The  Diaspora Leadership Awards Gala 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. 

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 Jr., 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 Transport Workers Union, who received the John Lewis-John Hume Leadership Award;
  • Fionnghuala “Fig” O’Reilly, 2019 Miss Universe Ireland, NASA datanaut and executive director of the NASA Space Apps Challenge, who was awarded the AAIDN Heritage and Diaspora Spirit Award.

Congrats to @aaidnetwork on their Inaugural Diaspora Leadership Awards Gala last night and to honorees Mary McAleese, @HenryLouisGates John Samuelson and @figoreilly !

A thought-provoking evening of stunning performances, joyful moments and the sense of a movement taking flight!

— Irish Consulate NYC (@IrelandinNY) September 30, 2022

McAleese’s address was titled “Widening the Lens of History: A New Future from a Recast Past.” She said, “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.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin praised the work of the African American Irish Diaspora Network's (AAIDN) and its founder and chairman Dennis Brownlee when he paid tribute to the honorees via video from Dublin.

Among the notables in attendance were CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, and 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. 

The AAIDN’s mission is to foster relations between African Americans and Ireland based on shared heritage and culture.

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 AAIDN also supports the Black, Brown, and Green Voices program which originated at New York University in 2019.

*This column first appeared in the October 12 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.