The month of February is special for many reasons, we observe a Leap Year every four years, celebrate love on Valentine’s Day and most importantly we honor Black History Month with pride. Jegna would like to shine a light on Ethiopian activists that have been heroes for our community. These underappreciated figures from our homeland deserve to be recognized for their contributions to human rights, healthcare, Covid-19 relief, and beyond.
Model, philanthropist, and World Health Organization’s (WHO) Ambassador for the Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health Division, Liya Kebede has been a strong advocate for women and men globally. Liya founded LemLem with a heartfelt mission, she wanted to expand opportunities across Africa to break the cycle of poverty and to preserve traditional Ethiopian culture.
Another activist we would like to celebrate is Marcus Samuelsson. An award-winning chef, restaurateur, author of numerous cookbooks, philanthropist, and community activist, Marcus owns 23 restaurants and employs 2,000 people (under normal/non-Covid circumstances). Despite his impressive background, Marcus remains very humble. One example of his generosity took place in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic when New York City had become the epicenter of the pandemic in the US. Recognizing how many New Yorkers were struggling to make ends meet, Marcus turned his restaurant into a community kitchen and donated meals to essential workers and neighborhoods with minority groups. These efforts kept most of his staff employed and fed over 250,000 people in need.
Among the notable figures in our community is the renowned Dr.Tedros Adhanom. He is an Ethiopian biologist, public health researcher, and Director of the World Health Organization since 2017, the first African in this role. Tedros’s vision has always been that healthcare is a basic human right, “Together for a healthier world.” Additionally, he served as the Minister of Health in Ethiopia from 2005-2012. During that time, Dr. Tedros was able to transform Ethiopia’s health system with limited resources while also managing to give healthcare access to millions of people. His impact on the healthcare industry will last for generations.
Prominent social activist, Zeritu Kebede, who is also a singer and song-writer was named a Climate Icon by the British Council due to her strong commitment to the environment. As a Climate Icon, Zeritu wrote and performed “Artificial”, a hit single that raised awareness to young people on how much life is controlled by technology. The song promotes appreciation, care, and beauty for the world of nature. Zeritu has also been an ambassador for social campaigns raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, and with UNICEF, promoting breastfeeding.
Founder and President of People to People, Inc.(P2P), Dr. Enawgaw Mehari, is a leading expert in the healthcare industry that has been at the forefront of our Covid-19 campaign with Jegna. He has helped Ethiopia’s healthcare system make tremendous strides since founding P2P in 1999. Dr. Enawgaw’s efforts led to the establishment of the neurology and emergency medicine residencies at Black Lion Hospital as well as the social work masters program at Addis Ababa University. As time went on, Dr. Enawgaw recognized the importance of encouraging the next generation Ethiopian Diaspora to use their talents to affect change in Ethiopia. By establishing Jegna, he created an organization that would empower the next generation to build relationships with organizations in Ethiopia and find opportunities to help the country grow. Dr. Enawgaw has received recognition from several outlets for his work including a distinguished service award from the Society of Ethiopians Established in the Diaspora (SEED), a humanitarian award from the Black Hall of Fame and was nominated as a CNN Hero in 2007.
Author of Guzo! (the Amharic word for travel) Gelila Bekele is a social activist, model and documentary film-maker. As busy as Gelila’s schedule gets, she is a devoted advocate for young girls. She has fought for equal opportunities in Ethiopia and globally. Gelila’s main focuses are on the issues of fundamental rights, like access to clean water, education and girls/women’s rights. Gelila often shares her Ethiopian heritage with pride on her social media platforms, her powerful voice creates a safe place for minorities to express themselves and build a community.
Maaza Mengiste is an Ethiopian human rights activist, and author of “The Shadow King” (2020 Booker Prize winner) and “Beneath the Lion’s Gaze”, historical-fiction books that told the stories of Ethiopian families during the Ethiopian Revolution and Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. She is an inspiration to young girls, boys, men and women who would like to learn about their ancestral roots in Ethiopia through creative storytelling. She currently serves on the editorial boards of reputable magazines like, Words Without Borders and Warscapes. Mengiste is working on her third novel, A Brief Portrait of Small Deaths.