has been gathered up for us in generations past, especially the right to have economic equality. Earlier in the day on Wednesday, Richelieu Dennis founder of Essence Ventures, the Sundial Group of Companies and the New Voices Fund, emphatically shared the importance of Black and Brown communities taking ownership literally, and figuratively. “It is important that we own our culture. We built this country and we don’t own it…The second part of this messaging is the [fallacy] that we are not good enough. It’s important to create an accurate narrative.” Dennis further shared, “How we come together as a community determines how strong we can be.” And, it was this theme that echoed throughout the entirety of the Keepers of the Dream Awards dinner later that evening.

Hundreds of guests entered the second-floor grand ballroom of the Sheraton New York Times Square to the melodic sounds of a gospel choir belting out “Jesus Is Real” and “Do Not Pass Me By.” After prayer and opening remarks from Rev. Al Sharpton and actor-comedian Anthony Anderson, Martin Luther King III and Arndrea Waters King were on hand to help award the honorees which included: EGOT Award-winner Whoopi Goldberg; Alexis McGill Johnson, President & CEO, Planned Parenthood Action Fund; Michelle Gadsden-Williams, Managing Director & Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, BlackRock; Dr. Phillip Ozuah, President & CEO, Montefiore Einstein; and Caroline Wanga, President & CEO at ESSENCE Ventures.

Below are a few select speeches from some of the night’s honorees ranging from our very own Caroline Wanga to Whoopi Goldberg, Michelle Gasden-Williams and New York City Mayor, Eric Adams.

Caroline Wanga on “The Gift of Being Seen”

There’s something about being seen and recognized in spirit and character by someone that you genuinely admire. For many Black and Brown people, being seen and revered by your own, does something good to your soul. When you look at Caroline Wanga, of Essence…you see a statuesque, confident beauty. But, what one may not so easily recognize is the testimony of a woman who had a child at 17, and for many years after, considered it a good day if she was ‘unseen’. Upon receiving her award from Rev. Sharpton, Wanga shared, “For you to see me is trauma repair. I need us to understand how important it is to see others, because it may be the first time they’ve been seen. And, until somebody tells ’em they’re seeing them, they don’t know what to do when they’re seen…One of the things I love the most about the Black community is you don’t care how we see ourselves, you will hold how I’m supposed to see myself till I [we] can handle it.” Wanga later went on to share about the importance of picking up the baton, and being an active participant in the world we wish to leave behind for others. “We are a community that has always felt like we had to decide between joy and justice. Those that came before us, whether it be the King family and others, earned us the right to exist at the intersection of joy and justice…my wish is that as you leave this evening, you feel obligated to reduce your self preservation and increase your involvement, courage and your voice because if you don’t, we will be back in a world where [we] will not be seen. And, that is a world you should be afraid of.”

The Keepers Of The Dream Awards Dinner Was A Time Of Celebration

Mayor Eric Adams on “It’s Not Where You Start, But Where You Finish” 

While we may know him as the powerhouse elected official and Mayor of New York City, Mayor Eric Adams was once a struggling D-student who feared reading aloud in front of his peers, because they would call him dumb. He later learned that he had Dyslexia, and went on to be on the Dean’s list throughout college. Adams shared, “If you [I] can go from being Dyslexic, arrested as a child, rejected, and now elected to be the mayor of the city of New York, the most important city on the globe…I need those who are where they are, to see that that is not their reality. Right now, some of the major CEOs in this country are of color, some of the mayors of the most important cities are of color, committee chairs–we have this power. Now we have to use that power that we have accomplished. And, let’s do something with it!”

The Keepers Of The Dream Awards Dinner Was A Time Of Celebration

Whoopi Goldberg on “Keeping The Dream Alive”

“Here’s what I want to say. The dream has never died. It’s never been gone. It’s only been a shadow, because we forgot. We forgot what we were supposed to do. We forgot how we needed to be treated. So, as things began to deteriorate, we allowed it to happen. And, now we’re on the precipice of making a decision of who we are going to be, and continue to be in this country, because this is our country! Goldberg further shared, “And what we are finding ourselves forced to do is teach other people what we’ve always known. Women have just figured out that they don’t hold the place they used to. More people are remembering that anything can be done. But, unless we are all together, doing what we have to do, it’s going to be really hard to get it done. All of our religious folks are figuring out that we have to be more welcoming, less judgmental. God does not make mistakes.” And, continuing with the common thread throughout the evening, Goldberg concluded “We have to do better for each other, towards each other. We are not always the best respecters of each other. I’m saying that because as I look around at what’s coming at us, if we are not all standing together, poor, Black, White, female, Asian, name something. If we’re not all fighting to make it better for all of us. None of it is going to work.”

The Keepers Of The Dream Awards Dinner Was A Time Of Celebration

Michelle Gasden Williams on “Taking Up Space” And Commitment

Michelle Gasden Williams understands the importance of understanding your “why”, and not being afraid to make a difference. “My parents have always said that we are not here on this earth to occupy space. We’re here to make a difference. And it’s up to each of us to determine what that difference is. And, that difference for me has always been, and I’ve never wavered, to be a servant-leader and practice DEI with courage, conviction, and commitment.” Echoing the sentiments of the other honorees, Gadsden-Williams agrees that it is important for us all to do our part. “I would encourage us to recommit ourselves to the ideals of unity, empathy, and understanding to the power of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Together, we can create a future where everyone has an opportunity to thrive and where the dream of equality becomes a reality for all of us.” 

The Keepers Of The Dream Awards Dinner Was A Time Of Celebration

*Content and speeches condensed for length and readability.*

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