A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Top Ten Visionaries of 2009
By Natalie Goode

This year the winds of change shifted in a direction we never thought possible—starting with Barack Obama placing his hand on a tiny Bible and being sworn in as president—and has produced a whirlwind of visionaries whose contributions to public service, music, science and film should be recognized. Below we list the top 10 visionaries of 2009. 

  1. Alicia Keys-Known for being the songbird that tickles the ivories with her soulful ballads about the ups and downs of relationships, and snagged 11 Grammys doing so. Keys, 27, is also the devoted co-founder and Global Ambassador of the Keep a Child Alive organization, which provide treatment and support services to children and families suffering from HIV/AIDS in Africa and India. Keys has helped to raise millions of dollars with her tireless work hosting the charity’s annual Black Ball gala and introducing the Keep a Child Alive text message initiative, (mobile-phone users can donate $5 and text the word “ALIVE” to 90999) which is the first aid organization to implement a continuing text campaign in the US.                                                                    
  2. Gebisa Ejeta-The Ethiopian native and geneticist’s mission was to find a way Africans could grow enough food to feed themselves, and with a crafty weed called Striga found on the African continent, which can cause 40 percent of crop losses that proved difficult. After 15 years of researching Striga, Ejeta, 59, identified a chemical signal in sorghum plants, an important cereal grain to Africa, which attracts the weed’s rootlets and cling to sorghum plants. Ejeta developed a drought-tolerant and weed-resistant version of the sorghum seeds, and distributed them to 11 African nations. In recognition of his efforts, Ejeta received The World Food Prize, “an annual award given to individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food worldwide.” Mission Accomplished!      
  3. Deven Sanders and Cydnee Bayless- Spelman College students and cousins (Sanders will graduate in 2010 and Bayless graduated in May 2009) collaborated on a student-produced film that features an endangered species: African American women in lab coats. “From Root to STEM: Spelman Women and Their Journeys Through the Sciences” is a documentary film that focuses on African American scientists—whose professions range from dentist, prosthetist to  cancer researcher—who have graduated from Spelman within the last seven years. The hour-long film, made possible by a $1.4 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), examines the career and experiences each graduate has had as they pursue careers in science. The film will be used as a springboard to develop a mentoring program for African American women interested in the biological sciences that HHMI funds at Spelman.                                                 
  4. Tyler Perry-Love him or hate him, he’s the reigning African-American filmmaker, whose films gross millions of dollars at the box office (Perry’s most recent movie, “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” opened with $24 million) with his infectious character Madea, a no-nonsense, gun-toting Southern matriarch. Perry has managed to carve out his own niche with unforgettable characters that experience profound issues in his movies and TV shows. As well as collaborate with Oprah and Film Director Lee Daniels to get the critically-acclaimed movie “Precious” released. In addition to shining a light on major issues in the African American community, the filmmaker, playwright and producer has put his star power behind civil rights and social issues. He became involved in the Jena 6 trial in his native Louisiana and has donated $1 million to the NACCP.                                                                                                                   
  5. Esther Phiri-Known as Zambia’s leading lady in the ring, amassing 5 boxing titles in 13 professional bouts. Phiri’s interest in boxing started when she became involved in an NGO youth-oriented HIV awareness campaign that focused on sports and health education. Phiri was the only girl to focus on physical training that involved boxing. Despite the negative response from her male counterparts, Phiri began intensive training with former Zambian amateur boxing champion Anthony Mwamba. Fast forward two years, Phiri wins the 2007 WIBF International Junior Lightweight title against Bulgaria opponent Monika Petroka, and helped shatter gender stereotypes by fighting in Zambia’s first ever international female boxing event. This year Phiri faced-off with an American opponent and the fight was declared a draw. The single mom’s next undertaking is trying to convince the Zambia Professional Boxing Control Board that more drug tests need to be administered for boxers to curb dope use.                                                                                        
  6. Usain Bolt-If you blink you’ll miss this Jamaican native sprint past his competition and onto the finish line in less than 10 seconds flat. The Lighting Bolt burst onto the scene in 2003 winning back to back gold medals for sprinting at the World Junior Championships in Jamaica, he set a new championship record in the 200 m with a time of 20.40 s. Working his way up to national and international championships, Bolt won countless medals around the globe and is a three-time Olympic gold medalist. Bolt holds the world record for 100 meters and 200 meters, and the 4X100 meter relay race (along with teammates). This year Bolt became the first man to hold the 100 and 200 m world and Olympic titles simultaneously, proving he’s unstoppable.                 
  7. Nyasha Zimucha-This South African native was crowned Miss Africa USA (2008-2009) in late 2008 and has it made it her top priority to enlighten Westerners about the African continent. As a representative of 53 African countries, Zimucha is actively involved in charities and organizations that have a direct effect on the continent; the Diamond Empowerment Fund, The African Women’s Development Fund and Habitat for Humanity. She started her own organization in 2008, Global Citizen Campaign, to combat xenophobic behavior around the world by spreading the message of UBUNTU (in the Zulu language the word “ubuntu” means humanity). The GCC’s programs focus on the most disadvantaged getting access to education, health, human rights, livelihoods and US Troop Rehabilitation. In addition to her humanitarian work, Zimucha is a singer and dancer that has performed in over 200 venues worldwide, including the Pittsburg Theater, where she appeared in The Wizard of Oz, Annie, Chicago and Guys ‘n Dolls.                                                                        
  8. Uwem Akpan- Nigerian Jesuit priest turned author grew up listening to folktales from his mother and fellow villagers, which inspired him to create a book of short stories, “Say You’re One of Them,” to echo their voices. “Say You’re One of Them” won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (Africa Region) 2009 and PEN/Beyond Margins Award 2009. Akpan studied Philosophy and English at Creighton and Gonzaga Universities then went on to study theology for three years at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. He became ordained in 2003. Akpan’s grandfather was one of the people who brought the Catholic Church to his village of IIkot Akpan Eda. During his seminary days he began to write stories about his village that became the heart of “Say You’re One of Them,” and received his MFA from the University of Michigan in 2006.        
  9. Dambisa Moyo-As the old African proverb goes, “water that has been begged for does not quench the thirst,” and Zambian economist and author Moyo believes that Western aid to African countries has left the continent bone dry. Author of “Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working  and How There is a Better Way for Africa,” she offers innovative proposals on how developing countries can be financially independent, instead of relying on foreign aid. The New York Times bestseller has been published internationally by Penguin Books this year. Moyo is a regular columnist for financial journals, The Economist and Financial Times. She has a PhD in Economics from Oxford University and a Masters from Harvard University, and worked as a consultant for the World Bank and in the debt capital markets at Goldman Sachs.                                                                                                                   
  10. Barack Obama-He had us at hello. When Obama stepped onto the stage to deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and spoke of his roots and United States’ values, we all secretly wished he was running instead of Sen. John Kerry, it elevated his status in the Democratic Party. Fast forward four years in his new role as President of the United States, revamping the country’s Aeschylus heel, health insurance, engaging more foreign leaders with a foreign policy of diplomacy and friendship, which he received this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for, and signing into law a billion dollar economic stimulus package that quelled the deepening worldwide recession and helped economic growth.