2017 Higher Ground International Cultural Gala &
Village Leader Awards (VLA)

September 22, 2017 @ 6pm
Renaissance Providence Hotel

Highlights of the evening will include an elegant African-inspired dinner filled with music, dancing, a fashion show, and a live auction. The event's theme is "Bringing the Village Together!" In today's world where the discourse is more divisive than inclusive, HGI hopes to bring people together from diverse backgrounds to learn from and celebrate with one another. The evening will focus on the (VLA) where four outstanding leaders in the community will be recognized for their dedication and work impacting the African community.

Your attendance and support helps Higher Ground serve the people of West Africa, both here in our local RI communities and in West African villages. We hope you will join us at this momentous gala, supporting and bringing together community right here in Rhode Island.

Download the invitation flyer.

Your attendance directly supports Higher Ground in serving the people of Africa, both here in Rhode Island communities and in the rural villages of West Africa.

About The Event

Emcee: Mike Ritz

Mike Ritz joins Higher Ground International as Emcee for this year's 2017 5th Annual Cultural Gala & Village Leader Awards.  He has been the executive director of Leadership Rhode Island since 2009, after serving two years on the organization’s board of governors. Over the past 20 years, he has served as a tri-lingual interrogator in the U.S. Army, established his first corporation by the age of 25, motivated people to excel at his fitness Boot Camps in Boston and Philadelphia, and served as the New England regional manager for an international health care company based in the United Arab Emirates. He also was an on-call analyst for CNN. Recently, Mike became a founding member of the Providence Cultural Equity Initiative where he serves as the volunteer Director of Cultural Food Initiatives.

Village Leader Awards

Four awards will be presented to outstanding members of the Higher Ground International community.

"Paramount Chief Award"                 Mr. James Alexander

"Kingdom Chief Award"
Ms. Susan L. Sweet

"Clan Chief Award"
Karen Lee Ziner

"Clan Chief Award"
Gabe Amo

About the Keynote

Ms. Massa A. Washington, a journalist by trade and a women's rights civil society activist by passion, will join the event with a keynote presentation.

Event Schedule:
6:00pm - Cocktail Hour
7:00pm - Performances & Fashion Show
7:30pm- Dinner | Henrie's Message & Awards
8:15pm - Live Auction, Music, and Dancing

Attire: Formal African and cocktail

Auctioneers: Angie Bannerman Ankoma and Raymond "Two Hawks" Watson

Event Decor: Events by Fran
Fashion Show: Donahue Models
Graphics by: Carolyn V. Marsden
Spoken Word: Len Cabral
African Drums: Sidy Maiga's Group
Entertainment: 1031 Productions

Music by:  DJ Spaceman & DJ Fire
Photographer: Anthony Abu and Archie Johnson

Our Sponsors

Thank you to our outstanding and supportive sponsors!

Tribal Chiefs

Roger Williams University


Barbara Silvis
Cox Communications
Rotary Club of Providence




Kim & Geary Hall
MIchelle & John Rego
City of Providence
United Way of RI
Topher Hamblett


The Honorable Gina Raimondo, Pawtucket Credit Union, Kathy Jellison, Trinki and Tom Brueckner, The City of Pawtucket, Chatterton Insurance, RI Department of Health

In-Kind Sponsors

Len Cabral, Donahue Models, Events by Fran Event Decor, Ten31 Productions, Hall of GraFx, Mayor Jorge Elorza, Leave it to Geri Event Logistics, DJ Fire (Rueben Newman), DJ Spaceman (Fredrick Wilson), Renaissance Downtown Providence Hotel

Event Honorary Co-Chairs:

Gina Raimondo- Governor of RI, and David Cicilline-Congressman of RI

Host Committee: 

  • Taino Palermo, PhD – RWU School of Continuing Studies
  • Andrew Bramson – President  &CEO, College Crusade of RI
  • Catherine Taylor –Former Director of RI Dept. of Elderly Affairs & Senior Advisor/Policy/Partnerships/Community/Engagement @Ryan Institute for Neuroscience & Geriatric Education Center @URI
  • Sabina Matos, Acting City Council President,
  • Kathy Jellison – Retired
  • Barbara Silvis – Retired VP, FM Global
  • Topher Hamblett – Founder & President, The Foundation for West Africa
  • Sharon Conard-Wells – EX. Director, West Elmwood Housing
  • Council Woman Mary Kay Harris
  • Rep. Grace Diaz
  • Carrie Bridges-Felix- Lifespan
  • Kobi Dennis – Community Organizer
  • Trinki Brueckner - Retired
  • Wendy Grossman – Bradley Hospital
  • Cheryl Burrell – State of RI, Administration

Planning Committee

  • Julia Noguchi
  • Kathleen Costa
  • Michelle Morin
  • Maryna Yanovich Oriekhova
  • Ni Din
  • Erin Flannery
  • Pam Hanson-Carbone
  • Quadry Olalekan
  • Geraldine Barclay-King
  • Harriet Holder Sheldon Holder
  • Franklyn Krah
  • Joseph Areano
  • Moses Saygbe
  • Charles D. B. King III
  • Patrice Pierre Louis
  • Weayonnoh Nelson-Davis
  • Angela Pierre Louis


Angie Bannerman Ankoma and Raymond "Two Hawks" Watson