“I am always mindful that any opportunity afforded to me is an opportunity to achieve the greater good; to improve the quality of life in impoverished communities via the implementation of strategies that will improve educational and economic outcomes,” said Dr. Aisha Nyandoro when asked about being named the 2016 Young, Gifted & Empowered Leader of the Year.

The 2016 Young, Gifted & Empowered Awards (YG&E) was held Sunday, February 28 at Jackson Prep. It was a spirited event filled with inspiring moments, entertaining performances and beautiful people.

The night held a promise of something great that honored young, progressive African Americans who proudly call Mississippi home.

“Everywhere I go I tell people about Mississippi,” shared Steven James, Philanthropist of the Year.  “I love where I’m from and I’m not going anywhere.”

James, owner of a local Allstate agency, participates in more than 60 community events a year, including an annual sleep out in New Orleans that has raised more than $800,000 in two years.

“Giving back is just a way of life for me.  I started my business with the business plan of giving back to the community where I reside. Over the years, I have been blessed to travel the world and meet all types of people. I tell them the same story, I live to give.”

Held the same night as the Academy Awards, some took to social media to express their views of YG&E. #betterthantheoscars Kathy Times hashtagged on Facebook. Tiana Rhodes dubbed the event “the Mississippi Oscars.”

There was no shortage of talent and many award worthy performances. Hip Hop artist and trumpet player Silas set the tone with a stellar performance of Big Dreams.

“I’m a make it. No matter how hard it seems. You just know one thing, if it’s there I’m take it. Because above all these things, I got big dreams,” sang the Gullah Gullah Island rapper.

Comedian and media personality Rita B brought the jokes and kept the show on course. Brandon Mitchell  & SWAP put a soulful spin on Katy Perry’s Roar, a fitting tribute for Entrepreneur of the Year Kakeyla Manning. Opera singer DeAnna Tisdale accompanied by ballet dancers Madison Johnson and Tiffany Jefferson showcased #blackgirlmagic as they honored Innovator of the Year Dr. Marco Moran with a riveting performance of “Aint It A Pretty Night.”

Reena Evers, daughter of Medgar and Myrlie Evers, recognized ten outstanding young professionals on the rise, while singers Laurie Walker, Larry Johnson and Tonya Boyd Cannon of NBC’s The Voice delivered powerhouse performances for Nyandoro and Artist of the Year Derek Blanks.

DJ JoNasty, choreographer Derwin May and Mississippi’s own Star War impersonators were able to appealed to Educator of the Year, Dr. Cedrick Gray’s affinity for old school Hip Hop, James Bond and Star Wars movies.

“Wow! What a beautiful and phenomenal event,” wrote Rashard Smith. “It was pure magic. One of the best events I’ve attended this year.”

View YG&E Gallery

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