Dr Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis

Dr. Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis, MD, MPH, is the Director of Health for the City of St. Louis. Dr. Hlatshwayo received her medical degree from Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine and a Master’s in Public Health Degree from Case Western Reserve University. She completed her internal medicine residency at University Hospitals Case Medical Center.

She was a Clinical Instructor at Washington University School of Medicine for two years and an Associate Program Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases fellowship program. She was also in the leadership of the Office of Inclusion and Diversity at the WUSM where she wrote a policy dedicated to addressing patient bias against faculty, trainees and staff with an accompanying toolkit and curriculum for the residency program.

Dr. Hlatshwayo career passions include community engagement, care of people living with HIV and the impact of COVID-19 infection in marginalized populations. She was the co-PI (principal investigator) for a study comparing the impacts of COVID-19 on HIV between St. Louis, Missouri and Sao, Paulo, Brazil. She was also the clinical co-lead for a regional COVID-19 Population Prevalence grant where she brought her expertise in Infectious Diseases and roots in the community to write protocols for the management of COVID-19 positive individuals, design a program to provide wrap-around services to those in need and manage a workforce around this clinical response effort.

Dr. Hlatshwayo Davis is now a national and international medical contributor on COVID-19 with a particular focus on marginalized populations, and has been featured in outlets such as CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, MSNBC, and Newsweek, among others. She is also an Associate Editor for Disparities and Competent Care for the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). Dr Mati is a recipient of the 2021 V4A Community Advocate Award.


 Community advocate- Wakili Award
Arrey Obenson

The President and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis, Obenson emigrated from Cameroon more than 20 years ago. Without a U.S. credit history, he could not get a car loan and struggled to find public transit that would get him to his job.

Now, he is a vocal proponent of many benefits that immigrants bring to their communities, arguing that one way to tackle St. Louis population decline is to draw more of them to the city.  The law barrister is also an author of “Bridging the Opportunity Gap.” Under his leadership, the institute continues to provide resettlement and integration services for nearly every new immigrant in the St. Louis region since 1919. Annually, more than 6,000 immigrants and refugees learn English, find jobs, become resettled and start businesses with its help. Obenson is also a notable motivator, and a cheerful speaker.

Born and raised in Harlem, Gisele’s possibility of becoming a success was like a camel through the eye of a needle. The first-generation alumna of Syracuse University and Harvard Business School has been passionate about the plight of orphans, a well-known star in foster care and adoption programs in the State. No wonder she has been instrumental in hosting immigrants and international students. Even now, a young Ghanaian has found a home in her house.


As the Professor of Practice – Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) at the Olin Business School at Washington University, St. Louis, she has been a symbol of connecting Africans and African Americans. Her goal is to kill all those ancient ignorance, stereotypes and perceptions among black people and different races. The Corporate Director for First Mid Bancshares, Inc. (parent company of First Mid Bank & Trust, N.A) was also a five-time General Manager managing businesses up to $800M, in Fortune 250 companies. She is such indefatigable pillar in connecting V4A with The Archway(MO) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated and other new partners. Through this, several key experts have addressed our community on issues of drugs, psychological health and gun violence. Gisele leads various dialogues to dispel the misconception between African Immigrants and African Americans.

Recently, she completed a TEDx titled “Networking Made Easy.” The indefatigable lady has been featured in the Huffington Post, Black Enterprise, and the Milwaukee and St. Louis Business Journals. Most recently she has been a repeat guest on “Good Morning St. Louis” on the FOX affiliate in St. Louis, MO.

Community Impact—Mhisani Award

Sal Valadez

Sal is a Mexican immigrant, U.S. Army Veteran; a graduate of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa where he was awarded an M.A. in Political Science (Alternative Futures Program) and B.A. in Political Science.

Sal has served as an Executive Director of several non-profit organizations, and as administrator at several colleges and universities. He is a 2019 Fellow of the Washington University in St. Louis Community Research Fellows Training Program (CRFT). He is currently working with LiUNA (Laborers International Union of North America) – Midwest Region (Springfield, IL) and the Missouri & Kansas Laborers District Council (Wentzville, MO) where he serves as the Representative for Diversity, Outreach & Marketing.

He caters for workers and their families, immigrant, ethnic, and historically disadvantaged, underserved, and underrepresented communities. Throughout his career, Sal has been an advocate on issues related to education, workforce development, worker rights, voter rights, ethnic health/mental health equity, language access, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). Previously, he has scooped other awards like St. Louis Premio Esperanza (Hope) Award; 2020 STL Business Journal Diverse Business Leaders Award; 2019 STL County Diversity Champion Award; 2019 STL Who’s Who in Diversity Award Recipient; 2018 St Louis Construction Forum Diversity Champion Award and; 2017 STL Council of Construction Consumers Champion of Diversity Award.

Humanitarian Award- Shujaa Award

Dr. Anna Crosslin

Anna’s journey began in Japan where she was born of a Japanese mother and American-citizen father. She came to America when she was 2.5 years old.

In 1978, the former President and CEO took the helm of the International Institute of St. Louis-when Missouri was the only state in the union that did not participate in the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

After successfully bringing the Missouri government into the program and until her retirement in 2021, she grew the organization substantially, from a $100,000 annual budget to $6 million. For decades, the strong-willed lady sponsored almost 25,000 refugees, reenergized the South Grand business district, and ensured that many thousands of foreign-born newcomers got the tools, resources, and opportunities they needed most.

Thousands of African refugees have been sponsored by the International Institute, including Congolese, Somalians, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Sudanese, and many more.

In addition, the Institute offers English classes, job placement, and small business development to more than 5,000 immigrants from dozens of countries annually. “While the popular Festival of Nations in Tower Grove Park is perhaps what everyone most recognizes about IISTL, I have made it my life’s work to help as many immigrant newcomers as possible to have the support they need to achieve their dreams like my immigrant family has,” said Dr. Crosslin.

The co-founder of St. Louis Mosaic Project is also the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions. During her 42+ year tenure as the Institute CEO, she was routinely named one of the “Most Influential St. Louisans” by local publications and organizations, including the St. Louis Business Journal and St. Louis Magazine. In 2015, she was recognized by President Obama as a White House Champion of Change for World Refugee Day. In all, she has received more than two dozen local and national awards and has been frequently quoted by the media and featured in stories and publications around the world. Dr. Crosslin has been awarded two honorary doctorates – one from Webster University and another from Washington University, her alma mater. Although Dr. Crosslin is now formally retired, she remains active in the community, serving on the Board of the Missouri Historical Society, including the History Museum and Soldier’s Memorial, and was recently appointed a Commissioner for Tower Grove Park.

Mentor of the year Award-Mshauri Award
Prof. Musonda Kapatamoyo

Talking about greatest teachers among international students- particularly from Africa and not mentioning the name ‘Musonda’ is not possible. From advising immigrants and refugee students to always aim for the highest GPA, to daring them to take risks, the Chair of Mass Communications Department at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville considers international students as his own children.

The proficient scholar, coded with the subject he knows best, has been profound in our Momentum Speakers Series. “For a young struggling immigrant aspiring to rise, Prof. Kapatamoyo is an astute example,” Dr. Muthoni Musangali quoted during one of these events.

His humble journey from Zambia, coming to America for further studies, to inventing a Madison Curbside (mobile app), immediately after coronavirus, is a clear example of immigrants who shape America. He has traveled globally giving lectures and presenting his published works. The don constantly builds web sites and web applications from simple to complex designs. His hobby is creating APIs and mining data through RapidMiner. The professor has significantly touched several lives as the board member of Lynne F. Solon Foundation, Edwardsville Illinois Rotary Club, and a member of the City of Edwardsville’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Entrepreneur Award- Mwekezaji Award: 

Ola Ayeni

Fascinated by America since he was a child, Ola made his way from Nigeria. Today the astute gentleman is the founder of St. Louis-based Claim Academy, which helps to solve the massive software, cyber and geospatial developer shortage in the Greater St. Louis area and nationally. Through their coding boot camp, Claim Academy trains people to be career ready in just 3-months. His company is one of the 50 Best Coding.

Bootcamps in the world, according to Courserport and Switchup. Per the St. Louis Business Journal, there are more than 10,000 tech openings in the St. Louis region. His academy has a 93% placement rate in companies and his students on average make $72,000 to start even without a college education. Before Claim Academy, Ola was the founder of Dining Dialog and Eateria.

In addition to winning a $50,000 Arch Grant in 2013, Ola was the grand prize winner for the MillerCoors “Tap the Future” Business Plan Competition’s $50,000 cash award; the winner of Microsoft Bizspark in 2012; Braintree Business Award in 2012; St. Louis Business Journal Diverse Business Leader Award in 2014; 100 STL to know in Business in 2017; Future 50 fastest growing companies in STL 2022 just to mention a few. Claim Academy is the recipient of the coveted Community Building award by Facebook in 2018. He is a TedX fellow and Pulitzer Foundation speaker. When Ola is not working and not with his wife Jennifer and their 4 children, he performs several civic duties. He has served at the Downtown Partnership Board, St. Louis Promise Zone Workforce Board, Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship and Design St. Louis, nominated by the Mayor. And currently on the Greater STL Inc board – A regional initiative with over 3 Million residents. He was the Co-chair MacArthur Foundation Workforce Board and is currently on the board of St. Louis Geofutures Coalition. He recently became one of the Commissioners of the Botanical Gardens – Zoological District of St Louis.

Diversity and Inclusion -Ujamaa Award

Dr. Channon Peoples -UMSL Bridge Program
UMSL’s Bridge  

Several V4A students have immensely benefited from this impact. Her commitment to uplifting minorities- and the success we are witnessing in our youths will go a long way to influence the future of African immigrants. A significant number are studying in some of the best universities countrywide.

She joined the UMSL Office of Precollegiate Student Services as a volunteer in 2003 and currently serves as the Director. The industrious lady never doubts that everyone possesses unique gifts. She believes that hope, faith, joy, optimism, and perseverance are keys to living a productive life. Each day brings a commitment for Channon to utilize her expertise to empower young people to reach their fullest potential. Channon is a Business Administration graduate of Harris-Stowe State University. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration, Certification in Nonprofit Management and Leadership, and a Doctor of Education in Educational Practice from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. A member of the Missouri Association for College Admissions Counseling (MOACAC), the National College Access Network (NCAN), and National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). Channon also serves on the MOCAN St. Louis Graduates Professional Development Committee, the Postsecondary Equity 

Network (PEN), and as the UMSL Women’s Empowerment Network (WEN) chair. Besides, she is a mentor for secondary, college, and career-aged women. Her active volunteerism at local churches and women’s ministries, providing workshops on empowerment, self-awareness, and professional presence speaks for itself. The devoted wife of Mike Peoples and proud mother of Breion, Isaiah, Maggie, Essence, Ehress, and Michael, II; and a grandma to three baby boys is most thankful for her family.

Renée Brummell Franklin (Louis Arts Museum)

The Chief Diversity Office at the Saint Louis Art Museum, champions policies and programs to ensure that the Museum is a welcoming and inclusive institution for its visitors, staff, and stakeholders. Renée gains inspiration from creating entry points for diverse communities to embrace the arts and think critically and creatively.

She believes that arts have power to transcend differences and build bridges for mutual understanding while challenging cultural and institutional inequities. Combining her business and educational work experience, Renée seeks opportunities to better inform, educate, and engage diverse populations. During her 20-year career at the STL Art Museum, she has held several positions. Among her many successful initiatives, she redesigned the Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellowship, which now serves as a national Museum model for increasing people of color in leadership roles in cultural institutions. Renée is the author of Artful Message, a regular art education column for St. Louis American newspaper. Before joining the Saint Louis Art Museum, Renée served as Director of Education and Public Programs for Worldways Children’s Museum of t. Louis and worked as a marketing representative for The Gillette Company and Johnson and Johnson. Renée volunteers on several boards and committees, including the Sister Cities International, t. Louis Mosaic Project, World Trade Center St. Louis, St. Louis Visionary. 

Awards and the Gateway Korea Foundation. She was a founding member of the National Alliance of African American Art Support Groups. She has received numerous awards, including the Grand Center Visionary Award for Outstanding Arts Professional. Renee holds a Master’s degree in Education and MBA, both from Webster University. As a consummate learner, she enjoys experiencing world cultures and has traveled extensively in Africa, South America, and Europe.

Ambassador -Balozi Award
James Kamau
Because it takes a village to raise a child, we are grateful for the dedication and sacrifice that has been given by Mr. Kamau. The father of two is an incredibly generous volunteer and financial supporter. He has been dedicating to the community kids, bringing dignity to his coaching and becoming a mentor in the field. James is also the chairman of V4A Courageous Father’s Club.

The program promotes father-son relationships and trains boys to be gentlemen. The young men are taught life skills, soft skills, camping, hiking, bowling, fishing and basic construction skills.

James’ commitment is extraordinary and focuses on their potential and weakness, taking enough time to know them personally in order to support their interests and talents. Words do not justice his immense commitment over the years. He has equally been a true champion of other programs. Coming to America in 2010 with barely $128 in pocket , he had a dream. He established business, BNB LOGISTICS, in 2017 and despite challenges he is a symbol of purpose: to achieve a different life, inspiring immigrants and refugees and stirring them for a better future. Several fathers could be terribly busy-as they try to find a way in American terrain- but having time and bonding with his boys, as he told us, is unnegotiable; practical; his best moments.

Emerging Leadership Award- Kiongozi Award
Solomon Muya

From the moment he came to USA, Solomon’s relentless efforts to serve and research about minorities remain unwavered. The young scholar is also author of Swahili novel “Ipo Siku” which has been reviewed by national newspapers. He is a force to contend with towards horizons. And he has already been invited to global symposiums to share his thoughts.

Last month, he presented his most important paper at international conference in Temple University, Philadelphia; and now University of Sharjah, UAE, has invited its presentation next year. The fine gentleman has devotedly been presiding Vitendo 4 Africa language and computer literacy classes; at times working as a law court translator for non English-speakers. He has volunteered hundreds of hours penning our newsletters; collecting and delivering donations to new families in Great St. Louis region.

Solomon was the winner of National Brookside Creative Contest Award for two consecutive years; Book of the Month by Nairobi Book Club 2018 Awarded to Ipo Siku and; Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) John Rider Graduate Achievement Award 2021 for exemplary academic achievement. The 2022 nominee for SIUE Best Thesis/ Dissertation Award is a great friend. His confidence is simply contagious.

Rohan Suri and Aditya Jain
We know Rohan Suri and Aditya Jain and with the instant label of ‘Little Einsteins.’ But is the label justified? The moniker quickly becomes obvious. The 11th graders at Ladue Horton Watkins High School were interested in machines at a tender age. Now, both are Presidents of LCSRC (Ladue Community STEM and Robotics Club), which began as an effort to spread their knowledge and passion for robotics to students across St. Louis.

They have been involved with robotics for over a decade, beginning with the Junior FIRST Lego League competition, and now compete in the FIRST Robotics competition at their high school.

The Little Einsteins devotedly run robotics camps with Vitendo4Africa. Our kids have been hooked to creativity and innovation, far from daily distractions of televisions to starting their own projects. If you attended V4A Summer Camp you probably need no narration of how profoundly Rohan and Aditya can change young lives. For the community-especially Black and immigrants’ children, this means inclusion by giving opportunities to the minority. We have seen more boys and girls taking Robotics like fish to water and doubtless, we anticipate a different future. The two scientists mentor several students across Missouri, and have been invited to speak at various events. Currently, LCSRC runs a robotics program with the Oak Bridge School for students in grades three through six, and will be hosting the 2022 FIRST LEGO League Challenge Scrimmage at the Ladue Fifth Grade Center. Outside of robotics, Aditya enjoys playing music. He directs a jazz band and plays guitar in several musical ensembles. Rohan loves to play tennis with his friends, and plays the tuba in the Young People’s Concert Orchestra.

Sally Njenga

If there’s one thing we can feel thoroughly good about, it’s the power of girls.Sally N. Njenga is a student, leader and advocate who uses her voice and leadership skills to make a difference within her community. Always interested in serving the community, she came here at a young age and has learned to balance juxtaposing cultures through the years.

As a diligent natural born leader with strong family values and Hazelwood West High school senior, she has accumulated several volunteer hours, far beyond her agemates. Sally is actively involved in the Vitendo mentorship program and in youth programs in her church. She also volunteers at the community garden, V4A special events and leading small group discussions.

During pandemic, Sally teamed up with other high schoolers to provide tutoring services for 3rd to 8th grade immigrant and refugee students. She led a group of high school students to raise over $12,000 and in 2021 they helped start a new school in Kenya. Currently, the school has enrolled over 100 kids from preschool to 3rd grade. Sally has done various leadership programs including Focus Youth leadership program, St Louis Internship Program, Washington University Young Scientist program, V4A Youth Empowerment Program and many others. She has received numerous community and education awards for immense desire to learn and help the world. Sally is a recipient of V4A 2020 Community Service Award.

When international news headlines will run someday, we hope she won’t miss.

 Community Service- Moran Award
Mboka Ekela

A monument or museum might never be erected for Mboka but in the community, he remains as the greatest mobilizer. This Congolese leader rallies cohorts- mostly from Congo and Rwanda- to maximumly utilize every opportunity Vitendo 4 Africa offers. No wonder the adult and computer literacy classes are dominated by his countrymen.

That’s one act, because majority of these students do not drive he moves from street to street picking them every Saturday-sometimes several miles away- so that they could be seated in the classroom by 7:45 am. And his punctuality in V4A events is incomparable.

Buzzling with humanity, Mboka corresponds with V4A often-notifying the organization if a refugee member encounters challenges like a house fire or police fatal shoot. When you see Mboka going extra mile to picking brochures and other resources like diapers in the office for these folks- sometimes suggesting progressive ideas for their advancement, you will understand why he was picked as 2022 warrior. The great connector, supporter and motivator is such extremely important to understanding challenges and expectations of the minorities. The father of five kids believes you must learn to live with the people; a lesson engraved by his parents from childhood.

Edward Oketch

It is rare to find someone who can be both committed to his profession and still become astute community servant. The Director for Operations at National Healthcare Corporation, a company he has worked for seventeen years, has been on the front lines of various community activities in Great St. Louis.

He immigrated to the United States in 2000 and today he is known as “Community’s Super Connector,” because of his credibility, friendliness and trust he exudes in helping and connecting immigrants.

The new families in our community are clearly familiar with Oketch’s gentle spirit which is rooted to his earlier days as a church Lay Reader.

Whenever there is a need such as hospital bills and funeral arrangements-even for the loved ones thousand miles away in Africa- almost everyone reaches out to him to mobilize others. And it turns out he is never tired to help. For almost a decade now, the cancer survivor has also set his focus on youth and men programmes by helping them thrive in this nation. Married for 16 years, Oketch chairs the Men’s fellowship at Christ Covenant Church. The Biking Club and Talent Show Night felt his recent gentlemanliness. “His personal story is inspirational better than anybody I know in the region,” a selection committee member said. Sure enough, everybody rejoiced when Mr. Oketch topped the list. Indeed, the father of Ethan-14, Imani-11 and Bella-8 has no need to worry about his legacy for the lives he has immensely touched in the community.

Mark Karanja

Mark  has super experience in technology that the US military uses. The young man became a dependable leader for the Robotics Team. He has steered the Robotics Club and made several modifications to make it suitable for everyone. Overall, he loves working with robots and sharing with others. A certified FIRST LEGO educator, he is a leading figure of approaching tournaments. Through different robotics workshops, he loves seeing crazy and creative ideas turning into reality.

His role carries significant weight as he facilitates STEM and Robotics events. What is more humbling is that Mark dedicates substantial voluntary hours in welcoming the new families; all those things that need transportaion to the newest arrivals. He is a soldier who blows up self-centeredness. A top general when it comes to investing in kids programs. What a revolutionary!

Youth Empowerment Award-Mlezi Award
Dr. Steve Coxon

Steve Coxon, PhD, is a professor of education and executive director of the Center for Access and Achievement (CA 2 ) at Maryville University. CA 2 focuses on partnerships with schools and nonprofits to prepare teachers and pre-collegiate students for college and the careers of the future through STEM education. Steve conducts research on developing STEM talents, especially spatial ability, mathematics, and creativity with a special focus on talent development in populations traditionally underrepresented in gifted programmers and STEM education.

Through his efforts, Maryville University has hugely invested in the community of kids.

He is the author of more than 50 publications including the book Serving Visual-Spatial Learners and has given more than 100 presentations and workshops on these topics. Steve earned his PhD from the College of William and Mary in educational policy, planning, and leadership in Gifted Education. He was the 2010 recipient of the Joyce VanTassel-Baska Award for Excellence in Gifted Education and the 2020 recipient of the Laura Joyner Award from the Mensa Foundation.

Karen Engelkenjohn

Karen Engelkenjohn has been an educator for 25 years. She was a gifted specialist for 22 years and as such was an early adopter of STEM Education practices. Currently she is a program manager and director for several grant funded STEM programs run by Maryville University’s Center for Access and Achievement. These include grants to fund STEM competitions, a summer STEM program for students in North County school districts, a LEGO Foundation grant supporting Playful Engineering Based Learning, and an NSF grant .

Karen has been an active member of the FIRST Robotics community here in St. Louis for 16 or more years. In addition to coaching and mentoring FIRST LEGO League teams she is committed to encouraging and supporting others who wish to start teams. She is also active in the STEM STL community which has helped to create a network of people both in education and in STEM professions with the shared mission of exposing young people to the amazing opportunities in our area in STEM related careers. 

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